Being a Good Observer is an Important Skill in the Backcountry


The better observer you are, the better your chances of survival are in an emergency.  If you spend a lot of time in the same general areas, you should take the time to learn to read the terrain. There are many nature signs that can help you.  Learning these signs can help you in almost any areas or situations.

For instance, let’s talk about rock.  The type of rock in the area can tell you a lot about what to expect.  Limestone will tell you that you may find caves, holes and stone pillars.  If there is granite, the chances of natural caves are greatly reduced.  Where there is granite you are likely to have uneven rough ground and depending on the area maybe wet boggy ground.

Pay attention to rock faces, geological forces such as glaciers often tip rocks in the same direction.  See if there are any exposed angles visible and do they tend to run in one direction.  If you are familiar with the rocks in your area, this can help you to determine the points of the compasses.  This is one of the few navigation techniques that will work underground in a cave.

Look at the smaller rocks around you.  If the rocks are round and smooth, you know they have been exposed to running water and constant erosion.  The water may be gone but you can use this technique to help determine if the area you are in is susceptible to flash floods. Be careful in low-lying areas.

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Soils are another thing to watch.  The darker the soil, the more organic materials it contains and the richer it is.  You should have lots of plant and animal life in this type of area.

When it is time to set up a camp or bug out location, check the soils in your campsite.  Sandy soils tend to be dry and drain well.  Clay soils will hold the water.  Avoid this type of soil when camping.

These are just a few of nature’s signs that you will see if you are a good observer.  Every area is unique in some aspects, but many are consistent all over.  Work on your skills and become a good observer.




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4 thoughts on “Being a Good Observer is an Important Skill in the Backcountry”

  1. I subscribe to In an article titled “11 Survival Lessons We Can Learn From Old Timers” she has a hyperlink to this page.
    Being 60, I remember Encyclopedias and sitting down to do research for school just to be caught up in reading one “for further info …,” article after another for hours at a time. Your site is just like that.
    I sat down last night at 2330 to look at the clock now to see that it’s 0820.
    Your site is great! Thank you for all your hard work. It shows.

  2. Discussing this subject with a friend of mine who is a retired foreign service officer, veteran of multiple overseas deployments in the Third World and war zones, with their attendant surprises and lessons, is that situational awareness goes beyond the Ten Primary Indicators often taught in corporate security classes as discussed in detail at this link and summarized below:

    1. Inexplicable presence. In “tradecraft language” cover for action cover for status. People adrift for no reason should interest you. Most people walk with purpose, have keys in their hands, are carrying packages to and from somewhere. When none of that is going on and someone is just loafing? Ask yourself what they’re up to.

    2. Target glancing. Be watchful for people who look at you trying to NOT look like they’re looking at you. They may be assessing “target value,” looking for police, CCTV and where their escape is.

    3. Sudden change in status. Someone loafing at a bus stop and the ONLY thing that changes is your arrival nearby them and they suddenly change their status (were smoking, were sitting, were napping) when you approach, ask if it coincidental or not. ESPECIALLY if number 1 & 2 already apply!

    4. Correlation of movement. You notice something that alarms you, so you cross the street. So does the person causing you alarm. Or you walk past somebody on the bus stop bench and they fall into step behind you. You move away from the person giving you the intent stare in a bar and if a minute later, you see them again you have right to be concerned.

    5. Hidden hands and unnatural movement(s). The guy who fell in step behind you is walking with a hand held behind his leg. That’s not natural. That guy approaching you from across the street to intersect your path has his hand inside his coat or pocket. Criminals know that he fastest draw in the west is having a weapon already in hand.

    6. Inappropriate clothing. Criminals do not wear concealment holsters, because they want to be able to pitch the gun into a trash can or sewer after the deed is done. They tuck their weapon in the groin line or abdomen carry. Light summer shirts “print” if too snug and make it difficult to conceal a weapon. Be suspicious of a guy wearing a sweatshirt or hoodie on a 70 degree night.

    7. Predatorial movement/actions that seek an advantage/dominant position. If two people walk up to you to ask directions and one steps to your side (flanking) that’s a predatorial movement. If someone hovers at your 4-8 o’clock ask yourself why they would do that. Be sensitive to any positioning that makes you feel vulnerable.

    8. Unnatural impediments to free movement. Any time your freedom of movement is restricted you should be alarmed. No one has the right to do that. And when done against your will it constitutes assault. If walking and someone impedes your movement, quick step, keep the person in sight and check your flanks. If a vehicle is involved (you’re driving and suddenly a vehicle backs out in front of you and stops, creating a pregnant pause…) look to your flanks immediately, and get ready to take evasive action for to push that car in front of you out of the way.

    9. Unsolicited attempts at conversation. C’mon…no one really falls for that anymore, do they? Unfortunately yes, yes they do.

    10. Baiting. Ever been minding your own business and had someone bark, “What are you looking at?” or “What did you just say?” Well if it ever happens to you, just realize you’re the object of entertainment and that NOTHING you say will be the right thing. Get yourself out of the situation quickly before it goes South!

    The above are ALL good indicators, they need to be mentally placed within the scope of the present LOCATION, CONDITIONS, CUSTOMS and CIRCUMSTANCES.

    What constitute a RED warning in Khartoum, may not raise an eyebrow in Hometown, USA. A situation that raises hackles in New York or DC may be the picture of innocence in Kansas City or Houston. Location and Circumstances are the great “modifiers” of all the “divergent” indicators.

    We must be able to mentally shift gears, or see those indicators in respect to those two items in particular, as they may totally change our necessary response when correctly interpreted.

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