What Do You Think Are The Most Important Skills For Backpacking?

Let’s get our own forum debate going here.  Please go ahead, get your wordpress account, so you can be like someone in the above picture 🙂 and tell me how bad my blog sucks or just make a comment to share your experiences.

What do you think are the most important backpacking skills? 

Forget about water weight, tent weight, favorite menus, hating to clean up, etc. etc., etc, some of our favorite fire side chat material.

Note:  these blogs really take a lot of time to write, jeeeez!  And when you let your words “cool off”, then you keep thinking of more elaboration; it’s a vicious circle my friends.  Now I need to go and find a good topic photo, wait, am I thinking out loud again? 😉

Off the top of my head, I’m thinking, …..wait, crap, maybe there are different categories of skills sets? 

Maybe a set for a group/trip leader?  Maybe a set for solo hiking?  Wow, I’m complicating this after only 74 words!

Is there a general skill set?  Ok, here goes, real fast…no particular order…

  • Problem solving. 
  • Navigation. 
  • First Aid.  Is that different from wilderness first aid? 
  • Survival? (maybe my sleeping bag finally gets wet, and it’s cold, very cold, and I can’t get a fire stated). 
  •  Ability to start a fire?
  • Ability to keep calm in an emergency/provide leadership?  Ability to keep out of an emergency situation?  Ability to recognize when you are in or near an emergency situation?  (I personally think some people lack ‘personal situational awareness’ and just follow along blindly)
  • Leadership?  (rant:  sometimes a group needs somebody to just make a decision!  Like, where to  camp that day?  If you break camp, start walking and it’s not clear where the group is to camp, you have all sorts of problems.  How far are we going to walk?  Where are we camping?  How much water do we carry?  Does the fast group wait for the the slower group – and/or where?  And if you’re already up and walking, it’s pretty clear  or murky that a leader is going to be needed to make that decision or at least lead the group into a concensus – or you just have backpacking anarchy! (JK- I jest)
  • Ability to tell jokes or play the harmonica at the campfire?  (these traits will be discussed next!)

Ok, your turn, what are your most important skills!

10 thoughts on “What Do You Think Are The Most Important Skills For Backpacking?

  1. mrakun

    definitely navigation is tops, gotta know where you’re going and when you’ve arrived there. after that I would say packing your bag, which comes before you hit the trail, knowing what and what not to bring. A lot of other skills are necessary some of the time, but these two for starters you will use every time.

  2. Rich Pedersen

    1) Know yourself: your physical and mental limits and indications of when you are getting close to them, what is your personal comfort zone. 2) Know your gear: what can it do, what can it not do, how to fix it. 3) Navigation. 4) Communication: telling those not with you where you are going, talking to people you hike with or meet on the trail, recognizing good and bad non-verbal indicators from people you meet.

  3. Crockett

    If I were to say “Survival Skills” I’d be cutting a whole set in half. I believe in what’s called, “Wilderness Self Reliance” Survival is the bare minimum in regards to Self Reliance in the back country. In our technology driven age, we’ve been on a fast road to giving up self reliance to high speed low drag gadgets that do it faster and better. So, skills are becoming a lost art. If the skills that you think of as “Survival Skills” are second nature…and those task require no thought to complete, they’re no longer survival skills, they’re now just “Living Skills” or “Wilderness Self Reliance”. My thoughts on the “brain”: Ask any survival instructor, they’ll tell you that the most important tool to survival is your mind. Mental fortitude, moral, and good decision making skills are important in any emergency situation. So, to me…you’re brain is the most important piece of gear you have. If you have a good brain, everything else is achievable.

      1. Crockett

        I guess my question is…where do survival skills (other than first aid) differ from backpacking skills? To me the line is very blurry. Is fire building a survival skill or a backpacking skill? Is setting up a shelter a backpacking skill or a survival skill? Is making water drinkable a backpacking skill or a survival skill? There’s only a few that may be a bit more outside the backpacker skill set, those dealing with foraging for wild eatables, hunting, fishing and setting snares. Other than that…what’s really the difference between backpacking and survival? Even navigation fits into both survival and backpacking. So, what is defined as a backpacking skill and what is defined as a survival skill?

  4. mrakun

    well if you consider all backpacking to be surviving, then I guess your using your survival skill all the time. Even at home you’re using your survival skills, but it is a lot easier

  5. mrakun

    I personally don’t consider backpacking a survival situation, unless you run out of food or get injured in remote location. I consider it recreational activity. If I wanted to simulate a survival situation, I would just bring a small survival kit, and maybe minimal food rations. If you can handle 3 days with no food, that would be a good simulation. or go backpacking without a shelter and stove, that would be a good start

  6. Phil Reed's Hikes Post author

    I guess we need we need our own list of ‘survival skills’. They probably would also include skills from backpacking. But I see a trend back to logical thinking/problem solving, ‘using your brain’, being able to take charge and sort things out. BTW yesterday I received a gift for Backpacking magazine renewal, a little brochure on, you guessed it, survival skills – and – wait for it – it lists problem solving/taking charge/leadership high on its list. You’d think that was a no-brainer (no pun intended, he he), but I’m always surprised by “experienced” backpackers that hit the trail without a map or the skills to use one, no nav skills at all; do these people blindly trust those around them? IMO do they just assume that a ‘group leader’ has all the skills to not get them lost, to save them? Lord have mercy, on the first hike, we’re all hiking with total strangers, not hired professional guides!

  7. Crockett

    I guess my point is, disregarding survival skills as unimportant, is like living on the plains of Kansas, in a trailer and not having tornado insurance. Keep in mind; I consider all the mental attributes as the primary needed traits for both survival and backpacking.

  8. Phil Reed's Hikes Post author

    Totally agree. One of the things that keep me motivated, is the thought of having to use a “backpacking” skill, i.e. navigation, first aid, fire starting, eating of plants, sleeping in a “nest” etc, IN the survival situation. Aren’t the need for skills we SHOULD learn for backpacking MAGNIFIED in a situation and made that more important for survival? Isn’t our SURVIVAL dependent upon the SKILLS necessary to overcome a particular situation? (trying to wrap my head around that one)


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