Awareness and Exertion in the Backcountry

20130304-104540.jpgYes, I admit it: That is my oversized butt hiking up the side of that valley. I spent the weekend backpacking with friends, although we stayed in a campground (of sorts) this time. But we did go for a hike in Sunday morning. It was my first REAL hike, so we did things semi-easily for me: I didn’t carry a pack, and we kept the distance relatively short and the pace relatively slow. We hiked about two miles down the side of a valley, made lunch atop a slab of limestone at a flat spot in the trail, and hiked back. Round trip, including lunch, was maybe four hours.

Notwithstanding all of that, the experience was an eye-opener for me on a number of levels, and I came away from the experience with a number of lessons that I think apply to armed citizens as well as they do to new backpackers.

The most obvious and exciting threats aren’t always the ones that will get you. The three of us were armed against the possibility of mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and bears, though we didn’t see any of those. What we DID see were tick, and at least one brown recluse spider. Not as exciting as a bear, to be sure, but no less capable of causing you trouble. The self-defense lesson is ample: A severe rainstorm, flat tire, or purse snatching are not as exciting and heroic as an active spree murderer or horde of marauding zombies, but they’re probably much more likely to happen. This is why your self-defense and survival arsenal needs to include more than guns and ammo.

Knowing the threat landscape is a critical part of staying safe in it. I’d never seen a brown recluse, so I didn’t recognize it when I almost stepped on it. Had we come across it in camp, I might not have recognized the danger even if it was crawling on me. The field of military intelligence is all about working out what the threats look like so you can recognize them when you see them, and you need the same kind of intelligence to keep yourself and your family safe – on a street corner, in your home, or in the woods.

Your physical state matters. In all honesty, the hike back out of that valley was hugely more difficult for me physically than I’d have liked it to be. I did it, but I wasn’t fast or graceful about it. Had I been in a situation where a more speedy retreat was necessary, I’m honestly not sure I would have been physically able to do that. We tend to pay a lot of attention to our guns, knives and gear, but we need to pay attention to our bodies too. In a self-defense situation, how far could you run with a child in one arm and your pistol in the other? How far could you carry that five-gallon jug of water? If you had to retreat from an armed bad guy, and your escape route was “out the sliding glass door and over the fence”, do you have the strength and agility to do that? Suffice it to say this is an area I really need to work on.

Teamwork makes things go much easier. Hiking the backcountry was a new experience for me, and it helped a lot that I was able to depend on my friends (and they on me) to get stuff done. When we hiked, we were able to share the load and the duties of watching for threats. When we camped, teamwork meant we didn’t need to carry three camp stoves and the like. If you’re preparing to safeguard yourself and your family in a crisis, think about what you can train your family members to do that will enhance your preparedness or effectiveness. Why be the “lone wolf” when you can get a team helping you?

Despite the challenges – or maybe partly because of them – I’m excited for my next backpacking trip. In the meantime, I’ve identified some holes in my knowledge that I need to fill and some skills that need an upgrade too. How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Excellent!

    I’ve never seen a live brown recluse, but have treated many of their bites and they are horrible. Glad you avoided it.

    • I’m glad I avoided it too – from what I’ve read, their bites are nasty indeed. Very unassuming little spiders for the amount of grief they can cause!

  2. Again, excellent advice. And all of that is especially important for those of us who are not physically able to do a lot, and never will be. It is important for everyone to recognize their real limits and plan for ways to get around them or compensate for them, as well as develop the best physical condition we can manage.

    But, if you get hurt or sick, you’ll have to come up with alternate ways to cope even if you are otherwise very physically fit.

    In the end, adaptability and good planning for multiple possibilities are the essentials. The very best tool for survival is the one between our ears. 🙂

    • Exactly so! I’ve heard many times that, in any kind of survival situation, the most critical thing is not to stop thinking, not to stop trying to improve the situation, and not to give in to panic. “Stop thinking, and you die,” they say.

      And I’m learning that, no matter what our physical limitations, gear limitations, etc., there are very often things we can do to make a crisis better if we stay calm and engaged and don’t give in to panic.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and for your comments!

      • Exactly. But the other obstacle is quite often denial and preconceived ideas/stereotypes that short circuit our thinking ability.

        A lady in my shooting group, a former student, stopped coming and I called to see what might be the problem. She said she had sprained her right wrist seriously and so could not shoot at all. In the class, she had adamantly refused to even consider shooting with her left hand, so I understood where she was coming from.

        I asked her what she planned to do if she were to be faced with an emergency while her right arm was trussed up in the brace/velcro nightmare. (I wore one for a very long time after a dislocation).

        Unfortunately, nothing I could say would change her mind. She “KNEW” she could never manage to shoot with her left hand, so that was that. I suspect that she has never actually accepted the idea that an attack can come at any time, from any quarter, and that the threat isn’t going to sit back and wait until you are ready for it.

        Really sad.

  3. fynesse says:

    Interesting article, I’m relatively new to firearms in general an I’m definetly getting an education through research an intelligent blogs like yours. So true in knowing your environment. I work in Atlantic City, NJ, an if you walk around here with your head in the clouds boy are you asking for it. I tell my 9 yr old all the time when we are out and about to always know your environment. Not just when mommy is with you but when you’re playing outside. After having just got over Hurricane Sandy, the need for preparation never became more apparant to me. And although I only work near the flood zones, I still packed an “emergency kit” of flashlights, snacks, batteries, etc. But when I obtain my proper firearm license there will be something extra in that bag also to insure my families safety.

    PS; Glad the spider didn’t getcha.

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