By Asnoldo "Oz" Benitez
Growing up in Idaho, I took many walks with my grandma. We would watch birds, identify edible plants and talk about the changing of the seasons. As a Boy Scout, I started backpacking, including a 14-day hike at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
Even now – as an adult in Colorado – there is no greater joy for me than getting outside and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of our great outdoors. Recently five friends and I hiked along the Colorado River on one of the most isolated trails in the Grand Canyon.
Even so, I know for some, getting outdoors may seem daunting. There is a lot of equipment available and it seems like there are new products every day, designed to make your hiking and camping easier or more enjoyable. But in some ways, trying to make things easier has made them seem more out of reach.
We need more diversity in outdoor activities, including those jobs that cater to hikers, campers, hunters and anglers. HECHO has asked me to provide some tips to help others develop lifelong skills outdoors and I am happy to help!
1: Get outside
The first step is getting outside. Grab a bottle of water and start with a short walk or hike in one of the many parks and trails in the West. If you prefer, take a friend too. Whether in Denver, Albuquerque or a smaller town or community, we are all just a short bike ride or drive to open spaces.
2: Break it before you buy [a more expensive one]
When you are ready for a longer hike and need some additional equipment, my best advice is “break it before you buy it.”
It is no mystery that the more you spend, the better, faster, lighter and cooler looking etc. your equipment. But just like the first day of school in a big cash-strapped family, you can find great deals to get you out the door and started at your local second hand store.
La Segundo (the second hand store), consignment shops, pawn shops, flea markets, yard sales and your best friends, are easier on your wallet. Just remember a roll of ducktape.
3: Start small
Starting small and building your camping gear list over time provides a deeper appreciation for modern equipment construction, function and lightweight innovations.
When I started backpacking I went to a discount store for my first external frame bag. The older boys in my Boy Scout troop gave me their old clothing and, at REI, I bought my first serious hiking boots. When I was ready to make a bigger investment, I knew exactly what I liked, wanted and needed.
4: Keep your friends in mind!
Over the years I have acquired 3 internal frame backpacks 3 sleeping bags, a jet-boil cooking system, Sawyer water filter, camel pack and numerous water bottles. Not to mention hats gloves socks and other essentials.
The extra packs and sleeping bags are great for when after talking up the mountains around my buddies gets to the point they want to go but don't have gear or money at the moment. I can tell them not to worry and outfit them for a casual 2 day adventure.
There is also the joy of knowing that one day when you can afford better gear you can hand down quality items to a younger family member or friend.
Congratulations, you are officially “outdoors” ready!
By following these simple steps, you can take advantage of all the West has to offer. There are millions of acres of public land that we need to protect and enjoy!
Oz Benitez lives in Denver and is headed to the Peace Corps in June to teach health hygiene and build water sanitation systems. He earned his Eagle Scout rank advancement in 2001 by developing a xeriscape garden at Hanson Elementary in Commerce City and studied engineering and math at UC Denver.