Outdoor Fundamentals: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Course No. 9702
Professor Elizabeth K. Andre, PhD
Northland College
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Course No. 9702
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Demystify the experience of going into the woods for the night or down a river without a motor.
  • numbers Learn the basics of what to pack, how to sustain yourself, and how to stay safe in the great outdoors.
  • numbers Gain practical tips to make the most of your next hiking, canoeing, camping, or wilderness expedition.
  • numbers Get excited about your next (or your first!) outdoor adventure.

Course Overview

There’s nothing like a trip to the great outdoors. As any avid camper, hiker, backpacker, or paddler knows, stepping out of the civilized “front country” for a few hours, days, or even weeks offers physical, mental, and spiritual regeneration unlike any other experience. But if you’re not already an outdoors enthusiast, where would you even start as an outdoor adventure? Why should you even start? Isn’t the outdoors an experience of “roughing it” with bugs, bears, and bad weather?

Not at all! While it’s true that a trip onto open water or into the wilderness does come with a variety of challenges—and dangers—outdoor adventures truly are accessible to everyone. With the right gear and a little bit of know-how, a journey into the great outdoors can be a truly wonderful experience.

As the great outdoorsman Nessmuk (pen name of George Sears) once wrote, “We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities.” Outdoor Fundamentals: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe is all about transforming the idea of roughing it in the wild to “smoothing it” and having the best experience possible. Taught by Professor Elizabeth K. Andre, a highly experienced and accredited wilderness guide and a professor at Northland College, these 24 insightful lectures will give you the practical skills, knowledge, and insight you need to set off for the water or the woods.

Whether you pride yourself on your outdoor prowess or consider yourself an avid indoorsperson, you will find a wealth of practical tips and tricks for enjoying the outdoors, including:

  • What gear you need to pack (and what you can leave at home);
  • Setting up camp and building a fire;
  • Staying hydrated on the trail;
  • Decision-making and risk assessment;
  • Navigation basics;
  • Hygiene and cleanliness; and
  • Wilderness first aid.

Most importantly, Outdoor Fundamentals: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe is about enjoying your next (or your very first) trip to the backcountry! From hiking the woods of Maine, to sea-kayaking the waves of Lake Superior, to exploring the wild country of Big Bend National Forest, Professor Andre has an incredible amount of experience as an expedition guide, and she fills this course with stories of adventure, harrowing tales of survival, and real-world lectures to help familiarize you with what it’s like to spend a day on the river or a night in the woods.

Discover the Basics of Outdoor Adventures

If you’ve never been camping before, this course will clue you in on what you’ve been missing, and will get you ready to tackle everything from a weekend of car camping to multiple weeks in the bush. But even frequent backpackers or paddlers will learn something new among Professor Andre’s many practical lectures. Among other topics, you will study:

Gear and Clothing: How much do you need? Is the top-of-the-line stuff worth the price? What’s the best way to stay warm and dry? From camp stoves to whistles to layered clothing, find out how to pack for your wilderness adventure—and why you should bring one luxury item on every trip.

Food and Water: Every expedition is a balance of caloric needs, creature comforts, and weight. The good news is that with appropriate water treatment, a few cooking essentials, and the right know-how at the campsite, you can eat in style without breaking your back on the trail or sinking the raft on the river.

Campsite Fundamentals: A good campsite is much more than a tent and sleeping bag. Professor Andre shows you how to arrange an outdoor kitchen, build a fire, set up a tarp, and minimize your impact on the terrain at camp—a courtesy your fellow outdoors enthusiasts will appreciate.

Navigation: It may sound flippant to say that the best way to avoid getting lost is always to know where you are. But by showing you how to read topographic maps and how to navigate with a compass, Professor Andre gives you the tools you need to keep your bearings.

In addition to her many tips for trip preparation, Professor Andre also offers guidance for what to do after you get home, from brushing off your tent for proper storage to stowing your sleeping bag so it will keep you warm on the next trip.

Learn How to Stay Safe in (Almost) Any Environment

One of the great appeals of an outdoor adventure is getting away from civilization. But getting away from society means help is not at the ready. If something goes wrong, you can’t dial 911 and get an EMT professional at your doorstep in a few short minutes. Dehydration, hypothermia, broken bones, snake bites, lightning strikes, starvation—the risks are there, but they can be minimized with a little preparation, care, and know-how.

Beyond packing the right gear, bringing plenty of food and a way to filter water, and taking care with your campsite, Professor Andre offers several practical lectures dedicated specifically to outdoor safety—which can be applied to everyday life as well—including lectures in:

Risk Assessment: When you read about avoidable accidents in the wild, your first thought might be, “What was this person thinking?” As you’ll discover, emotions play as big a role as reason in human decision-making, which can lead to dire consequences in the backcountry. But if you recognize your emotions taking over, you can better assess the risks in front of you.

Weather Analysis: Predicting rain is a neat parlor trick in the front country, but in the backcountry, a storm can mean life or death. Learn to analyze cloud patterns and recognize the warning signs of rain, lightning, tornadoes, and more. As you’ll discover, staying safe in severe weather isn’t always intuitive.

First Aid: From the big three (circulation, respiration, and the nervous system) to breaks, scrapes, burns, and bugs, you will gain insight into how to treat injuries from small mishaps to accidents—and when to call for an evacuation.

Many of the safety tips in this course boil down to planning ahead, paying attention to your surroundings, making good decisions, and exercising caution. Even something as simple as telling someone at home where you are going and when you’ll be back can be the difference between life and death. For instance, one of the most harrowing outdoor survival stories in recent years was made into the film 127 Hours, which tells the true story of a man who gets caught in a canyon in Utah. A simple note on his car at the trailhead might have saved him the worst week imaginable.

Deepen Your Appreciation of the Wild

Connecting with the natural world is what outdoor adventures are all about. It’s impossible to convey the experience of paddling down a river, climbing up a mountain, sleeping under the stars, or telling stories around a campfire. The pace of time changes, and you connect with something ancient inside yourself.

It’s an experience you must pursue in order to understand, but which anyone can simply enjoy. Whether you are thinking about an overnight car-camp at your local state park, a week-long canoe trip to the Minnesota Boundary Waters, or a months-long hike along the Appalachian Trail, Outdoor Fundamentals: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe will surely inspire you to get off the couch and into the wild.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 27 minutes each
  • 1
    The Call of the Wild
    We often think of “roughing it” in the outdoors—testing our mettle against the forces of nature and depriving ourselves of creature comforts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this introductory lecture, explore some of the many reasons to venture into the great outdoors. Find out how, instead of “roughing it,” you can “smooth it.” x
  • 2
    Backpacking and Trip Planning
    A backpacking trip can be profoundly enjoyable, provided you plan ahead and pack a few necessities (and leave a few non-essentials at home). Learn how to stay hydrated, eat well, take care of your skin, and protect your feet on the trail. Gain a few safety tips for traveling in a group. x
  • 3
    Canoe or Sea-Kayak Camping
    Glide into the backcountry or open ocean—in style! Paddling is one of the most serene ways to enjoy the natural world, but there are a few perils that come with canoeing or kayaking. From battling waves and weather to staying warm in cool waters, learn how to take on the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers. x
  • 4
    Campcraft: Selecting and Organizing Gear
    You don't have to spend much time with outdoor enthusiasts to learn it's all about the gear. From high-tech creature comforts to lightweight innovations, there's no shortage of ways to outfit your next overnight. What do you really need? How do you balance weight versus convenience? Start building your system of gear in this practical lecture. x
  • 5
    Clothing and Footwear for Outdoor Adventure
    Investigate the world of shell layers, synthetic materials, insulation, and ankle support to help you maintain a comfortable body temperature, manage moisture, and protect your skin. Whether it's a multi-day snow hike or car camping in the desert, Professor Andre shows you how to select just the right clothing and footwear for your next outdoor excursion. x
  • 6
    Basics for Wilderness Safety
    Lions, tigers, and bears … well, your wilderness adventure might not bring you in contact with a tiger, but plenty of other risks abound, from snakes to stinging insects to, yes, black bears and mountain lions. See what it takes to stay safe on the trail, and how to stay healthy while you’re off the grid. x
  • 7
    Weather Forecasting and Moon Phases
    Cold fronts and warm fronts are more than meteorological mumbo jumbo. With a little training, you can look at cloud patterns and know whether rain is on the way—and what type of storm to expect. As you dig into the fascinating world of weather patterns, you’ll learn how to survive lightning, floods, tornadoes, and more. x
  • 8
    Introduction to Navigation
    For most of us accustomed to GPS directions and well-marked streets, it can be frighteningly easy to get lost in the woods. In this lecture, engage your senses—sight, sound, smell, and feel—to build mental maps of your surroundings. Find out how to measure time and distance on the trail. x
  • 9
    Navigating with Topographic Maps
    Topographic maps tell you a great deal about the terrain—details that don’t much matter in the civilized world. Professor Andre teaches you how to read these helpful maps, and then she shows you how to use a compass in sync with your topographic map. With a little practice on the trail or on the river, you may never get lost again. x
  • 10
    Assessing and Managing Risk in the Outdoors
    Risk management affects every aspect of our lives, but it’s especially critical when you don’t have instant access to shelter, medical supplies, and 911. Unpack the nature and likelihood of various risks in the outdoors, as well as our own cognitive biases, so you can make better—safer—decisions on the trail and off. x
  • 11
    How Emotions Affect Your Decision Making
    Life might be much simpler if we were all rational beings who always made highly calculated decisions. Alas, humans are emotional beings, and we make many of our most important decisions by feel rather than by thought. Learn to make better decisions by examining your emotions at play in the great outdoors. x
  • 12
    Selecting a Campsite and Pitching Shelter
    As anyone who does it regularly knows, camping is fun. But to make the most of it, you’ll want to set up a good campsite. Find out what makes a good campsite and how to set up a tarp or tent to keep you dry and cozy. This lecture comes with a special “bonus instruction” on tying knots to help you secure a tarp. x
  • 13
    Outdoor Kitchen Setup and Safety
    Your campsite might not be a gourmet kitchen with all the amenities, but with a few adjustments to your cooking regimen, you can cook some amazing meals outdoors. Survey the best way to set up your campsite kitchen, the basics of stove safety, and how to keep your hands and dishes clean. x
  • 14
    Building a Campfire
    Storytelling by a campfire is one of life’s most enjoyable activities—and it’s as old as humanity itself. But building a good fire can separate the amateurs from the pros at the campsite. From gathering tinder to establishing a bed of coals, see what it takes to construct a good fire in the wild. x
  • 15
    Safe Drinking Water in the Wilderness
    If you’re out in the backcountry for more than a day, you’re going to need to treat water to. Make it safe for drinking—removing sediment, bacteria, and other microorganisms that might make you sick. Reflect on your different options for filtering or purifying water, from boiling to chemical treatments, and the pros and cons of each. x
  • 16
    Outdoor Menu Planning and Cooking
    Humans survived for millennia without refrigeration, but enjoying a good meal on the trail requires a few adjustments to our modern lifestyle. You'll want to triangulate your daily calorie needs, the weight of your gear, and the taste of your food. Examine the range of options available for your next trip to the wild. x
  • 17
    Minimizing Your Impact on the Wilderness
    Nothing spoils an outdoor adventure faster than stumbling onto a messy campsite or a vandalized forest. Minimizing your impact in the backcountry is part of an unwritten code of courtesy for enjoying the wild. Learn the major principles for being a good steward of the wilderness. x
  • 18
    Hygiene on a Camping Trip
    Germs exist in the wild same as they do in civilization, but without running hot water it can be a challenge to keep yourself clean. From shoes to camp soap to disposable wipes, see what gear you can bring and what steps you should take to mitigate the spread of disease. Your body, and your camp mates, will thank you. x
  • 19
    Wilderness First Aid: Handling Emergencies
    It’s a good idea for everyone to have at least a basic understanding of wilderness first aid. The “wait-and-see” approach we might take in the front country could be deadly in the backcountry. In this first of two lectures, learn about first aid for the “big three”: circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems. x
  • 20
    Wilderness First Aid: Nonemergency Care
    Continue your study of wilderness first aid with a look beyond the “big three” life-threatening concerns. Find out how to make a splint for an injured limb, how to treat an open wound, what to do for burns, and more. Learn a few guidelines for when to hike out and when to call for help. x
  • 21
    Navigating with a Compass
    A compass is one of the most useful tools on the trip, but only if you know how to use it. See how to get your bearings and travel off trail or over open water with the aid of a compass. Then, travel with Professor Andre to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota to practice your navigation skills. x
  • 22
    What to Do When You're Lost
    Getting lost is one of the easiest things to do in the backcountry. Perhaps you wander off the trail to gather firewood, or perhaps you stop paying attention to your map and compass. Whatever the reason, you find yourself lost. What should you do? Keep moving? Call for help? Build a shelter? Learn the do's and don'ts in this insightful lecture. x
  • 23
    Maintaining and Repairing Your Gear
    The right gear makes all the difference in the wild, but only if you take care of it between expeditions. Even the most avid outdoor enthusiasts may neglect to wash their sleeping bags or shake out their tents after a long stint in the bush. Here, Professor Andre offers a checklist of common gear ailments and how to prevent them. x
  • 24
    Connecting to the Wild within You
    Preparation and caution are important for venturing into the wild, but your outdoor experience is about more than following a checklist and staying hydrated. Whether on water or land, getting outdoors can be breath-taking, as this final lecture makes clear. Now, get ready for your own next adventure! x

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  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Diagrams
  • Suggested reading

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Your professor

Elizabeth K. Andre

About Your Professor

Elizabeth K. Andre, PhD
Northland College
Elizabeth K. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college on the South Shore of Lake Superior. She earned her MA in Outdoor Education from Griffith University in Australia and her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota. She served for four years on...
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Outdoor Fundamentals: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 37.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good even for non outdoor person I wanted to learn about survival skills, in the rare event I was stranded in the wild. Not being a camping person or back country person, I still wanted to learn about outdoor fundamentals, and that I did. The course is well organized, and presented very well and clearly. Illustrations and audio samples could be more plentiful is my only nit.
Date published: 2020-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Guide for How to Hike an Backpack I was in the Army and I have been hiking in National Parks for 50 years I guess. I have done about 75 parks and many several times. There is alot of skill to backpacking and this book gets you there. If you are serious about long through hikes, then this is the book for you. It is VERY VERY good. Excellent book.
Date published: 2020-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent content. You might think a two time NOLS Semester graduate who has skied 750-miles across Antarctica to the South Pole and who rowed alone across the Atlantic Ocean would learn nothing from this course. I learned plenty. This course is excellent for both novices and old salts. People who are "too cool for school" should stay out of the wilderness. This is, indeed, a Great Course.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course I've backpacked and hiked for years and still learned so much from this course. I look forward to applying the lessons out in the field. The instructor is great and give so many pertinent examples from the real world. I think that she would be an amazing trip leader. I recommend this course highly. I liked it so much that I bought one for my daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
Date published: 2020-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good info for starting out interest in camping hiking etc
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Course - Enjoyed! I learned a lot about living in the outdoors and all the rules and "good style" that is expected today. Interesting lectures and now I'm reading a book she recommended "Backpackin' Book".
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and fun at the same 5 Great introduction to a wide variety of outdoor skills. Very interesting and informative. The professor kept my attention throughout and did a great job interjecting person stories adding a level of realism.
Date published: 2020-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation and Learning Scope Kudos to Professor Andre. It is obvious that she is experienced and knowledgeable on this topic. This course covers the wide gamut of material and scope that you would expect for the subject of Outdoor Fundamentals. I assure anyone who takes this course that you will learn something. Excellent presentation and although there is always room for more coverage on any one topic, the summaries are well thought out and planned for. This will make a good resource for future use and I especially appreciated the reference at the end of each chapter "Suggested Reading".
Date published: 2020-07-11
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