There’s an old saying that dads sometimes like to tell their kids: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same can be said for educating people in outdoor survival. Perhaps no one knows the value of outdoor education better than Buck Tilton, co-founder of the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI), a leading outdoor medical school that trains in first aid and pre-hospital emergency response. Now a part of the National Outdoor Leadership School, the organization has taught over 175,000 students, saving countless lives when things have gone wrong in the woods.
Born in South Carolina, Tilton moved west as a young adult to satisfy an enduring love for the outdoors, there trailblazing an occupation in wilderness education before the field was ever taken seriously. He has since authored 43 books, written some 1,300 articles, and become a long-standing contributor to Backpacker magazine. The recipient of both the Paul Petzoldt Award and Warren Bowman Award for contributions to wilderness education and medicine, Tilton can now be found assisting the Boy Scouts of America in rewriting their medicine curriculum (which he himself helped instate) or teaching freshman English at Central Wyoming College near his home in Lander, Wyoming. He can teach you how to fish, too.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. Life is far too short to be taken too seriously.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. Being a better teacher. I’m also helping the Boy Scouts of America rewrite their wilderness medicine curriculum.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be an English teacher?
A. A few minutes after I was offered my first English-teaching job.
Q. Who or what influences you?
A. Books have been the biggest influence in my life. To name a few: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, and Illusions by Richard Bach. I also have a special fondness for Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
Q. What book or article that you’ve written are you most proud of?
A. America’s Wilderness. It was the first attempt by anyone, I think, to take a book-length look at the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Q. Are you still involved with the Wilderness Medicine Institute?
A. Having reached an age where I’m ruled by a strong preference for being home at night, I am currently rejecting offers to hit the road and teach for the WMI.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Climb Denali when I was 59. It was a heck of a lot easier when I was younger.
Q. What’s the one piece of gear you can’t live without?
A. I like to think I could survive without any gear. I could be wrong about that, so I’m seldom without my stormproof lighter.
Q. How often do you find yourself in the wilderness?
A. I take every opportunity I can. Fortunately, the Wind River Range stands along the skyline and not far from my house in Lander, Wyoming.
Q. Any close calls for you out there?
A. I almost died after falling about 60 feet off of a rock climb. Parts of my body were in a cast for almost a year.
Q. Describe your perfect camping trip.
A. It involves a long hike, which gives me a false but pleasant sense of worthiness. The views are awesome, the silence golden, the few companions unparalleled, and nobody gets hurt.
Q. What’s your favorite camp meal?
A. Fried fish, minutes out of a high mountain lake.
Q. What’s the most essential knot to know?
A. The one that ties you to family and friends. Oh, you mean in a rope? The figure 8.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. I am not sure I do. Maybe as someone who left the world a tiny bit more peaceful.