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9 Expert Tips & Tricks to Expand Your Outdoors Skills

Aug 31, 2023Aug 31, 2023

Guides and other experienced outdoor enthusiasts often share their knowledge during downtime in camp. Better pay attention. (Photo by Melissamn /

I'll never forget watching someone's tent wheeling its way across the blustery desert because the guy lines were tied with granny knots. It was another reminder that as with most things in life, there is a right way to do something once, and plenty of wrong ways to do it then re-do it. The problem is, in this modern world, gadgets and gewgaws will do many things better than we ever could in city and suburban life, but "out there," not so true. And even if you were a Boy Scout, those useful skills and knowledge have a way of falling out of your mental filing cabinet.

So, here are some tricks I learned from guides, cowpokes, grizzled trappers and other folks smarter than I, who probably learned the hard way, too. Some will make your day afield more productive. A few will make you the "cool uncle" in the field and around camp.

Chuck Buck, founder of Buck Knives, taught me this. Grip the knife, extending your index finger along the "spine," on the top edge of the blade. Try for a 10- to 15-degree angle of blade to whetstone—the key is maintaining the same angle for both sides of the blade—so note where the spine lies in relation to the pad of your index finger.

If you have sharpening stone oil (or any other oil), use it. It keeps the friction (and blade-damaging heat) to a minimum. Be generous, because it also carries away the bits of stone and blade that gum up the sharpening process. Water or saliva will do in a pinch.

Make about a dozen strokes on the rough-grit side with moderate pressure on the blade. Stroke as if you’re trying to shave a bit of the stone off, not back and forth, just the one direction. Swap hands, check your finger-spine angle, and repeat for the other side of the blade. Turn to the fine-grit side and do the same. Unless you’re performing surgery, that’ll do.

Extend your arm to full length, palm vertical to the ground. Cock your wrist so you can see your palm with fingers stacked atop each other. Raise your hand until your index finger is just under the bottom of the sun. Count fingers between the bottom of the sun and the horizon. Each finger is about 15 minutes of remaining daylight (go ahead, there's time for one more cast).

Avoid twisted ankles—or worse—by stepping to the low spots in rocky terrain, rather than teetering on the tops of rocks. They could roll, you could slide. This works well when wading a boulder-strewn river, too. Save your leg muscles for the pack out when encountering tangles of big logs, by stepping over, not on, them. Wheezing and puffing up a steep slope? Take a hint from Himalayan sherpas who stop for a second as each leg is fully extended on the "up" step.

If you want to make a statement, go to art school. To take decent shots to share with friends, read on. After a few establishing shots to create a sense of scale (tiny guy at the foot of monolithic cliff), fill the frame with your subject: friend holding trophy bass, dog with pheasant in his mouth, backpackers loaded up and ready to go.

Most magazine-worthy shots are a bit asymmetrical. Move the subject just a bit to the left, right, toward one corner. On most phones, remember to focus on your subject before you de-center it. The eyes really are the window to the soul, and if they are invisible due to shadow, your photos have less personality. Have your subject push up his hat brim and take off his sunglasses.

The ability to tie a few helpful knots separates the men from the boys. You’ll find a multitude of uses for a trucker's hitch, taut line hitch, bowline, square knot and two half hitches. Hint: Make knots easier to tie, from fishing line to cargo rope, by giving yourself more "tag" end to work with. To learn how to tie knots for specific tasks, watch them in action at

Open a beer or soda bottle without an opener. Grasp the bottle's neck with your non-dominant hand like a baseball bat, so only the cap shows above your grip. With your other hand, insert a spoon, cigarette lighter base or other rigid tool under the cap edge, using the knuckle of your thumb as a fulcrum. Carefully lever the cap off; you don't want to waste any.

Wear dry sleeping apparel. The clothes you wore all day likely are full of perspiration and will wick internal heat from your body. Eat or drink something warm before bed (I prefer hot buttered rum). Buy a sleeping bag with enough room in the foot area; toes compressing insulation are a sure route to misery. Use a sleeping pad to insulate you from the cold ground or air circulating below your cot. Put a waterproof ground sheet (vapor barrier) under you or your tent to prevent bone-chilling moisture from seeping into your sleeping bag.

When busting brush hiking to that favorite stream, turn your rod around so the tip is behind you. You’ll tangle less, and minimize chances of catching your tip-top on the ground, in the bushes or against a tree trunk. Once you get to that honey hole, you’ll have one less excuse for not catching fish.

Keep your eyes on the prize. When you see a big buck, for instance, slowly lift the binocular up to your eyes while they remain focused on the target. He's still there, isn't he?

Most of these tips won't help you wiggle out of a survival situation, catch more fish, or connect with that 8-pointer you’ve been hunting. But you’ll be the envy of your peers in the outdoors—even if they won't admit it.