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Ah, the great outdoors of Montana—majestic mountains, sprawling forests, and the kind of wilderness that makes you feel alive. But for anyone unfamiliar with its vast landscapes, it can also be a bit intimidating, especially if you're not prepared. That's why events like the Backcountry Skills Summit are a goldmine for anyone looking to level up their survival game. Hosted by the TREAD Agency, this three-day event a few hours north of White Sulfur Springs, MO was a crash course in wilderness survival and a great way to connect with leaders in the outdoor industry. Attendees from CarbonTV, Outfitter Services, and other industry professionals shared a campfire with subject matter experts to learn and to share their expertise.
Above: Base Camp being set up the first night of the Backcountry Skills Summit.
Over the course of the summit, several classes were taught to help level up our survival skills and impart a deeper appreciation for the Montana wilderness. Subject matter experts from popular TV shows, federal agencies, and several outdoor companies put together well thought out and relevant instruction.
Laura Zerra: The Survival Kit Guru
You might recognize Laura Zerra from the show “Naked and Afraid,” but let me tell you, she's anything but afraid when it comes to survival. Her session on what to pack in a survival kit was eye-opening. From cutting tools to fire starters, she emphasized the importance of being prepared for any situation. Laura also touched on the psychology of survival, explaining that a calm mind can be your best tool in a crisis. She even discussed her own experiences where she had to rely on her survival kit to make it through tough situations. It is interesting to note that her survival kit was small, light weight, and versatile enough to provide essential needs during an emergency. Laura also has her own show called “Decivilized” which overs a myriad of survival topics on CarbonTV. (URL: https://www.carbontv.com/shows/decivilized)
Above: Laura Zerra imparts her survival wisdom periodically during the hike to the top of the mountain.
Amber Kornak: Bear Safety 101
Amber Kornak from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not only survived a grizzly bear attack but also taught us how to protect ourselves from these majestic yet dangerous creatures. Her advice? Carry bear spray and know how to use it! Amber shared her personal story, which added a layer of authenticity and urgency to her tips, and proceeded to instruct on the proper techniques to carry and shoot bear spray at its intended target. She also discussed the importance of understanding bear behavior to avoid encounters in the first place. Since the Montana wilderness is home to a large population of bears, this advice was potentially life saving. (URL: https://www.fws.gov/staff-profile/amber-kornak)
Above: Amber Kornak discusses bear behavior and how to protect yourself during a bear attack.
Jordan Jonas: Shelter Building
Remember Jordan Jonas from History Channel's “Alone”? This guy knows his way around a tarp and some paracord. He showed us how to build a survival shelter that could withstand the elements, and it was surprisingly easier than you'd think. Jordan emphasized that the skills for building a shelter can be adapted for several survival scenarios, in a multitude of environments. He also gave us a rundown on how the tarp can be folded to keep pesky mosquitoes from disturbing a good night's rest. Plus, he threw in some pro tips on how to make your shelter more comfortable, because let's face it, if you're stuck in the wild, a little comfort goes a long way. (URL: jordanjonas.com)
Above: Jordan Jonas teaches some quick shelter building techniques with the use simple items like cordage and a tarp.
Tyler Beck and Doogie Courvreux: Guzzle H2O
Clean water is a must in the backcountry, and the guys from Guzzle H2O have developed a device that pumps and purifies water on the go. It's a game-changer for anyone who loves to venture off the beaten path. Tyler and Doogie explained the science behind their water purification system, and demonstrated how easy their system was to deploy. In fact, all of our potable water during the Summit was provided via Guzzle H2O from a nearby river. For city folks, they pointed out that having a portable water purification system can be invaluable during natural disasters when tap water may be contaminated. (URL: guzzleh20.com)
Above: Guzzle H2O's water filtration system is quick to deploy and simple to use.
Derek Jerrel: Winchester Ammunition
Self-defense is crucial in the wilderness. Derek Jerrel from Winchester Ammunition introduced us to their new “Big Bore” hollow point ammo, which is optimized for personal defense and hunting applications. Derek went into the technical aspects, explaining the engineering behind the ammunition's effectiveness. He also discussed the ethical considerations of using firearms for self-defense, emphasizing the importance of awareness and decision-making. For urbanites concerned about self-defense, Derek mentioned that understanding the basics of ammunition can be useful, even if you're not in a backcountry setting. (URL: winchester.com)
Above: Winchester ammunition being used during long range marksmanship.
Scoute Arms: Precision in the Wilderness
When it comes to long-range shooting, the team from Scoute Arms are the experts you want to learn from. Led by Creighton Greene, John Torres, Justin Rassmusen, and Trent McMurtrey, their workshop was a masterclass in precision and technique. They broke down the complexities of long-range shooting into understandable lessons, covering everything from the basics of rifle setup to advanced wind reading. Their hands-on approach allowed attendees to get real-time feedback, making adjustments on the spot to improve accuracy. But it wasn't just about hitting a target; Scoute Arms emphasized the ethical considerations and responsibilities that come with wielding such a powerful tool. (URL: scoutearms.com)
Above: Scoute Arms instructors discuss the proper use of tripods during long range marksmanship.
Mitch Staley from the Montana Department of Commerce spent some time with the group, and gave us the lowdown on why Montana is a great place to live and explore. From tax incentives to a welcoming community, Montana is extending its arms to adventurers and settlers alike. These perks seem to be working, given that the state is currently seeing a boom in new residents. For outdoor enthusiasts, Montana has countless opportunities. (URL: commerce.mt.gov/)
Shiftpod: The Future of Tents
Shiftpod provided the shelters we slept in each night. The company is taking camping to the next level with its space-age composite fabrics and quick setup. These tents are designed to withstand extreme conditions, from scorching desert heat to icy snowstorms. What's more, the tents are insulated and UV reflective, and have plenty of ventilation ports, ensuring a comfortable environment inside. (URL: shiftpod.com)
Above: Shiftpod tents look like something you might find on the surface of Mars, but they are tough and well insulated.
Coast: Light Up Your Adventure
For both visibility and cutting tools, Coast provided the gear every camper needs. Their range of LED flashlights and hands-free lighting solutions are designed for performance and durability, with some products boasting up to 5,300 lumens and a beam distance of over 500 meters. Coast also offers a variety of knives for any survival kit. (URL: coastportland.com)
Mystery Ranch Backpacks
These aren't your average backpacks. Mystery Ranch provided attendees with 40L Coulee backpacks that are both durable and adjustable. The technology behind their ergonomic design distributes weight more evenly across your back. Various compartments designed for specific gear, such as the zippered pockets on the hip strap, make it easier to stay organized. (URL: mysteryranch.com)
Above: Gear provided during the Backcountry Skills Summit covered many of our outdoor needs, including cutting, illumination, and storage.
The Backcountry Skills Summit was more than a series of workshops; it was a full-sensory journey that began in a river valley and culminated at the summit of a mountain. The first night set the stage with Steve Christman from Xman’s BBQ serving up a roasted boar. The smoky aroma mingled with the fresh mountain air, creating an atmosphere that was as rustic as it was inviting. The second night was a culinary escapade led by Tyler McManus from Velma Elaine Catering. We feasted on elk, bison, beef and chicken, each dish a culinary masterpiece that seemed to capture the essence of Montana's untamed wilderness. Gear companies were there to augment the event by showcasing their models
Above: Xman's BBQ served up a feast for the first night of the Summit.
But the real showstopper came when we hiked from the river valley to the mountain summit. As we reached the peak, we were greeted by a sunset so stunning it seemed as if the sky itself was ablaze. The hues of orange, pink, and purple reflected off the clouds, casting a magical glow that made the strenuous hike worth every step.
Above: Montana is also home to some amazing vistas.
As the Backcountry Skills Summit wrapped up, it was clear that the event was more than a crash course in survival — it was a lesson in life readiness. The experts didn't just share tips; they imparted wisdom that applies to anyone, anywhere. Each piece of gear showcased, from Shiftpod tents to Coast lights and Mystery Ranch backpacks, were not just products but essential tools for navigating life's unpredictabilities. Leaving the summit, attendees were better equipped not just for outdoor adventures, but for the challenges that lie ahead, wherever they may be.