10 Outdoors Skills You Need to Master This Year

Are you a seasoned outdoors-person? Do you have these 10 essential skills mastered? Read on and test yourself this year:

Are you a seasoned outdoors-person? Do you have these 10 essential skills mastered? Read on and test yourself this year:

1. Hike in the Dark

Most people aim to hike while it’s light, but doing the opposite adds adventure to even an easy hike. In the dark, all your senses turn on. Take off your headlamp and things get even more exciting. Here’s how to try it for yourself:

  • Timing is everything. Plan your hike close to a full moon and check the weather to avoid cloud cover.
  • Start slow. Give your eyes time to adjust to the dark.
  • Bring a light. Always. (And backup batteries.) It comes in handy when you hit dense forest, tangled roots or other obstacles. A headlamp with a red light mode is best; it preserves night vision.
  • Pick the right spot. Open terrain is best: think alpine, snowy slopes, frozen lakes, grasslands, beaches and sand dunes.
  • Bring a friend. More eyes help spot dangers and add safety.
  • Don’t rush. Moving slowly will give you time to use your other senses and take in the atmosphere of hiking in the dark. It’s a unique and wild experience well worth savouring.

2. Navigate Without a Compass

We never recommend travelling without a compass, but constantly checking a bearing is slow. Instead, try using “handrails,” “fences” and “checkpoints.” These are obvious landforms on a map that can help steer you in the right direction.

The easiest example is travelling in the fog from one end of a big lake to a portage that’s across the lake, down the other shore and just beyond a hook-shaped peninsula. You could follow a declination on your compass straight to the portage or you could use a fence, a handrail and a checkpoint. For the latter, set out straight across the lake until you hit the far shore. This is your fence—an unmissable landform that tells you to stop. Now follow the shoreline—your handrail, a feature that you keep to one side until you reach a certain spot. When you pass the hook-shaped peninsula—the checkpoint—you know to start looking for the portage trail.

3. Right a Canoe in Deep Water

The worst-case scenario just happened: you and your partner flipped a canoe far from shore. It’s time to get back in.

Take any bags or gear out of the canoe. Split up and swim to the bow and stern and hold the gunwales. Simultaneously, tilt the canoe so one gunwale breaks the surface, releasing the water tension.

In one coordinated motion, kick hard and lift the canoe up then quickly over, so it lands right side up. Do it correctly and the boat will be mostly empty of water.

4. Hold Your Breath Longer

As a party trick or so you can dive deeper, either way holding your breath for more than two minutes is worth bragging about. 

Even at the end of an out-breath, plenty of oxygen remains in the body. When you hold your breath, the urge to breathe is actually your body telling you the concentration of carbon dioxide is high. The alarm that oxygen is running low takes quite a bit longer and is a contraction of the diaphragm. If you wait through a few of these, you will eventually pass out, but if you are on land you will wake up immediately. Knowing all that, it’s time to set a new personal record in breath-holding. Always try this with a partner keeping an eye on you and practice on land, lying down.

Start by breathing in slowly for five seconds and then breathing out even more slowly for 10 to 15 seconds. This helps lower carbon dioxide levels, delaying the urge to breathe.

Relax and focus on your breathing for at least a of couple of minutes, thinking of filling every corner of your lungs with air, sucking into your diaphragm and up into the top of your lungs. When you feel very relaxed, take one last deep breath and hold it. And hold it. And hold it. It’s a mental game. When you feel a diaphragm contraction, hold for another three seconds. 

5. Walk Silently

Get a better picture of that browsing deer (or sneak up on a friend) by walking differently. Focus on your footsteps. Carefully step around sticks and leaves. With each foot strike, land gently on your heel, roll gingerly on the outside of your foot towards the toe and then across the ball of your foot. Lift up lightly from your toes and start again, walking more slowly than normal. Bonus points: place your feet in time with your quarry.

6. Walk a Line (or a log)

Whether it’s a log across a creek or a slack-line in the park, getting from one end to the other is easier with a few tricks:

  • Look to the far end of the log/line and a couple feet off the ground.
  • Hold your arms up and off to each side to help with balance corrections.
  • Bend your knees just a little, to keep the leg muscles engaged and ready to respond to changes in balance.
  • Move slowly and steadily.

7. Catch Your Breath Faster

Go from sucking wind to in-control by focusing on breathing out, instead of in. Blowing out will help rid the body of carbon dioxide faster and your body’s natural urge for oxygen means you will suck air between exhales.

8. Paddle Silently

Nothing’s more Canadian than paddling across a glassy lake in the morning mist. Nothing ruins the calm faster than plonking and splashing paddle-strokes. The solution is the Canadian stroke, a basic canoeing motion but with an underwater recovery.

  • Instead of pulling the paddle out of the water at the end of a stroke, turn the blade so the top hand rotates away from the canoe, your thumb facing down, like you would for a J-stroke.
  • Rest the shaft of the paddle on the gunwale, levering the paddle (now parallel to the boat) away from the boat a little.
  • Slice the paddle towards the front of the boat, keeping the blade submerged as it cuts through the water, parallel to the gunwale.
  • At the top end of the motion, rotate the paddle in your hands back to perpendicular, so you can pull as you would a normal stroke.


9. Catch-and-Release Like a Pro

Letting a fish go feels as good as reeling it in. But it’s important to do it right or the fish might not survive.

Give fish the best chance of living to fight another day:

• Use the right kind of lure. Single barbless hooks do the least damage and are easiest to remove.

• Don’t fight the fish for too long. Bring it to the boat or net as quickly as you can, so it has energy left over.

• Keep it in the water. A review of studies found the magic number is no more than 10 seconds out of water.

• Take photos, measurements and the hook out with the fish in water.

• If you have to take it out of the water, make it snappy. 

•Cradle the fish in your hands until it swims away on its own. 

* Repeat as needed, but don’t overfish (i.e. over stress) your area.


10. Travel Off Trail

Some of the best places out there don’t have a trail to them. You’ll work a little harder, but the rewards of solitude are worth it. But to ensure those that come after you enjoy the same wilderness experience, you must travel gently. Stay on durable surfaces. Walk on rock outcrops, gravel, boulders or dirt whenever you can. When walking on plants is unavoidable, spread the group out to disperse the impact.


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