MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 296
edited March 25 in EXPERT ADVICE

Words and Photos by Rebecca Sperry @sockedinhikes

What are Five Things you can do to become better at the activities you love outside? Whether they’re things you already know how to do and you’re passing those skills along, or they’re things on your to-do list to learn (and maybe all of you have some tips to share about how to get ‘em done), getting in the habit of upping your skillsets five things at a time makes progress manageable and inevitable! 

Winter tends to be a time of year when I slow down, hike less, and spend more time inside, but as we move into spring, the pull of the outdoors tends to tug me from my house more and more. Preparing for the next summer hiking season starts with assessing my current skill set and making plans on ways I can become a better hiker. This spring, I'm focusing on five skills I've been hoping to build but haven't taken the time to do so in the last few years. 

First on the list is backcountry navigation. Back in 2016, I took a wonderful map and compass course with Redline Guiding but never actually used those skills in the woods. So, I've lost the skillset. Learning how to navigate with just a paper map and compass is perhaps the skill I covet the most, and ultimately, as a solo hiker, it's one that I should have mastered years ago but have not. Learning to navigate in the woods is a really important skill to have, and although, in this day and age, most hikers don't rely on (or even carry) a map and compass, it only makes that particular skill that much more appealing to me. Can I take a bearing and use it to navigate from point A to point B through dense undergrowth? No, I cannot. But I can read a map, and I know the importance of being aware of my surroundings while hiking. Yes, I am a pro at reading maps and reading the forest for signs of a trail where one may be less than evident. I know that there is north and true north, and not all maps are laid out using north, and that you have to use the key on the map to set your compass, but after that, I'm, admittedly, lost. 

Taking another backcountry navigation course or at least watching YouTube videos on how to use a compass is something I intend on doing this spring. And speaking of backcountry navigation, the next skill that I want to work on this spring is building routes using GPS tools like Gaia and downloading those routes onto my Garmin Fenix 7 to navigate in the backcountry. In the past, I've used other individual's GPX tracks from websites like "Peakbagger" to navigate off-trail, but this year, I want to take it up a notch and create my own routes. Being able to use both a map and compass and a digital GPS device will give the options of using either option in backcountry navigation and will ultimately make me safer as a solo hiker. 

Given the recent events in the White Mountains, there is no such thing as being too experienced, and even with all the experience in the world hiking solo, having the proper gear is what can mean the difference between life and death out there. The third thing that I plan on doing to be more prepared and have a more enjoyable experience in the woods is assessing my own emergency kit and adding or removing from it, as needed. In the summer, I tend to carry a much more pared-down kit (unless I'm going into the alpine zone), and there are certain things that I should be carrying and don't (specifically a map and compass, which are both part of the Ten Essentials). Going through what I carry every few months is also really important to make sure that there are no damaged or outdated things in my pack. My headlamp is rechargeable, so charging it every few hikes is a must, and if you carry battery-powered items, replacing the batteries is something to remember to do as well. 

The fourth and fifth things that I plan on doing this spring to have a more well-rounded and positive experience in the wilderness this summer are enrolling in ax training and brushing up on my trail maintenance skills. Every spring and fall, trail adopters head into the woods to do level one trail maintenance, and because most of my adopted trail is located in a wilderness, I am not allowed (nor am I trained) to use a chainsaw to remove blowdowns. In order to clear those, you must be properly trained by the forest service, and this spring, I would like to add this to my skill set. Finally, as this is my third season caring for the five miles of trail that I adopted, and every few years, it's important to (and required in some instances) take a refresher trail maintenance course as well, I'm signing up for an eight-hour trail maintenance course again. I enjoy taking these courses because it gives me a chance to spend a day in the woods with like-minded individuals and give back to the trails that have given me so much.

In the past, my main focus as a hiker has been seeing all of the trails in the White Mountains. Now that I've accomplished that goal, I am excited to turn my attention to the things that I've been putting off learning. Upping my trail maintenance game, learning backcountry navigation skills, and becoming a safer hiker are three main things that I hope to improve upon this upcoming hiking season. I hope that sharing these ideas with all of you will give you the inspiration to add to your own backcountry toolkits, perhaps step out of your comfort zones, and hit the trails, ready to try something new this summer.