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Backcountry Prep

Applying the Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ to Daily Life in an Urban Setting

By NCOAE Headquarters June 27, 2022

Uncategorized

Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”

Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.

Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. LNT’s well-known checklist includes:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

But what about the majority of the time when most of us are not roughing it in the backcountry? Can we incorporate these seven principles into our daily lives? Can we bring such environmental awareness into an urban or front-country setting?

Some of us here at NCOAE headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., discussed the possibilities of applying backcountry Leave No Trace principles in everyday living, and here’s what we came up with: (more…)

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DIY Part 3: Brewing Coffee in the Backcountry Like a Barista

By Stephen Mullaney August 15, 2020

Backcountry Prep

What’s the only item in your gear closet that could possibly be more important than food, water, and shelter? For most of us the answer to that question is coffee! That complex nectar of the gods that makes us sharp in the morning and warm at night. And as the old saying goes, “Everyone should believe in something. I believe I will have another cup of coffee!”

And, since brewing coffee is as much of a ritual as it is a necessity, you can imagine the amount of gear you’d need to stuff in your backpack in order to prepare the perfect cup of coffee in the wilderness. The question becomes, how do we get that great cup of coffee — using the best beans and blends we can find — without breaking the bank and our backs in the process?

In this, the third and final installment of Do-It-Yourself camping tips, we address the coffee snob within most of us, and share some interesting coffee-related quotes along the way.

Now make a face and say, “Instant coffee? Are you kidding me right now?”

COFFEE QUOTE NO. 1: “What goes best with a cup of coffee? Another cup.

Henry Rollins

So let’s get to it. We’ll teach you how to pack and prepare the best cup of coffee possible in the backcountry. And you’ll be able to perform this feat in five to seven minutes.

Heres’ what you’ll need:

(more…)
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DIY Part 2: Emergency Water Filtration System

By Stephen Mullaney July 25, 2020

Backcountry Prep

We’ve all seen those old Western movies where the hero is crawling on the desert floor with an empty canteen and a parched throat. None of us want to experience that torture. It’s bad enough watching the bad acting. Same goes for heading to the backcountry for a weeklong wilderness experience. Nobody wants to be caught short of fresh drinking water.

Here’s where the do-it-yourself approach to human-powered outdoor recreation really comes in handy. The stove we built in Part One of this three-part DYI series, can be seen as an inexpensive alternative to a store-bought stove, and as a tool to help us understand how camping stoves work. Because the more we are familiar with the inner workings of equipment, the more likely we’ll be able to solve challenging issues with that stove.

It’s a given. Your gear will fail you.

That being said, the water filter we’re building today falls more into the understanding of how filtration systems work. Again, if we comprehend how our equipment works, we can better take care of that gear and repair it when it reaches a point of failure. And, if you have spent a considerable amount of  time traveling in wild places, you know that your gear is eventually going to fail.

First off, there are three tried and true methods of water purification — boil, filter (purify), and chemical treatment. (For more on this, read Stay Sharp in The Offseason By Following the Way of the Farmer, available here on the NCOAE Blog.)

The industry standard when traveling with groups on guided trips in the backcountry is the use of chemical treatment, typically Iodine. That’s because Iodine is inexpensive, easy to carry, and highly reliable. Many outdoors enthusiasts use a commercially available filter, life straw, or gravity feed system. Not surprising, many don’t know how they work or how to repair them in the backcountry. This lack of knowledge has cut short many a trip due to a water filtration failure.

Once, while traveling in Nepal with a group of students from NCOAE, I was almost forced into building a water filtration system like the one we describe below. One of the participants swore he was having a reaction to the chemical treatment. And, because the mental perception of one individual can affect the entire group, when water quality is in question, we need to overcome that obstacle. My thought was to create a filter system that would not only educate the students but keep everyone safe — whether that danger was perceived or not. Fortunately, it never came to that.

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Do it Yourself Part One: Denatured Alcohol Stove

By Stephen Mullaney July 18, 2020

Backcountry Prep

Visitors to our blog are going to react in one of two ways when they see an article with “Do it Yourself” in the headline. You’re either going to avert your eyes and try to find a less intimidating article. Or you’re going to greet this headline and subsequent instructions with enthusiasm and frenzied fervency.

Here’s hoping you’re among the second category of DYI folks who revel in the experience of creating things from scratch. You know, those Junior MacGyvers who’d rather spend a weekend creating a project than spend nine bucks for the same item at the store.

That’s why we’re dedicating the next three posts here on the NCOAE blog to help you find what we hope is the do-it-yourselfer deep in your soul. Here at The National Center for Outdoor Adventure and Education (NCOAE), we have always used the equation of Self + Community + Action = Impact. It’s the notion of making the changes necessary to feel better about yourself and see your role in a community of peers, practice, neighbors, or just society as a whole.

Through our outdoor education and wilderness medicine programs we have helped countless individuals and organizations — through interaction with nature and wild places — to move forward to a more conscious way of living life and perhaps influencing the world around them. Just look at the many companies that were born of DIY thinking. There’s Patagonia, Petzl, Outdoor Research, Swift Industries, Black Diamond, and pretty much everything related to the surf industry.

So, for this installment and the two that follow, we will be exploring the DIY experience of creating equipment destined for human-powered outdoor pursuits, either for fun or out of necessity. We find that DIY projects give you a taste of the experiential education process from the comfort of your own home or garage.

And Part One of this series is how to make a denatured alcohol stove.

Years ago, I made the beautiful mistake of buying “Beyond Backpacking” by Ray Jardine. The mistake? The book inspired me to begin purging my gear, make my own gear, and learn how to go light for less money. Gearing up for a huge trip inspired me to follow the “Ray Way.”

It was around that time that I built my first denatured alcohol stove. The process is straightforward and acquiring the materials can be a lot of fun. For instance, you’ll need to empty a couple of soda or beer cans before you even get started. Any beverage can will work, but some folks would prefer to drain a can of beer. Because building this stove is about the experience and the pursuit of learning. And, of course, the enjoyment.

(more…)
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Now’s the Time to Explode Your Backpack

By NCOAE Headquarters February 8, 2020

Backcountry Prep

Most successful outdoor retailers take monthly, quarterly, and/or an annual inventory of what they have in stock, what needs to be replaced, and what might need to be added to the store’s shelves. Items that sit ignored on the shelf or are no longer in fashion go in the “50% Off” bin or “sale” rack, enabling the retailer to make space for the newest and greatest products.

That practice of practical paring holds true for those of us who enjoy human-powered outdoor adventures and are, even now, preparing for the trails, climbs, and river rapids that we anticipate and dream about each winter.

And chief among those preparations is a thorough consideration of the current contents of our backpacks. The idea is simple: How do you lighten your load for your next adventure, feel less stressed when packing, and maybe offer free and still useful gear to a friend or local outdoor-based organization in need?

It’s time to “clean house.” And by that we mean pull your gear out and place it all on the ground, inspect it, and discard those items you can do without. In fact, here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, we offer a number of courses that, among other things, show participants the ABCs of backpacking — which includes properly packing a backpack.

One important part of our courses is when participants “explode” their pack in front of their peers. Typically, the group circles up and  (more…)

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When Wildlife Interferes with Our Love of the “Wild Life”

By NCOAE Headquarters August 13, 2019

Backcountry Prep

Even if you’ve never participated in scouting, you probably know that “Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout Motto. It’s a maxim that still holds true for today’s outdoor enthusiasts — perhaps more so than back in 1908 when founder Robert Baden-Powell adopted it for the scouting movement.

Baden-Powell wrote that Boy Scouts in the field should consider beforehand, “any situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment and are willing to do it.” He also oddly mentioned that the motto was founded on his initials (BP), but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is this. It has been estimated that more than 8 billion people visit protected “wild places” each year — areas that encompass national parks, national forests, and wildlife areas in the United States and around the world. What that means is more people are heading outdoors, which results in more people coming into direct contact with wildlife.

And that’s not always a good thing. As the signs illustrating this post show, more and more of us are introduced to the backcountry and wild places with posted warnings concerning the “fulltime residents” of these remote and natural areas.

On Cape Cod beaches, for example, there are (more…)

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