Welcome back, Greyhounds! I want to start this school year by talking about adventures you can have in New Mexico.
However, as I was writing the first blog in that series, I realized there is a multitude of things that need to be said first before I can tell everyone reading to journey off into the unknown.
As such, I'd like to describe some of the things that should NOT be done when you go outside with the intent of camping or other such activities as well of the things that SHOULD be done. Some of this advice comes from official rules or regulations; some of it comes from recommendations by experts; others come from the personal mistakes that I have made and the things I have learned.
So basically, this is a preface to three other blogs that I will refer to in each one; going outside and doing the camping is a lot of fun if you do it right, but it can also be dangerous if you're ill-prepared.
If you decide to go in the untamed wilds for a decent period of time, I HIGHLY recommend that you follow these basic guidelines and do more follow-up research, so you know how to be safe when you adventure. This blog will mostly be telling you what not to do since there is technically no "right" way to go camping.
One last thing before we get started: when I say anything similar to the phrase "going camping," I mean traditional camping. No electricity, phones, trailers—nothing. My experience with camping is the traditional I-set-up-the-tent-now-let's-try-not-to-die style.
That doesn't mean I subject myself to "Survivorman"-style living when I go camping; it just means that I find things to do in the day other than internet surfing with whoever else is around.
And yes, this list may scare you about going into the wilds. It should. Nature will not change for you, and it will not treat you with mercy if you meet it unprepared. But that's why this specific blog exists. It gives me the opportunity to tell you to go on a fun and exciting adventure and how to stay safe while you do it.
Let's begin, shall we?
DO NOT go without a plan. Always formulate what you're going to do and when you're going to do it and make backups for that plan in case the worst comes to pass, whatever that may mean.
Chances are it won't happen, but in case it does, do not put yourself in a position where you cannot overcome the odds. Tell people your plan, so that they can know when you plan.
DO NOT forget water. You shouldn't leave anywhere without at least two liters of water for every day you plan on being there. You may even drink more than that (staying hydrated is important, you can never have too much water).
Furthermore, sometimes the places you visit may not have facilities where you can refill water supply. It's important to carry enough to refill your water bottles. Recommended are seven-gallon water jugs, available for under twenty dollars at various stores.
NOT go without a first aid kit and basic medical knowledge. When you go past the bounds of civilization, you always risk getting hurt in a place where medical attention cannot be immediately received.
In terms of resources to learn that, I'm always going to recommend how I learned: "The Official Boy Scout Handbook, 12th Edition." Could be that I'm biased, but I think this is one of the simplest and most efficient resources to use for not only first aid, but camping, hiking, surviving and having fun outdoors in general. It is also the book that I used to complete my Eagle Scout requirements.
That being said, it is also slightly out of date; it was first published in 2009. In 2018 and 2019, respectively, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) published a 13th and 14th edition of the handbook. The 13th edition was simply an update (that I have no real experience learning from) and the 14th edition was the "handbook for girls" to mark the inclusion of females in the BSA.
NOT leave without the proper gear. In my experience, when people are miserable camping or otherwise, there is a ninety-five percent chance that it is because they did not pack properly. The other five percent is because they don't want to be outside. That's totally okay, I understand.
When I say proper gear, I simply mean the proper gear for where you're going. For example: if I were going winter camping, the proper gear would mean plenty of layers to stay warm as well as a waterproof top layer to prevent snow melting and making you cold.
If I were going hiking in a place with little shade, the proper gear would mean zip-off pants to prevent sunburns, but to also allow breathing room (and the ability to turn the pants into shorts if the need arises).
However, proper gear also means things like tents. Although I wouldn't recommend going to Walmart and spending twenty bucks on the one that looks the neatest, I understand how expensive good tents are, and that most people would probably only ever use it a few times.
But if you happen to stop by an REI, I'd recommend going in and looking for a nice tent. It may cost upwards of $350, but that's a tent that you'll be using for the rest of your life. You will NEVER need a new one unless it happens to be destroyed by squirrels or chipmunks (keep food out of your tents).
Another alternative to buying your gear is renting it out. REI also happens to do that, and if you become an REI member, you'll save a good amount of money for whatever you need to rent. Check their website for pricing.
You'd think these things don't need explaining, but again—I speak about these specific instances because I have seen people make many, many mistakes.
NOT put yourself or others in danger. Meaning if you go hiking in the mountains and there's a railing with a sign that says "DON'T CLIMB OVER THIS BECAUSE YOU WILL PROBABLY FALL TO YOUR DEATH," but you want to do it anyway, don't.
Really, that's it.
You endanger yourself and run the VERY REAL risk of plummeting to instant death when you stand near the edge of cliffs for the 'gram. Is that selfie worth it? There are plenty of other beautiful places for your aesthetic, I promise. Find a clearing in the woods around 5:30-6 in the evening. It's what we call in photography "the Golden hour" because it's a great time to take photos due to the natural lighting, and I promise people would rather see you smiling among tall grass with trees lining the background and a literal golden light shining on you instead of you dancing with death along the edge of a 70-plus foot drop.
NOT ever, ever, EVER leave the trail. They exist for a reason, and that reason is to take you safely through the woods without disturbing the various wildlife. However—if you do feel the need to leave it, there are ways to indicate where a makeshift trail exists. I have almost never done this myself.
Most of the time, the people who manage the trails anticipate where and when people need to leave the trail (there are not many reasons to) and make accommodations for it, like bathrooms or picnic areas or whatever. This is why there are not many good reasons to leave a trail.
The only small exception is for backpacking expeditions. Often, you should expect to hike up to ten or even fifteen miles of rigorous terrain to reach the next location. These hikes can take up to five hours, and WILL test your endurance with many uphill segments, switchbacks and trails that are not always well-defined or maybe even present at all; all of this without cellphone service and an 80- to 120-pound bag on your back.
In these instances, you may very well lose the trail or find that it is disconnected from the rest of the trail and at that point it is deemed necessary to leave the trail to find it again and journey onward.
Another exception is if you need to use the bathroom. In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum, "When you gotta go, you gotta go," and I promise that most times you need to stop, there will not be an outhouse to take care of that. At that point, find a comfortable spot away from water and the comfort of your crew and… well… yeah.
Plus, leaving the trail will destroy foliage and the habitat of natural fauna. It takes a long time for nature to recover from destruction, whether it be a forest fire or you stomping over flowers and bushes.
NOT put yourself in a position where you will be lost in the wilderness. This is another reason why you should stay on a trail, but in the instance that you do stray from it and can't find your way back by looking around, bring the knowledge and tools you need to bring yourself back to civilization.
Be familiar with the area that you visit. Make sure that you know the terrain and natural landmarks so that you can at least relocate the trail. Bring a map and compass and learn how to use them in conjunction. Maps are nearly useless if you don't have a compass to use it with.
If you do end up lost and suspect that you may be stuck there a while, bring the knowledge to survive until rescue comes. Learn how to make a fire, shelter and alert your presence to possible passersby at all times. Learn about how you can feed yourself if you don't have food or if you run out. Above all, find water. You will not survive past three days without it—especially at higher altitudes or hotter climates.
That doesn't mean that if you're way up north surrounded by snow that you'll be okay. If you didn't already know, eating snow is not the equivalent of drinking water. This is because it takes more energy from your body to convert that snow into water than the water you'll get from it. You WILL become dehydrated further if you do this—take it from a guy who has tried.
Instead, melt it first. This is as simple as plopping a snowball in a pot over the fire. If worse comes to worst, you can even use the heat generated by your body to turn snow into water.
NOT think you are Superman. DO NOT think you can beat the odds like they do in movies. There is the INCREDIBLY REAL CHANCE THAT YOU CAN FAIL. That obviously does not mean you will, but the chance exists. Humans are tough given the circumstances, and the human body performs incredible feats to survive.
That being said, the modern human is not built to survive outdoors. It may have been how our distant ancestors spent their days, but you spend your days sipping Starbucks and binging "Black Mirror." Our instincts were finely tuned as instruments hundreds of thousands of years ago, but are typically now what we consider "irrational fears." Most of these fears are suppressed instinct. (Look it up, it's fascinating.)
NOT leave without preparing at least three meals for every day you're outside. You will expend far more energy than you normally do at higher elevations and more rugged terrain, especially if you move around a lot during those days. Pack food that will give you proper nutrients and energy for the days. Fast food will not work for you.
Also, bring snacks. It's easy to get snacky on the trail. There are plenty of foods that will work well for this purpose, including the one snack quite literally made for the trail. I'll give you three hints to what it is: 1) it has the word trail. 2) It has the word mix. 3) It's trail mix. I'm talking about trail mix.
It feels weird ending on an odd number, but these are the things that I always think about the most whenever I'm preparing to leave the comfort of my home for the vast, untamed wilderness. There is more to consider, but there is nowhere near enough time or space to talk about it.
After all, it took me seven or eight years to consider myself well-versed. Maybe I'm an expert. It's a nice thought, but I don't want to toot my own horn, you know? I still have a lot to learn.
I've tracked down some good places you can look at for further information on all of this, with the intent to better prepare yourself:
- "Top Ten Outdoor Survival Tips," by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Seems like a strange source, but this list is very well-condensed and goes over basic survival steps in much more detail than I do.
- "REI Expert Advice," by Recreational Equipment, Inc.REI is not only a good place to purchase any goods you need to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, but they also tell you how to use that gear in a great many articles ranging from camping to climbing to clothing to cycling, as well as some outdoor basics.
"Survivorman Book- Les Stroud SURVIVE!" by Les Stroud. If the names Les Stroud or Survivorman seem familiar, that's because they're the same guy. Imagine if Bear Grylls showed you how to survive, but he didn't have a camera crew.
That's Les Stroud, who starred in his own show ("Survivorman") about literally surviving on his own. He had a support team nearby just in case, but he still only carried a single camera and most times nothing else. Literally nothing else. The camera and the clothes on his back.
Basically, he knows what he's doing, and you can watch him prove it on Hulu or Amazon Prime if you want—or you can buy the survival book he wrote.
- "Ten Basic First Aid Procedures," by Verywell Health.I've never heard of these guys before, but they do have a helpful article on… well, basic first aid. It doesn't go very far into depth, nor does it cover the full range of first aid, but it's a good place to start studying.
- "A Nurse's Guide to First Aid Tips," by Regis College. I didn't really have the time to check over all the websites, but this article points you in a good general direction for first aid. It contains a few lists to other articles on specific subjects and most of the links work, so I'd say this is a good resource.
- "First Aid Steps," by American Red Cross. You've been hearing about the ARC for years, even if you don't realize it. They supply "emergency assistance, disaster relief and disaster preparedness education." They specifically helped out during hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita in 2005. This article goes over a general list of what to do in an emergency situation, and you can also attend trainings and classes to become certified in delivering first aid if you wish.
"The Boy Scout Handbook Centennial Edition (12th Edition)," by Boy Scouts of America. Again, the only resource I would whole-heartedly, unabashedly recommend for first aid, survival or nearly any other learning you may need would be this handbook. This book was the basis for everything I know now, and it also covers proper cooking techniques, general camping rules, hiking and backpacking safety and so much more. It won't get you any official certifications from the BSA or any other organization, but I guarantee that it will help nonetheless. This is a great resource just to learn from, and again, I cannot recommend it enough.
Don't feel limited by these few places. There are plenty of ways to learn about whatever you may need to know. Contact the administrators of whatever place you may be visiting to see what they want you to know going in. Make sure that you're prepared for whatever adventure you are planning.
Stay safe and have fun above all else. Going into nature is supposed to be fun and exciting and the only way to make sure it is just that is to be prepared.
I know I keep saying to be prepared and that's because that phrase is ingrained in me. It's the official Boy Scout motto, so I heard it a lot.
Anyway, I hope none of you think I'm a super big nerd for being a Boy Scout. I was teased a lot for it when I was in high school, which is—I mean, it isn't pleasant, but I was always pretty proud of it. I learned a lot and I'm grateful for the experience.
Regardless, I hope that anyone planning on going out and about into the world uses this as a basis of reference.
At the end of the day, adventure is out there—you just have to go and find it.