7 Lessons for Outdoor Explorers from Over 20 Years of Special Forces Experience

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After spending a combined 20 years serving in the Israeli Special Forces, Lt. Col. Udi Cohen and Lt. Col. Yaniv Bar decided to conquer a new mission: develop a military-grade, large-format outdoor multitool for adventurers. A tool that 100 years of previous patent submissions had failed to create. A tool that would eventually become known globally as the COMBAR.

They approached the business’s launch like a military objective and applied their immense knowledge of team dynamics, intelligence analytics, and well-built equipment to creating ACLIM8 and its flagship product, the COMBAR. The Kickstarter launch was a smash hit, with over 1,600 products sold and 0 returns. Now, over five years later, the company has released a second multitool, the streamlined COMBAR FoldaXe, and is developing a second generation COMBAR along with a full arsenal of multifunctional adventure gear. 

ACLIM8 Founders Udi Cohen and Yaniv Bar

As the COMBAR and FoldaXe have received widespread acclaim across the outdoor adventure world, including and especially among overlanders, ADVers, and car campers, Udi and Yaniv have been struck by how many of the lessons they’d learned in the Special Forces also apply to taking on outdoor expeditions. 

For this article they've shared seven of those lessons. Think of it as spark notes from twenty years of high-level military experience, custom curated for outdoor explorers. Whether you’re an overlander, a hunter, or a multisport weekend warrior, these key principles that helped Udi and Yaniv rise up the ranks of Israel’s elite military units, will help you have more successful, resilient, and enriching outdoor adventures. Let’s get to it.

Note: The quotes in this article were originally published in print form by the Israeli business publication Blazer, and have been translated, and in some cases paraphrased, for readability.

overlanding and fly fishing in utah

LESSON #1: Unify Your Team (and Use Humor As The Glue) 

In any outdoor mission with a goal, it’s important that the whole crew knows what the goal is, even if it’s simply to have a good time on a camping trip. You can call it gestalt, or a team vision, but whether you’re attempting to summit K2, or you’re leading a caravan of overlanders over Black Bear Pass in Colorado, everyone should know what the team is there to do, even if on an individual level everyone has different roles. 

Along with a clear Why for your outdoor trip, everyone should know the How. I’m not talking about the technical actions needed, but the unifying spirit of the trip—How we’re comported to it from an attitude perspective. This unity level-sets expectations, lubricates communication, and produces results. Here are Udi and Yaniv on the team unity they created in the special forces:

"A unit that knows how to do very complex, unique and complicated things—it relies on gestalt even without realizing that it relies on it. Certain people are assigned to certain roles and other people to other roles because they have to be different from each other so that the whole comes complete and uniform. After all, there are things that I can't do as well as Udi, there are things that Udi can't do as well as me. In the unit, it's very clear. He's an operator fighter in the field, I'm an intelligence officer. That's his job, that's my job."
"It was always a matter of the field versus the intelligence team and it has to do with matters of personalities. I, naturally as a fighter, love risk more. More of an adventurer. Yaniv strives for as much information and intelligence as possible. After all, he will miss his aim if he is not like that. This diversity creates dynamics that produce results."

As for humor being the team’s glue, you’ll often catch Udi and Yaniv exchanging laughs even during high-stakes conversations. And this is no accident.

“In a serious atmosphere, you need humor. Humor is the glue. You can't have an engine that works all day in 7th gear. You need gas every now and then, you also need brakes."

LESSON #2: Alone is Total Strength

What about solo outdoor adventures? Well there’s a lesson about individual capabilities that applies to solo missions and to group adventures that served Udi and Yaniv well throughout their military careers and that’s this: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. 

This is especially true when you are a one-link chain.

In other words, you need to know what you’re doing and trust yourself. For individual outdoor missions this means being well practiced in the skills you’ll need, studying the beta, packing appropriately and trusting your instincts in the field. If a group is full of individuals who all know what they’re doing and have complete trust in themselves, then the group becomes ultra-capable, and not reliant on any single member to carry more than their share. Here’s Udi and Yaniv on the topic:

"In the unit, each link in the chain is built to be very strong," says Udi. "All these weeks on the track where the soldier works alone—having to navigate alone at night, to spend many hours alone, to go through difficult experiences—all these things are designed to strengthen the individual. When a team is made up of strong members, everyone’s adding value.”
"There is a term we established and we call it 'deep water'. You trust yourself with everything, and there is no 'set it and forget it.’ You start work, and pass it on to someone else knowing that they will later pass it back on to you. We only recruit people who can be trusted to ‘be In the deep water,’ who trust themselves. Your partner can’t be sitting and relaxing with a mojito.”
ACLIM8 Combar Pro digging mud

LESSON #3: Take Responsibility, Receive Trust

This might be the most fundamental lesson, the one that can be applied to the most areas of life, and, fortunately, the one that’s the simplest to act on. Don't confuse simple with easy, though.

Building on the concept of individual competence and self trust is the idea of responsibility. With self trust, and self belief, comes the ability to own elements of an outdoor adventure. Maybe your job is to find a campsite, or make the group’s dinner. Or maybe you’re tasked with planning the next day’s overlanding route. When you own your responsibilities repeatedly, your teammates will see that you can be trusted to follow through and they’ll willingly give you their trust. 

Here’s Yaniv on how he and Udi have built trust over the years:

"There is no such thing as pulling in your direction. It must be with the agreement and understanding of the others. After years of collaborating, you realize that suddenly the personalities, yours and his, have changed and they are more suitable for one another. This results from the fact that we trust each other with our eyes closed. You don't deal with bullshit in [military field missions]. People take risks, people are killed, people get injured. You can cause unimaginable complications for the country. There is no such thing as not taking responsibility.”

On top of that responsibility, trust can be built.

LESSON #4: Professionalism Is Thinking Positively

Being a pro means showing up with a willingness to solve problems and belief that you can solve the problems. On an outdoor adventure if you find yourself behind schedule or bonked out on your hike to your next campsite, “can’t” isn’t an option. You either can or you’re not making it to camp. 

In high-stakes situations like serious mountaineering, navigating these tough problems can be a matter of life or death. But even on low-stakes outings, like a fly fishing float, believing that your next cast will land a fish will lead to more fish in the net (and it’s just more fun). 

In the special forces, Udi and Yaniv trained themselves to believe that a solution could be engineered for any problem (this mindset helped them research and develop the COMBAR, too, despite the complexity of the task):

"In the unit you have situations where suddenly trouble lands on the entire country—it's that big. Then the unit is tasked with doing something on a schedule that doesn't resemble anything, in a place we don't have any information about, which is also very, very far away. There is no place for whining. 'Oh, look what they dropped on us.’ There is no time for that. Everyone is looking for what to do and how to do it. Why we can’t do it does us no good. Instead, we concentrate on how we can do it."
"It is common to think that [in the special forces] there are fighting and operational personnel only. But around this are built several large circles of experts from all fields—technology, intelligence and more. There is a clear methodology of how to bring the fusion of all these disciplines into action. And all of them proceed from the premise that everything is possible. Everything you research, analyze, disassemble—you will find that, in the end, everything is possible. Professionalism is knowing this. This is how you solve one problem at a time, with a level of stubbornness, determination and perseverance that requires endless energy and the assumption that it is not possible to say 'impossible.' Thinking positively is a must in these situations.” 
using GPS to navigate while ADVing

LESSON #5: Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

Any outdoor adventure requires prep. Where are you going? What gear do you need? What’s the daily itinerary? What will the weather conditions be like? Are you in shape for it?

The special forces missions Udi and Yaniv ran were no different:

“When you come across a lack of preparedness in a person, it screams in your face. The insecurity, the shallowness, the mediocrity. It's a matter of questions. You ask them 20-30 questions about the process, about what is done, how to do it, how, how, how, and why, why, why, and you will immediately understand if they’re fluent in the plan. When someone is not ready, the more you ask, the less they have to give you. When someone is ready, they can go deeper with you, you see the foundation, you see the readiness.
There is also a systemic memory. After all, there are no new mistakes, there are new people making old mistakes. There is no reason for me to come to command an operation and not have all the knowledge accumulated from other operations. I don't need to start a process and make 20 mistakes along the way that were made a year ago or fifteen years ago."

The separation is in the preparation. 

LESSON #6: Ego Is Bullshit

This one could have saved a few summit-addicted mountaineers who were blinded by glory. On any trip or outdoor outing, an ego-driven group member will never facilitate the expedition’s success as much as someone who places their self interest aside in decision making and allows rationality and empathy to guide them. 

On low-stakes outings, like a day skiing, this might mean letting your kid take first tracks down a powder run (and getting to ski more runs overall because of your kid’s subsequent excitement). On high-stakes outings, well, I already mentioned the mountaineers whose thirst for the summit ended up being costly. 

The special forces missions Udi and Yaniv led were almost all of the high-stakes variety:

“When there is no trust among the group, then the leader is an ineffective leader. He will not last long. Arrogance is a symptom of such ineffective leadership. Ignorance as well. And, perhaps the most significant symptom, leadership that can’t recognize what benefits the person sitting across the table.
 When you are a leader you look for solutions that help both sides, win-win solutions. In this way, you solve problems before they happen.
Ultimately, the Special Forces is an elite unit of macho fighters. Inflated ego and all. And the higher you climb up the ladder, the more the ego rises, practicality declines, and politics takes over. But everyone in operations has to put their ego aside for the team to work properly because if not, it's life-threatening.
 A common goal can only be reached if one understands that ego is bullshit and makes you do illogical things. Taking criticism personally, making a decision based on who is more dominant in the discussion and all that nonsense. To a professional team it’s quite clear from the get-go. After all, to be in the special forces you have to give up publicity.”


ACLIM8 Combar Pro in hand infront of offroad tire

LESSON #7: Your Tools Matter

Both outdoor pursuits and military missions require equipment. Anyone who gets off grid and relies on their tools to keep them safe, and ultimately get them home, knows that elite gear is priceless. 

This is a lesson that Yaniv and Udi learned in the Special Forces. It rang so true that it inspired them to start ACLIM8.

"Equipment is critical to our operation, but it is also a kind of metaphor for life in the unit. You can't think that you can do everything on your own without help, without tools.” 
“You need to know that when you use your equipment—there, far away, in extreme conditions—that you can trust it absolutely. If, in the moment of truth, it doesn't open, it doesn't work or doesn't click, the mission is dead. And always after a mission in which the equipment worked properly and there were no malfunctions, you appreciate it.”


Which of these lessons rings the truest to you? Let us know on social media @aclim8gear. And make sure to sign up for our email newsletter (sign up below) so you never miss an insight from a new article on the blog, where we cover tips for overlanders, survivalism, and technical advice for getting the most out of your ACLIM8 gear.

Want survival content to help you prep for a cold-weather expedition? Check out 5 Winter Survival Tasks Using the COMBAR Pro Titanium.

Looking to become an overlanding guru? Check out On Mastering the Art of Overlanding with ACLIM8 Ambassador, Kelly Varney.

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