Priceless lessons for the outdoors (Part three)

A man makes a fire with a flint. ©AdobeStock

Early outdoors enthusiasts ate fruits and nuts, pastry, dried meats, and cheese. For energy, I make and eat mint cake. The sugary treat was used on Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ate it on Everest. Humankind has progressed and innovated over the years, yet there are valuable lessons from the past to be applied today. Welcome to part three in this series.

Clyde Ormon wrote about awareness of surroundings in The Complete Book of Outdoor Lore, from 1964. I call this “swivel heading”. We tend to concentrate only on the terrain directly in front of us. It is important to look back to know what the landscape looks like going the other way.

I gaze in all directions, noting landmarks and terrain changes. Trees, outcroppings and streams can appear similar. Mountain safety manuals recommend noting alternate milestones along the way. Find one on your left, and further on choose one on the right, and so on. It is a helpful exercise for getting back safe.

Trouble outdoors can happen to anyone. A new group on trails are people riding fat bikes, or fat bikers. Recently, I’ve helped many. They know how to peddle, but they don’t know the woods. Bikes – especially e-bikes – send riders farther into the bush, and falls are harsh. Unfortunately, there are also conflicts between fat bikers and others. This is similar to when snowboarders first hit the hills.

Waterproof match case. ©AdobeStock

The second tip is critically important, yet many believe a fire will never be necessary. One only has to read the news to find stories of people forced to camp overnight or recover from falling through ice. I do not rely on rubbing two sticks together. I carry waterproof matches and tinder.

Fires start with tinder, a material like dry grass or birch bark that ignites easily. Old-time hikers carried cotton balls and I know a guy who uses lint from the clothes dryer. Once the tinder is lit, leaves and twigs are added. Without smothering the flame, you gradually use larger kindling until wood is added. Sounds easy right? Try it in high winds with rain or snow.

After experiencing the Canadian Army’s controlled immersion exercise, I value a fire. It calls for full immersion in open water in the winter followed by immediate self-recovery and a return to normal tasks within 15 minutes. All with no help.

My rucksack holds waterproof matches and “tinder on a stick”. This is the modern equivalent of cotton balls. The natural resin lights even when wet. Here’s a tip from John Wiseman, author of The SAS Survival Handbook. If you are stuck with wet matches, roll a match in your hair and static electricity dries it out.

Now the last lesson. I’ve been lost and had to react to serious situations. If you find yourself in trouble, stay calm. Panic and reactive decisions do not help. Those who end up in danger have made the original problem worse. Find a rock or a log, sit down, breathe, and assess. If you are with a friend or a group, discuss the next move. People who stay put have a greater chance of being assisted.

The outdoors is an amazing gift. Its beauty is inviting, but it has its perils, too. We show respect for both by leaving no trace of our impact and by being prepared. After all, cellphones and proximity to civilization do not ensure safety.

I hope to see you outdoors. I’m the guy in the old sweater, army boots and hiking stick. I also carry tea. American writer Bradford Angier wrote Home in Your Pack, in 1965, and made this observation: “The northern woodsman, particularly the Canadian, must sip his steaming cup of tea at noon, even if he has nothing to eat. This is almost a religion up under the Aurora Borealis.” Be safe, have fun.


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Jeff Swystun


Jeff Swystun30 Posts

Conférencier prolifique et écrivain, Jeff a donné plus de 115 conférences dans 25 pays. L'expertise de Jeff en matière de stratégie d'entreprise, de stratégie de marque et de marketing a mené à l'ouverture de Swystun Communications en 2012. / A prolific speaker and writer, Jeff has appeared at over 115 conferences in over 25 countries. Jeff’s expertise in business strategy, branding and marketing led to the opening of Swystun Communications in 2012. SC is a boutique agency focused on the intersection of business and brand strategy.


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