Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Do you have a Trackers Kid? Enter our photo contest to win a free day of Spring Break Camp! Find the best photo(s) of your kids doing Trackers Stuff. Post on social media and tag our page @TrackersEarth. Ask friends to share. We feature the top photos in our newsletter.


1. Pick a super awesome photo of your kid doing “Trackers Stuff” in 2016.
2. Post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
3. Tag us (Trackers Earth) in your post.
4. Add hashtag #TrackersKids2017
5. Spread the word! If you know a kid who does Trackers Stuff, even if they haven’t attended a camp, they are eligible to win as well!


1. The kid in the photo must belong to you.
2. The kid must be doing “Tracker Stuff.”
3. Enter as many times as you like!

Contest ends February 7, 2017 at midnight.
Winners announced February 10, 2017 in the evening via Facebook, Instagram, and newsletter.

Winners of the “Kids Who Trackers,” Photo Contest will receive one free day of 2017 Spring Break Camp (non-transferable to other programs)!


“Trackers Stuff” includes; hiking, tracking, whittling, ceramics, blacksmithing, foraging, gathering, basket weaving, hunting, fishing, kayaking, archery, playing Vikings & Valkyries, Pirates, Ninjas, Wizards, etc.    “Trackers Stuff” qualifications will be at the discretion of the photo contest judges at Trackers Earth.

By participating in this contest, you are giving Trackers Earth permission to use submitted photos on our website and on our social media accounts.

There’s a reason we chose knives and wood carving as the topic of our first Trackers Earth book.

A knife is an incredible tool for the forest craft we do at Trackers. You can use your blade in profound ways, from making feather sticks for lighting wet wood in the rain to carving fish hooks to feed yourself. My knife has cared for my own life and comfort many times.

That’s why it feels strange to hear that some people think of knives only as weapons to be feared. Schools suspend kids for stocking a car safety kit, forgetting about the pocket knife their grandfather gave them, bringing a spork to eat lunch with, shooting an imaginary arrow and making a clock.

I understand the very real safety issues schools have to deal with. But I also believe one-size-fits-all policies play into fear and rarely lead to good solutions. Our schools, even our culture, can lack the nuance gained from interacting with the physical world.

We’re entering an era when education only allows children tools used for abstract thought. No carving tool is allowed, but a tablet computer is required. We have dramatically changed the definition of “normal” for childhood. It has become normal to steal cars or shoot people in video games, but it’s no longer normal to carry a carving knife to whittle with.

On top of that, kids get shorter recess and more homework. They’re no longer allowed to play at the park on their own, or even climb trees there. Connecting with the physical world has, in some ways, become illegal in our schools and irrelevant in our lives.

But for some kids, I have seen that shift with powerful results. I’ve watched them use knives to gut a trout they caught for dinner. Afterwards, they cooked those fish over a campfire they started with the bow drill they carved. They even ate stew with spoons they whittled. I feel fortunate to witness many of these small but profound interactions with the forest, the cold, sunshine, the earth and the out of doors.

With a knife and other tools (even of stone, bone and wood), the essentials of life don’t come from an ethereal cloud. They come from paying attention to Nature, to things not just human-made. Through intelligent use of tools, including knives, schools can empower kids to interact with life: making and learning with their minds, hands and hearts.

Give a seven year old a knife to carve with. At Trackers, we do this every day.

A thoughtful parent might say, “I have a good kid, and they always follow the rules. If they’re taught knife safety, there’s no way they’ll cut themselves. Right?”

I know the guidelines of knife safety well. I even wrote them. Guess what? I, and many other skilled adults, have accidentally cut ourselves when we let our awareness drop.

Like anything in life, “knife safety” is less about rigid rules and more about paying attention. You have to remain fully aware of your body position and level of control. Rules start you on the path to noticing important details. But the reality is that every outdoor skill requires a mindfulness few children get the opportunity to practice—especially in our modern educational settings.

At times, a child’s brain can get overwhelmed by asking their body to achieve a whole new level of coordination. If they end up “breaking a rule”, it’s not because they chose to be bad. It’s often because they lost track within the wave of many new things they needed to remember as their knife slices through a cottonwood branch.

There is an inherent risk to pushing these limits. Some might say we should never let kids push that edge with new skills. Yet growth requires testing limits through well calculated risk. So, we strike a balance. We engage in wild adventures such as climbing trees, swimming, and yes, using knives, so kids can grow up and develop the competencies that come with nature awareness.

If a kid breaks their wrist while stretching their own limits climbing a tree, that’s a significant learning experience—and, studies show that kids who sustain those types of injuries are less likely to be afraid of heights as adults. If they get cold because they refuse to wear their coat, they remember the next time the temperature drops. If they get bug bites, let them complain about it to the deer who live with it in the wild.


Children need risk. They also need competent, caring adults watching out for them. This is the mission of Trackers: to mitigate significant safety concerns while helping students push those edges. Trackers does not jump headlong into danger simply for adventure’s sake. Our actions are rooted in a profound awareness that weighs the opportunity for growth against any possible risk. Our responsibility entails asking children to do more, while setting firm boundaries around choices with potentially serious consequences.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but one of our jobs at Trackers is to actually make going outdoors slightly more boring. Ironically, that mitigation of risk often significantly limits things kids should be able to do with complete freedom.

At Trackers we have limits on climbing trees. We have limits on swimming and wading. And yes, we even have limits on how dirty you can get (and remain so). We have limits on nearly everything you can think of (remember, our safety manual is hundreds of pages long).

These limits let us walk up to the edge of learning, but never fall over the cliff.

In a world informed by catch phrases, educators and parents often claim they can keep a child safe 100% of the time. This sincere drive to build faith and trust with families forces camps and schools to become disingenuous in their communications.

I don’t want that for Trackers.

With all my heart, I want all parents to know that we work extremely hard to keep kids safe. We also challenge ourselves to respect the fundamental wild truths of learning and life.

There are times that, in a momentary flash, quicker than any teacher or even parent could catch, a child will choose to exceed the limits placed on them. It is then that they did something exceptionally normal, healthy, and awesome. They jumped over a log. They swung from a tree. They experimented with fire. Meanwhile, I sit there paranoid, gritting my teeth, yet also extremely proud—both as an educator of Trackers and as a parent.

The world is changing. And Trackers is teaching your kids how to survive and thrive in it. Here are some wilderness survival tips on how to keep your kids and family healthy during these hot days of summer (both in the wilds and the city).

july-2014_20Shelter: Dress For Success

White or light colors reflect heat while dark colors absorb it. So, lighter colors will keep you cooler. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will also help protect your face and neck (although you should still remember sunscreen in these places).

Shelter: Seek the Shade

Tracking animals teaches us how to handle extreme weather. Our forest friends follow the “Principle of Extremes”. When it’s wet, they seek the dry. When it’s cold, they seek the warm. And, during the hottest part of the day, the deer know how to find the breezy shade, chewing the cud they foraged in the earlier, cooler dawn. Likewise, families can focus their outdoor time on the cooler mornings and evenings during the longer days of summer, while seeking forest shade during the hotter parts.

Water: Drink a Lot and Often

Staying hydrated is essential to beating the heat. Always have a water bottle. Empty it by drinking and refill it several times a day. Sports drinks, soda, and coffee (sorry parents) is not a replacement for pure, clean water. Get your child excited about drinking water (I’m sure many parents can think of applicable games from their college days). A child needs to consume several large water bottles each day to stay healthy and happy.

july-2014_3Food: Eat Cool Foods and Fruits

The right foods can cool you down and be a healthy snack. Take advantage of the tasty berries, fruits and veggies of the season. They not only hydrate you with their high water content, but they offer great nutrition. Smaller, more frequent meals also helps.

Remember: Sunscreen

Sunscreen not only prevents short-term burns, it also protects the long-term health of your skin. It should be applied consistently throughout the day, as even “full-day” sunscreens will wear off. Watch kids to make sure they apply the sunscreen evenly and everywhere needed (especially younger children). Remind them, sunscreen is a form of shelter.

Survival is the Game

Make every journey out of doors a lesson in wilderness survival. At Trackers survival skills are actually thrival skills, so keep it fun and about developing resilience in all weather. Imagine you’re traveling across a desert, in the jungle or even on an alien planet. How would you prepare and what would you take with you?

All these tips apply to packing for summer camp (cause it’s like an alien planet). Send them with sunscreen already applied with more to reapply, clothes for the weather, a good sized water bottle (pre-hydrate them too), and a thoughtfulness to seek the shade.

With the right preparation, kids can weather any weather. So enjoy the nature and the summer sun with a focus on staying healthy.

For cuts, we begin with the basics. Remember to always follow the 8 Blades of Knife Safety while carving with your knife.

Forward Cut

Most people think of the Forward Cut, the most basic cut, when they think of carving.

  1. Hold your knife with a Fist Grip in one hand. Hold the wood with a Fist Grip in your other hand.
  2. Position the blade edge onto the wood where you want to start your cut. Don’t form a perfect cross with the blade on the wood, instead angle the butt of the handle slightly away from you.
  3. Slice forward, away from the wood hand and the rest of your body.


Remember to use the full edge of your blade (don’t cut the cheese!). Also, a deeper angle takes off more layers of grain but requires more force. A shallower angle removes thinner slices and can build into bigger cuts.

SAFETY No Thumb Dies

Beginners often make the serious mistake of extending their thumb or fingers to brace the wood while holding it. This frequently leads to people carving off the tips of their digits.  Practice holding the wood with a Fist Grip by wrapping your thumb over the top part of your fingers. Also, don’t tilt your wood hand knuckles. Keep them at right angles to the wood.

That said, it’s not always practical to hold the wood in a Fist Grip, especially when working with larger or flat pieces. You may need to hold the wood differently. When using different wood grips always Pay Attention and be certain your wood hand and fingers lie well out of the path of the blade.

MODIFY Extension Cut

Use the Extension Cut to better remove bulk amounts of material while shaping wood. It’s just like the Forward Cut,  but  you hold your arms out straight in front of you. (No T-Rex arms!) Full-arm extension means you use the larger muscles of your upper body instead of the weaker muscles of your elbow or wrist.

TRACKERS TIP Don’t Cut the Cheese

When you cut cheese, you cut with just one part of the blade. Wood is not cheese. When you cut wood, try to use the full blade edge, from the base to the tip or the tip to the base. This also prevents dulling on one part of the edge.

Next cut, The Push Cut.

Also check out:

8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care
Safely Sheathing a Knife

In wilderness survival, shelter is often your first priority. Good shelter tempers extremes of cold or heat. One way to get warmer? Immediately improve the clothes on your body.

family-fall-afternoon-october-16-2013_24MISSION – Scarecrow

Scarecrow is one of the first steps you can take to improve your survival situation when cold is a factor.

1. Find dry and fluffy material such as leaves or grasses.
2. Stuff this between two layers of clothing until you look like a giant scarecrow.

Consider how wet materials might cool you down. To find drier forest debris, make a habit of looking for and exploring cavities in strong trees, underneath logs, or hollowed stumps. Seek out sturdy overhanging rocks, or even trees that might stay dry underneath. These “Dry Camps” could also provide a great place to get out of the rain.

Remember Rule #1 No One Dies
Watch out for spiders, ticks, bees, and other biting and stinging insects when stuffing your clothing with duff. Perform regular checks for “Unwanted Travelers” where ever and whenever needed.

MODIFY Shawarma Bag

If you have a bag, sack or any container you can safely fit in, increase its warmth and improvise a shelter by stuffing it full of leaves or other insulating thatch. Then simply wiggle your way in, snug as a squirrel in its nest.

Before carving, make sure you review our Rangers 8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care.

One the most frequent woodcarving injuries occurs when kids take their blade out of its cover (unsheathing) or put it back in (sheathing). Have them follow these steps to stay safe.


Sheathing & Unsheathing

  1. Always hold the sheath near the end, not at the top where the blade comes out. Keep your hand away from the top of the sheath where the knife exits.
  2. Use your fingertips to pinch the flat part, don’t wrap your hand around the edge (or stitching) of the sheath. This anticipates any flaws in a sheath where the knife could cut through.

Together these precautions eliminate any risk of the blade accidentally slicing your hand. Remember, always follow the 8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care.


It’s the season I pull out the kid’s all-weather gear. Stripped off wool socks, rain boots, and insulated hooded rain jackets become common litter around our house. Keeping the kids well layered for the cold and wet weather is key in keeping them happy and appreciating nature when we go outside to play.

My father grew up in Southeastern Alaska and always tells me, “If we waited for it to stop raining to play, we’d never get outside!” Portland’s 40 inches of yearly rain pales in comparison to the 110 inches from his childhood town of Petersburg. “We grew up making time to get outdoors no matter what the elements hurled at us, especially when it was “nasty” outside.”

I want my kids to learn to weather any storm in life and there’s no one teaches this better than nature herself. Plus, there’s lots of great play to be had on rainy days. From puddle-jumping to rescuing worms, kids who adventure in every weather become adults who can appreciate and even revel in the stormier days of life.


A couple things I consider when dressing my family for the wind, rain, and cold…

Layer, Layer, Layer Many layers can be as good as one big coat. They can be removed as needed. Things may not soak through as quickly. And all those layers can trap in the heat. A base layer of thermal underwear should form the foundations—options include wool and synthetics. Some wool can be itchy but Merino wool is soft, with cost-effective options outside of the more expensive brands.

Wool Over Cotton The right kind of wool can still insulate even wet—while cotton has little warming value when soaked. If you choose wool socks, they are often oversized, make sure they fit well to prevent blisters. Also, we like the army surplus wool pants—they can be scratchy but thermal underwear of softer wool helps this. Unfortunately such pants don’t come in little person sizes, but people (including me) have had luck shrinking them*.

Wind & Rain Proof Keeping the rain out with a proper rain jacket, pants and boots can go a long way towards keeping the kids outside. Not lonely does a rainproof layer let them stay dry, it also stops the chilling wind from whisking away important body heat.

Play On The goal is to always “Play On” even when a kid’s a little cold. Of course you want watch kids for any signs of shivering and getting overly chilled. But it’s an okay lesson to let our kids know they can still have fun even when a little uncomfortable. In fact, advanced training at Trackers includes learning to embrace cold and other discomforts as part of the adventure. Ironically, younger kids can be better at this than adults, especially with the right encouragement.

*Calling all pattern makers and sewers out there. If someone wants to develop kid friendly wool pants, I bet Trackers can help create an entire cottage industry.

At Trackers we strive to live by a Code of Common Sense. We root all our camps and programs in this. It guides how we learn from nature and thrive as a community.

Common sense is no longer common. As our world grows more disconnected, our children’s education is literally boxed in by walls and tied to desks. Yet children long ago (all our ancestors) felt at home in nature. They could light a fire with no matches, create tools from stone, and find shelter on the land. Those abilities still live on within all our kids.

Tapping that ability takes time, practice and care for the children we work with. It requires a Code of Common Sense.

Four Guilds divide Trackers and each Guild teaches a code:


Push the edges of your awareness: eyes, ears, and all your senses. Keep an open mind and heart. Don’t restrict yourself with a narrow view of things. The challenges and opportunities Nature provides often go unseen. Pay Attention to the spaces and places most people ignore.


Understand the difference between what you believe is helpful and what is Truly Helpful. Complaining about being cold and hungry is not helpful. Building a campfire or catching fish is helpful. When you put the needs of your community first you become Truly Helpful.

Mariners Guild RESPECT

Many think surviving in nature means struggling against it. Yet, like a Mariner sailing the currents of the sea, we can Flow with nature. Take the time to experience the true way of things: creeks, plants, animals, birds, trees, wind, clouds, stars, sun, and moon. By giving your time, appreciation and respect, you become part of their Flow.


Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. There’s no perfect way to shoot a bow or weave a basket. There is only progress. Be excited that you’re always doing it wrong and there are countless ways to improve. Like the plants, animals and even mountains, you never stop growing. You always do it better!