I just finished reading Justin Barbour’s Man and Dog: Through the Newfoundland Wilderness and it’s a fantastic book! If you love dogs and outdoor adventures, you will surely love it too. It’s a great story and the book is packed with helpful lessons about backcountry travel. In this post, I discuss 7 of those lessons. Let’s dive in!
1. Don’t travel far on the first day
While it’s tempting to start a camping trip or expedition by covering as much ground as possible, Barbour suggests minimizing the distance travelled on the first day. Doing so, allows you to check over all your gear the first night you set up camp. If something is missing or malfunctioning, it isn’t difficult to turn back, fix the problem, and head out again.
2. Spend your money on learning not gear
In an age of gear flatlays and never-ending advertising, it’s tempting to buy all the latest and best gear. Of course, you need some basic gear to keep you safe and comfortable, but Barbour suggests your money is best spent on learning new skills. “Ultimately,” he writes, “there is always more to learn in the bush.” This includes “the study of animals, plants, trees, stars, natural navigation, landscapes, and obviously survival and woods living.”
Before throwing your cash at new gear, ask yourself if there’s a local class you can enrol in to improve your skills. The more you know, the more confident and prepared you’ll be in the wilderness. Besides, the more skilled you are, the less gear you’ll need.
3. Fire prep the night before
In Man and Dog, Barbour often talks about prepping fire materials before going to bed. He used campfires to cook most of his meals, which allowed him to conserve his limited fuel supplies. Morning campfires were also a way to warm up and boost morale.
If you’re making a fire in the evenings, it only takes a few moments to prep extra tinder and firewood for the next morning. It’s a great tip and will help you start your day on the right foot.
4. Carry a repair kit
A repair kit is an essential item to carry with you whether you are on an expedition or a weekend getaway. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say Barbour wouldn’t have gotten far without one.
Take a look at your gear. What would you need if it broke? Could you repair a hole in your raincoat or tent? What would you do if the strap broke on your backpack? Or, if you punctured a hole in your water bladder? Assess your gear and put together a small repair kit.
5. Take care of your gear
On a similar note, it’s important to maintain and care for your gear. This will minimize the risk of it breaking and ensures that it can perform up to task. Barbour writes about the importance of consistent maintenance of his hatchet, “a general rule of thumb, as most old-timers will tell you, for every few hours of work, the axe deserves attention.” The same can be said of your knife, hiking boots, saw, and other equipment.
6. Pack calorie dense fats
Never underestimate the importance of calorie dense fats on a long trip. This is true even when you have other food items available. The amount of energy you expend trying to cover ground will eat up calories. Barbour was burning up to 5000 calories a day!
He writes, “fresh trout and jerky were not providing enough, nor were the energy bars or my scant supply of butter. It would definitely be a mistake I learned from for the next expedition. Pack more calorie-dense fats!”
7. Journal your trips
Journaling your trips isn’t just about capturing memories, although that’s a good enough reason to do it. It’s also about learning from your mistakes, understanding what you could have done better, and celebrating your achievements.
A good journal will help you plan for future trips. You’ll get a sense of how fast you can travel over different terrain and you can record important landmarks, fishing holes, wildlife and plant sightings.
More About Justin Barbour
I hope this post has encouraged you to pick up a copy of Man and Dog: Through the Newfoundland Wilderness. Who knows, maybe it’ll inspire you to lead your own expedition one day!