Safety & Preparedness Tips From A Seasoned Backcountry Explorer and Field Instructor
“There are frontiers in all of life - work, relationships, play - but time in nature often provides the most concrete and direct experience with frontiers.” ~ Haley Robison.
Haley Robinson is a passionate outdoor enthusiast and the CEO of Kammok, a brand we know and love for providing us with gear that makes our off grid adventures more comfortable (like the Roo hammock, Firebelly Trail Quilt or Thylacine sleeping bag which was named Outside’s Gear of the Year!). One thing we love about Haley is that she is also a badass outdoors-woman with in-depth wilderness leadership training. She’s spent almost a year’s worth of nights outside and off the grid. On top of that she completed a 90 day NOLS wilderness training course and worked as a field instructor for Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries in 2012, leading 21 days courses in the Wind River Range. Currently, she’s leading the team at Kammok and continues to explore the horizons of the West Texas backcountry.
We sat down with Haley to learn more about how her off grid experiences, learnings from NOLS courses and time as a field instructor can help us prepare for our frontiers this summer.
BioLite: Before the BioLite community heads out to find our frontiers, do you have any tips to help us properly prepare?
Haley: Make the time to get prepared. Seriously, sit down with your crew (or just you) and think through your route and make a plan. Cover all your bases -- what is the weather going to be like, the skill levels of the people on your trip, what type of gear will you need, etc. (Make sure that you always pack the four essentials: water, headlamp, rain jacket and a great attitude).
Beyond knowing the knowns there will be plenty of unknowns that arise so go into your trip with the awareness that things won’t always go according to plan. With that in mind, I’d recommend taking a Wilderness Medicine, Wilderness First Aid, or Wilderness First Responder course before you head out on a frontier. Knowing the basics of first aid and wilderness medicine go a long way in the backcountry.
Lastly before you head out, check your “can do” fortitude. Often times, the fun that's the most worth it, isn't always "fun" in the moment. Confronting a fear often means embracing discomfort or suffering for a period of time -- it’s always worth it but be aware of your ability to accept and work through this type of uncertainty.
BioLite: Once we’re off grid, do you have any advice for staying safe and in control while pursuing frontiers?
Haley: A few basic preparedness tips come to mind from my experience at NOLS:
1. Be aware of where you are. Equip friends and family back home with knowledge of your general plans and route and have an emergency evacuation plan before you head out on any off grid activities. As you’re traveling, keep track of your route on a map or GPS tracker. If you’re with a group, make sure that multiple people are keeping tabs on your location.
2. Be aware of you (!) and your crew. Stay hydrated, fueled and check in with your crew frequently. Dehydration and other common backcountry issues can sneak up on your if you’re not careful - don’t forget to remind your crew to drink up too.
3. Read up on decision-making pitfalls. Two common pitfalls that will get you and your team in a bind are scarcity (ie. “this is our only chance!”) or familiarity (ie. “we’ve all done this before, no problem!”). I’d encourage you to check out NOLS Wilderness Risk Management to learn more. Morgan Hite, a former NOLS instructor, wrote a great essay about what you learn on a wilderness course and how it translates.
He concludes with “If anyone asks what your course was like, you can tell them. "We were organized, thorough and prepared. We took care of ourselves in basic ways. We entrusted people with our lives, learned to do without and persevered at difficult things. We learned to use new tools and we took care of what we had with us. We lived simply." And if they are perceptive, they will say, "You don't need the mountains to do that." And he’s right! We don’t need the mountains to live simply but perspective change helps us see that. Contrast is the mother of clarity, and finding frontiers in the backcountry can help us lead more intentional lives in the front country (#citylife!).
Editor’s note: NOLS Instructor Marco Johnson outlines recommendations for assessing difficult situations and remaining calm in any off grid situation in his interview "Why Remaining Calm is The Most Important Preparedness Tool" on the BioLite blog.
BioLite: Many of us will be facing fears as we find frontiers, what if you (or someone you're with) gets scared? How do you avoid a freak out situation?
Haley: Being fearless doesn't mean you don't have fear - it means you just don't let that fear win. Whenever I'm facing a moment of uncertainty or encountering something that feels way out of my comfort zone, I often need to calm myself and then redirect my self-talk. I focus on breathing. Breath is an amazing thing and focusing on it can help lower our anxiety levels and bring us into the present moment. Then I check in with the voice in my head. Am I encouraging or discouraging? Consciously choose the voice you’re going to listen to - too often, we allow negativity to pervade our thoughts; choose yes!
BioLite: Do you have plans to Find Your Frontier This Summer?
Haley: In the outdoor / physical realm, I have goal of running 10 miles. Because of chronic injuries, the furthest I've ever run is 7 miles in one go. This summer I'd love to push myself to trail run 10 (or more!).
I also plan to take my pops backcountry camping - he's never been, and I think it'll definitely be a frontier pusher for us both. This summer, we’ll have the biggest team we’ve ever had at Kammok. We’re hoping to take our culture and output to new heights, and the same risk management applies in the front country as the back country. You’re only as strong as your team, and it’s important to remember that as you push forward.
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