To the uninitiated, backpacking might sound like one of the easiest sports in the game. After all, it doesn’t require any skills apart from the ability to walk and carry a load on one’s back, right?

Actually, no. There’s far more to the activity than simply strapping on a pack and hitting the trail, which is one of the reasons why one is statistically more likely to die while hiking than while skydiving. Although the risk of death is still relatively low, there are other hazards that await backpackers who haven’t adequately prepared themselves for the experience. Here’s a rundown of basic skills that every backpacker should master before hitting the trail.


Proper Fitting and Packing

Rule numero uno: When shopping for a pack, always ask a salesperson for help, full stop. Without a proper fit, backpacking will go from an enjoyable activity to all-out torture in less than an hour. Be sure to purchase the right size for your build and torso length.

While packing, be sure to distribute the heaviest items so that they’re centered on your back. Finally, beware of over-packing.


Tying a Decent Knot

Knot-tying is particularly helpful to backpackers when it comes to safely securing tents in windy conditions. Plus, it’s nice to set up a decent clothesline every once in awhile when on the trail. If no local courses are available, check out an online resource, such as Animated Knots.


Reading a Map

While this may seem like a no-brainer, a 2013 study showed that four out of five persons aged 18 to 30 were unable to navigate without technological assistance. The ability to read contours on a map (and navigate using a compass) can mean the difference between even life or death.


Building a Fire Without Matches

With any luck, this is a skill that won’t be necessary, but again, it’s not one you want to find yourself without. Pack a fire-starter kit, and practice with flints at home. There are many YouTube tutorials available on the subject; check one out here.


Basic First Aid

This will come in especially handy on group excursions; someone should always know how to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or how to tie a tourniquet. The Red Cross website provides a list of courses; sign up for one today.