Learn Skills for Cheap Thrills

Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Bored, but too broke to hit up the latest chick flick? Challenge yourself to learn a new skill each week. Pick something that will save you money, augment your fitness goals, aid in survival or preparedness, or all of the above. Bring a friend on board, or even plan an outing with friends to attend a workshop or simply learn together.

Skills I’ve really enjoyed, especially in the company of friends, include knot tying (get your mind out of the gutter), survival fishing, making snares, identifying and preparing wild edibles, survival signaling and old-school orienteering.

Geocaching with a GPS unit is another great way to get friends and family out of the house and on the trail.

Household frugality skills that have become rusty for many of us include bread baking, intensive gardening, soapmaking, candlemaking, knitting, basic home improvement & maintenance, and medicinal herbs.

Many community colleges or county recreation departments offer inexpensive classes on the above topics. Online resources and printed guidebooks can allow you to learn a new skill in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee.

Learning with friends is the way to go. In my old home city, my girlfriends and I took turns planning outings in which we’d either learn something new, or attend a lecture or reading that broadened our own horizons. In addition to learning something new, you learn more about the people in your immediate lives. A favorite activity was an outing to a rock climbing gym, when one buddy earned my respect for the hard-earned skills she’d built in a few short months of training.

Another was a CPR class I took with my family before we embarked on a three-month boating trip through Alaska’s inland passage, by way of Canada’s San Juan Islands. (After that, I learned to suture pickled pigs’ feet and administer insulin injections into oranges, woo hoo).

My general philosophy is to make preparedness and self-reliance a natural part of my life. Never be ashamed to admit you know how to field dress a rabbit, make glue from pine pitch or change the oil on your Subaru.

Building good skillsets benefits your self-confidence as well as your self-reliance, and makes you more interesting at social gatherings. You may be tempted to demonstrate bushcraft firestarting at your cousin’s wedding reception next summer, and I’m here to let you know that that’s a bad idea. Knowing how to use your emergency suture/fishing kit to fix the bride’s bussle, on the other hand, will make you the belle of the ball.

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