Evolving Outdoor Living Systems

I get a lot of emails and phone calls about gear, clothing, and food from students as they prepare for our courses. Usually, these are very specific. What exact kind of tent do they need, what’s the best knife/axe/tool to get for the course etc. Questions like these are understandable, but they miss the (school of) the forest for the trees.

Take the bad joke as you will, but there’s a grain of truth in it. Our programs are centered around systems for outdoor living, both ones we already have in place and teach to students, and ones they build themselves as the course progresses. The individual pieces of gear aren’t as important as how they work in unison. Food systems for on trail are the most interesting to me. As courses progress students get better at packing and cooking when we travel, not just because their skills are improving, but because they figure out new ways to work with what they have. This isn’t just true for people new to the outdoors. I’m constantly fiddling with my methods of packing for trips, even switching out certain types of food as I find ways to make the best use of space I can.

For example over the last few years I’ve been in the habit of taking apples on any canoe trip we go on. They’re a nice quick snack while paddling, and don’t create any trash that I have to deal with. On a spur of the moment impulse this fall I brought oranges instead. When we’re in the field, we boil our drinking water. This is an effective means of sterilizing the water but leaves it with a smoky flavor that after a week or so gets old. However, having the oranges allowed me to put the peels into the water and remove some of that smoky flavor. This might seem like a little thing, but it’s part of a system for cooking on trail that is constantly evolving, and allowing me to live better and better in an outdoor setting.

What I’m getting at here is not to worry too much about bringing the “best” gear, or trying to micromanage every aspect of your life at camp before you get to one of our programs. With a little ingenuity, we can make just about anything work and that’s a process that students learn more from than if we had a strict set of standards for gear. Systems are what allow us to educate the way we do, and helping our students develop their own systems for outdoor living, instead of a dogmatic approach is important to us.

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