Foundational Backcountry Knowledge (WPA-1)

This is THE place to start when it comes to acquiring backcountry skills.  All to often in life we go for the quick solutions.  When it comes to being able to take care of one’s self in nature, there are not short cuts.  When a person overlooks the foundational knowledge, the person may quickly learn how to make a utensil, however their progress becomes hindered because the root knowledge was never gained and internalized.

The course progression at Desert DAWN is intentionally slow at first so that when our students have proficiency at the foundational level they will be able to learn the advanced skills far more quickly.  Our students gain a deep appreciation for the materials, the tools and how to make both work together advantageously.

We go slow to go fast!




The Curriculum of the Foundational Backcountry Knowledge Course is intentionally a “go slow to go fast” curriculum.  We will explore the details of nature and come to understand the resources nature might provide in our backcountry adventures.  Once you gain the knowledge of nature’s resources then the skills necessary for living simply in nature come much easier and quicker.

We start with the bare necessities of taking care of yourself in nature.  The course then progresses into the two main components; the materials component in which we study the plants, how they grow and how they may provide us a benefit when camping, and the skills component in which we study the foundational crafts – knife craft, fire craft and rope craft – paying particular attention to the basics of these craft.

More details on the curriculum.


Course Goals  


The goal of the course is to provide students the opportunity to develop proficiency in knife, rope and fire skills as well as basic nature observation skills.

Knife Craft

You will have an understanding of the different knife styles and blade shapes in order to understand which would be best to use as a field knife.

You will become proficient in sharpening your knife to a keen edge.

You will understand the growth patterns of the various trees of the area and understand the grain of each.  With this knowledge you will gain the ability to evaluate trees from your home area with regard to the tree’s suitability for wood craft projects.

You will become proficient using your knife for woodcraft projects by understanding the various knife grips and the associated stroke for the grip.

With the your knife skills combined with your knowledge of the wood grain of various woods you will be able to competently produce basic implements for use in camp.

Fire Craft

You will be proficient at start fires with both matches and a flint and steel set.

You will understand the differences among various fire lays and the situations when each fire lay will be most effective for starting a particular fire.

You will understand the benefits of various woods as fuel wood for fires as well as the benefit of different sizes of wood for different fire uses.

You will be able to manage a fire safely in various conditions.

Rope craft

You will have a working knowledge of ropes and the methods of caring for ropes.

You will be proficient at tying 7-8 basic camping knots and know when each knot is appropriately used.

Nature Observation

You will be able to identify the primary trees and bushes of the area

You will understand the best woods for different purposes

You will have a working knowledge of the uses of the sun moon and stars  for navigation.

You will be able to unmistakably identify the key edible plants of the area and know the edible parts of the plants.


Physical Abilities  


The Foundational backcountry Knowledge course is a camping experience that takes advantage of a basecamp setting to facilitate the learning.  We will have short hikes with day packs to study plants and gather materials.  The following is an outline of the physical abilities a person should be complete in order to participate in the course.

Physical Abilities needed on the Course


Sleeping                                                Tarps, blankets and natural materials

Cooking                                                 Campfire

Toilet                                                      Latrine/catholes


Average Hiking Distances (Daily)       1.5 miles

Maximum Hiking Distance (Daily)     3 miles

Potential Elevation Change (Daily)      up to 800 feet


Elevation Range                                   7200 to 9500 feet

Food & Water

Food (approx. calories)                       2000 calories/day

          Basecamp  water                                 at a natural water source

Day hike water                                     1 Liter Water Bottle