Basic skills for trekking

By Chris Ord 9 November 2012
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Get the low-down on some of the best basic skills to know before you go on your next trek.

LIKE ANYTHING, NATURAL BUSH skills and general savvy in the outdoors take time to develop. More so, it takes a natural want,” says Monash University’s outdoor expert, Beau Miles.

“This is making a conscious decision to observe your setting constantly. Years and years of day-to-day observations linking conditions to trends. A certain wind, for example, with a particular set/level of cloud, may be a precursor to a storm front.

“To observe this is one thing, and we all do this, but moving towards more effective decision-making as a result of what is happening around you is this conscious process of logging the observations into categorical platforms. Of course, backing this up with a field guide, manuals and local [expert] advice is just as important.”

Basic skills for trekking

Beau notes that today, most people are poor navigators, yet the skill of navigation should be a central pillar of any trekker’s set of bush skills.

“Many people are poor navigators for a lot of reasons – primarily because of a reliance on sat-nav GPS, superhighways and high-spec maps – and we don’t tend to make observations in the moment,” says Beau. “People tend to only think a few steps ahead. This is detrimental to finding your way (and back) as the time and place of the route is lost in the jumble of the day, rather than the sequential unfolding of the terrain, day and time.

“My students so often say, ‘I think we are here’. I scorn this. They should say: ‘We are here and this is why,’ and then provide evidence. There should be no grey areas in navigation.”

More specific skills, like rope-work, require simple repetition, but, importantly, while in situ.

“Famously, a knot is said to need a thousand ties before it’s committed to memory,” says Beau. “We teach our students half a dozen, highly used knots in parks, treed areas on campus, on canoe trailers and roof racks; anywhere but in the classroom. The learning points, therefore, take on contextual reason.”

Other skills that are important to master include:

Camp setting: There is an art. You need to know how to spot a good setting for your tent (and how to avoid a bad or dangerous one) along with the basics of where each functional area (sleeping, cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene) should be located in relation to each other and with due reference to leave-no-trace principles.

Camp cooking: Good, tasty and nutritious food is important in maintaining energy levels and morale. Know the best ingredients and food types to take with a pre-prepared meal plan. Mix up the types of meals as much as possible and learn tips and tricks for creating tasty meals.

Also, remember a few treats, like dessert (can be as simple as chocolate) and tea/coffee.

Survival: Books have been written about it and ignored at the peril of everyone who enters the unpredictable realm of Mother Nature. Read up and practise the basics, at least. Better still, do a course, starting with Wilderness First Aid. Ignore any program with Bear Grylls in it.

Leadership: This one can only be learned through experience and time spent in the bush with other respected and skilled leaders. But be mindful when out there with such people to take notes, mental or otherwise. One day it may be you who needs to step up to the plate and make decisions for your party.

As Baden Powell trained them in cubs: Be prepared.