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Beware the new outdoor expert

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Based on a 40-hour work -week that would be 250 days. Based on 10 hours of that activity per week that would be close to 3 years. Factor in an activity where the season only lasts ¼ of the year it would be safer to estimate that it would take 10-12 years to become experienced at something to become an “expert”. Granted of course that during all that time you are learning and training in the correct and current info.

With the internet, we are able to look up more items than ever, read more articles, view many “how to” Youtube videos, and learn advice from “experts” offering advice on outdoor pursuits. On the one hand it’s great if it motivates us to get off our butts and go outdoors to play, on the other hand it could, can, and does put us in danger.

Internet savvy outdoor-folk have been crafty at putting up great web sites, blogs, or social media sites in order to show us all of their great adventures. Seeing these great sites sometimes results in questions about “how did you do that?”, or “What do you recommend for this?” Sometimes it’s just seeing an item that they use and picking up the same thing hoping for the same use.

A couple examples from this past winter & spring that come to mind are an avid blogger and hiker recommending a particular stove for winter camping. The stove they recommended burns a canister with a propane/butane mixture. For years most expert winter campers have not had success with that stove/fuel combination and opted for a white gas burning stove instead. After some further follow up and investigating into the type of winter camping that was being done in this situation, it was only for a short duration and ready-to-eat foods/ non-cook foods were consumed, so actual stove use was unknown.

Leading up to the May long weekend an expert was being interviewed on what type of foods were best for backpacking and back country travel. Some food items came up but not once was it mentioned or cautioned about the increased amounts of calories we burn and need to replenish during outdoor adventures. Ready-to-eat meals were recommended, snack bars and such, but no real information about dehydrating meals or laying out meal plans that co-ordinate and collaborate with each other.

The worst example came in the form of a gear list recommendation of a canoe packing technique in which blue tarps were used to wrap items up in the center of the canoe to “waterproof” and protect them from sun. As a veteran canoeist and canoe guide I realize the origin of this technique but also the danger in capsizing and not being able to perform a timely rescue or worse, getting tangled in the floating tarp and thus possibly drowning.

In most cities there is an outdoor store that has been there for years, in some cases forever. As the owner or staff evolves at that store so does the information, and thus the level of “expert” advice. It’s best if the “expert staff” are active in the activity that they are recommending gear for. In some cases if they have not encountered that specific requirement before, make sure they troubleshoot the product and its use and limitations with you so you are informed. Keep in mind that good gear shops have their customers return and tell stories and give reviews. This informs the staff about good and bad performance to possibly pass on to the next customer, or even back to the supplier.

In summary, here are a couple tips to find the outdoor expert: 1. Make sure the person has done the activity over a number of years in a variety of ways. 2. Make sure they are current in the activity or currently connected in a personal way, not just through browsers and online videos. 3. Look for passion when the person is presenting information. (But heads up that passion can come with a side of opinion too.)

So based on the timeline at the top in number of hours to reach expert status, perhaps it’s best for us to consider when, how, and what we post for others to consider as “how to” when pursuing an activity or adventure. Spend some time gaining experience, taking formal courses, and traveling with experienced mentors before self-proclaiming educated status, in years, not months, or worst yet – days.

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