8 Scouting Skills Every Backpacker Should Know!

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How many times have you gone out hiking, camping, backpacking, or really any adventure and everything went as planned? If your luck is anything like mine that number is very very low.  As an Eagle Scout my training even as a young Cub Scout has helped me out of some strange and crazy situations over the years. Looking back on my Scouting skills and training I have put together a list of Scout skills that every backpacker should know.

1. Attitude

In the outdoors it is very important to stay sharp and keep your wits about you. This can keep you safe but can also help you in emergency situations. Having a proper attitude can be one of the most important pieces of gear you have. Having a proper attitude and staying sharp will help you asses any situation that aeries. Staying calm will help you get through any situation good or bad.

2. Basic First Aid

Having the knowledge of basic first aid skills is extremely important. Knowing how to properly bandage and clean small wounds, create splints, and how to properly take care of larger wounds until help can be reached. Knowing these skills will help you and those in your party. Having these skills and knowledge may never be used but having it when you need it is priceless. Many local gear shops provide free basic first aid training and for a fee you can also take Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder courses to get certifications.

Red Cross Basic Wilderness First Aid booklet | Locate courses near you!

3. Fire Starting and Building

Knowing how to build, start and maintain a fire is crucial to any survival situation. Knowing the basics can help you in any situation. Also carrying the proper fire starting kit is also handy.  Fire can keep you warm, purify water, and cook food. It is one of the most basic elements of survival.  Also knowing how to build and maintain a fire in different types of environments and weather is a crucial survival skill.

Learn Basic Fire building

4. Pioneering

Pioneering is the knowledge of knots, ropes, splices, lashing and the ability to build basic structures. Pioneering is one of the oldest of Scouting’s skills. Having the knowledge of pioneering basics during emergency situations can allow you to create solutions to many problems. Having a working knowledge of how to use rope, knots, and basic building skills will allow you to create a shelter, create stretchers, create a make-shift climbing harness and so much more. Knowing these skills can also make for fun camping skills to teach friends and your children. Just make sure you always take rope or cord with you on every adventure.

Basic Structure BuildingBasic Lashings | Basic Scout Knots

5.  Orienteering

Orienteering is the use of a map and compass to find locations or plan a journey. This skill has been vital for humans for thousands of years. With the most basic skills you can find your way to safety and or back to civilization.

Technology is great but it can and will fail you in moments of need. Knowing how to use a compass and map can get you anywhere anytime without the need of batteries and screens. Also knowing how to navigate without having anything can also be very handy. Do you know how to follow the proper stars at night to get you back to safety? Are you safe to follow water down a mountain to get to safety?

Learn Basic Map Skills | Learn Compass basics

6. Self Protection

You will most likely not need to be trained in martial arts but it is helpful to know some of the basics of self protection in the outdoors. Knowing how to scare away animals by making yourself very loud and look bigger than you really are is the primary way of making sure the animals know you are there and that you are something they do not want to mess with. Depending on the area you might need to carry extra gear like bear spray with you.

7. How to Find Food and Water

Learning how to forage for food and find clean water is a skill everyone who spends time in the outdoors should know. Knowing what plants are in the area and which ones are edible is extremely important. Just because it is delicious looking berry does not mean it is safe to eat. Having a local knowledge of the flora and fauna is easily obtained by books and internet searches. Also being able to locate water sources that can be used to cook, drink, and clean yourself. If you end up stranded on a beach can you drink the sea water?

Learn more about Finding Food and Water

8. Filter or Treat Water

Many backpackers will take some type of water filter or water treatment with them but not all the time. Knowing what types of water sources can be potentially clean or dirty is very important. If you are hiking in the United States many of the water sources are contaminated with a little parasite called Giardia. Many of the springs however are safe from Giardia and other parasites but do you do know the difference between a spring and a stream? 

Collecting clean water can require a large amount of effort. Boiling water is the most effective however it takes the most energy and effort to complete unless you are able to make a fire and happen to have something to boil the water in then you are set. You can also collect rain water as it is raining or create a solar water distiller.

Water Collection Techniques

There are many more survival skills that can help you in any situation, but we felt these to be the most basic and important. What Scouting survival skills would you add to this list?


Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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