Brandon and Jerry share insights from ultralight backpacking on how to develop skills and knowledge in any area of your life.
“Don’t get caught up in being the expert. Be caught up in being a student.” – Brandon Cunningham
How Did Jerry Build Up Skills for Ultralight Backpacking
Backpacking is not an activity to be taken lightly. People are rescued from the wilderness every year because of poor planning, such as running out of water, not having the right clothing for the weather, and miscalculating the time needed to hike a trail. Some people, unfortunately, die in the process.
Becoming one of those statistics was not an option if he wanted to have his wife’s blessing over this newfound hobby and passion. Below is the process he underwent to build his skills and how to develop your skills and knowledge for any area of life.
First, Do the Research
Jerry broke down the large category off ultralight backpacking into smaller chunks or subjects. Here is the Big Four.
- Hiking safety and techniques, especially foot-care
- Food and water
- Sleep (and shelter)
- Where to backpack in Texas
From there, he asked a series of questions that needed answers.
- How do I prevent blisters when hiking?
- How do I hike with trekking poles?
- What shoes do I wear to safely hike ultralight?
- What is ultralight backpacking?
- How do I filter/purify water?
- What foods are best for backpacking?
- I want to sleep off the ground, therefore a hammock may be the best way to go. How do I hammock camp? (He didn’t search that entire phrase.)
What Next? Google that stuff! He did not take his information from one resource, but from many in order to determine what was reliable from what was not. It became apparent over a few weeks who the most reliable resources were, the people everyone else on the Internet seem to reference.
He joined forums like Hammock Forums, and on Facebook he found some groups like “Backpacking and Hiking in Texas” where he could post questions and read what others had posted. YouTube turned out to be the biggest resource as he seemingly has become hooked on channels like ShugEmery, a man in his 60s who talks about hammock camping. He’s like the Robin Williams of backpacking!
Second, Practice What Was Learned
One of the greatest lessons Jerry learned from his service in the U.S. Army was that being on a mission was not the time to try out a skill for the first time. You train in the field as much as possible. Before that, you practice, practice, practice while still safely in garrison.
If it was a cooking skill, he practiced in the kitchen or backyard. If it was a hammock skill, he walked to the nearby park and practice setup techniques. It’s a good chance he made the neighbors nervous at times.
Third, He Just Did It
The first few trips were meant to be with groups, but people kept backing out at the last minute. Jerry eventually drew a line in the sand and decided to go anyway. His first few trips were solo overnight trips.
If you want to know how to improve skills and knowledge, getting out there and just doing it brings the greatest lessons. You learn almost immediately what you neglected during preparation, such as how important insulation is in hammock camping. One word, convection! Waking up to a cold-butt was not fun, and temperatures only dropped into the low 70s! You also gain confidence that what you practiced paid off such as using that homemade alcohol stove to make coffee in the morning.
Fourth, He Evaluated What Worked and What Didn’t
After every trip, Jerry takes notes on what worked, what didn’t, what was vital, and what can be left at home. Two years later, and Jerry is able to pack for a backpacking trip on a moment’s notice. He understands his gear, his limitations, food, and fuel needs, as well as planning for water.
This process is repeated to this day.
How to Develop Skills and Knowledge in All Other Areas of Life
Perhaps you have no plans to go ultralight backpacking. That’s okay. They say in the hiking community, “Hike your own hike.” That means there are many ways to go about hiking, ultralight, lightweight, traditional. Do what you enjoy.
Want to know the secret on how to develop new skills at work?
Follow the same steps listed above.
- Do it, just get out there and do it!
In healthcare, this process would be called the PDSA Model, or the Plan, Do, Study and Act Model. “Plan” would be similar to the Research and Practice steps we have listed. “Do” is the same step in both processes. “Study” is the same as Evaluate, and “Act” would be the process of making adjustments and either sustaining the new skill or process or gong back to the drawing board altogether.
How to Develop Your Talents
You are probably very gifted in a certain area. Work from your strengths! That is a great idea actually.
Notice that we didn’t share how Jerry improved his running time. That is not an area he is gifted in. He loves hiking, and he can walk seemingly forever.
You want to know another trick on how to develop skills and knowledge? Work from what you are already good at doing. Work from a place of strength and advantage. You will appreciate the gains, plus you will be working from a place of prior knowledge. That is a key step in the Nine Events of Instruction by Robert Gagne, recalling priory knowledge.
We recommend you go through a StrengthsFinders session through coaches like Doug Wilks. Listen to our interview with Doug Wilks here.
We also recommend these three books to help you along on how to develop your talents.
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow also by Tom Rath (Affiliate link.)
Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham (Also an affiliate link.)
There you have it. Hope you found this article helpful. Be sure to listen to the episode linked at the top on how to develop skills and knowledge. Share this article and our podcast with your friends, family, coworkers, and even that neighbor across the street! May you live your life beyond the rut.
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