The most important tool in the woods. Part 1

By Nick Italiano

If you are anything like me you probably spend a lot of time on social media, company websites, and sites like this one ogling numerous super cool pieces of gear that you think you probably need to be prepared for your next trip into the wilderness. Who doesn’t need a better knife, tent, pack, head lamp, or boots right? With the prevalence and availability of gear in a fairly wide price range there is new great gear for just about any budget that can easily make you the top wilderness survival expert out there right? Of course anyone with any real experience out there will tell you this is dead wrong, and I when I say dead…I mean dead! While gear is all really cool and it makes our lives a lot easier, and some can can even argue there are definitely essential pieces of gear out there…none of that will make a difference if your mind is not in the right place.

Your mind is the best tool you have for not just surviving in the wilderness, but thriving in it. I personally break this up into 3 different categories; mindset, knowledge, and skill set. While some of you may be reading this and say this seems pretty obvious, I’m sure you’ve also encountered someone out on the trail that is clearly lacking in one or more of these areas. I’ll go over each one of these individually and discuss why I think each is vital to truly enjoying the great outdoors safely. This blog will cover mindset and I will cover the other two in upcoming blogs.

Mindset is the key to just about everything in life not just when we are heading out into the wilderness. Our mindset determines how we handle situations, especially difficult and highly stressful ones. Not to be dramatic, but the right mindset can often mean the difference between life and death. I have a personal tale about this that I will discuss later in the blog. For the neophyte outdoors person mindset is especially important, because it is the basis for how the early part of their journey will go. If your mindset is fast and reckless you will more then likely throw yourself into a situation totally unprepared, maybe you head out to a new place without doing any research into the area, not knowing about potential hazards, what the appropriate equipment needed is, or exactly how long you will be out there. This can easily turn an exciting adventure into a dangerous situation. On the other hand someone who is eager to learn and patient will take the time to properly prepare and do the correct research to make the journey is afer and more pleasant.

Mindset is not just about proper preparation, it also plays a big part of your safety while in the great outdoors. This is were situational awareness comes into play, and it is the number one thing I try to hammer into my kids brains every time we are outdoors. I always say nature is the most beautiful thing that is constantly trying to kill you. You should always be hyper aware of your surroundings when spending time in nature because there are numerous dangerous animals, toxic plants, changing weather conditions, and even the terrain that can possibly lead to a serious injury. Just a few weeks back my family was hiking at Mount Ascutney in Vermont, it was a lovely day, not to hot, but very little cloud cover. It had rained a lot that week and because of the tree cover much of that water remained on the rocks making the trail particularly slippery. At one point on the decent I lost my footing in a particularly narrow area. Now I walked away from that just fine, because I was aware of what was happening. I knew we were in a narrow and slippery area, and I knew if I fell there, short of a miracle I’d be splattered somewhere a few hundred feet below. I went into that part of the path expecting to slip so I knew to take it slow, to make sure I had a good grip on the rocks to better support myself. If I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings that situation could have ended very differently.

The final part of mindset is the will to survive and keep moving forward. While this is something that is hard to prepare for because you really don’t experience life and death situations on a regular basis, it is still vitally inportant. When we are in our towns or cities we have access to people, food, and emergency service fairly readily, in the wilderness this is not always the case. We may be low on food, or sustain some kind of injury many miles from civilization. It may be possible for someone to get you and aid you, but if not you need to will to keep moving forward despite the hardships and get yourself to safety. When I was 12 or so I was traveling with my uncle and aunt and their kids to Olympic National Park in Washington State. I managed to wander off on my own and get separated from the group. What I thought was going to be a short hiatus from my group ended up being many hours wandering the wilderness completely lost. While I was always raised with an appreciation for the great outdoors I lacked any real knowledge and skill and had only the bare minimum in terms of gear. I finished my food and water very quickly as it was a hot summer day and quickly began to dehydrate. Without the proper knowledge or equipment to purify water I drank river water and ended up not just dehydrated but also very sick. Now I’m dehydrated, vomiting, and lost. Panic sets it very quickly which makes the situation even worse. I centered myself after sometime because I knew I had a choice to either give in and die out there or keep moving forward. I chose to keep moving forward. Despite the pain, confusion, and vomiting I kept moving forward. I eventually found my way out to a road and stayed on it until a ranger found me and returned me to my family. I learned a lot about myself that day, first and foremost was that having that will to keep moving is the only thing that got me out of that situation alive. Second was that I knew that I never wanted to go into the great outdoors unprepared again!

To sum it up, mindset can make your journey more pleasant, prevent potentially dangerous situations, and in the absolute worst case scenario get you out of a dangerous situation alive. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and I hope you will join me next week when I discuss knowledge and skill set!

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