There are many skills you may need for camping and OHV activities. Some of these skills you may be able to practice at home. Others will have to be exercised at appropriate hiking, water facilities, or OHV riding areas. Many of the skills you need for camping may be useful during a disaster. Make yourself a list of skills you want to master and choose at least one to practice on each outing.
Fire starting skills can be practiced many places. You don't have to build a campfire to practice although that is a good exercise. You can even use them in your fireplace at home. You especially should practice if you want to learn how to start a fire using flint and steel instead of matches or lighters. It takes a bit of practice before you get the knack of preparing tinder correctly and striking the sparks just right. I like to use 100% cotton balls for tinder. They work really well. Don't even try it with the synthetic "cosmetic puffs". They may look the same, but your sparks will just melt through instead of flaming like they will in cotton. It isn't very difficult, but it will take some practice before you can routinely get a fire going quickly. You don't want to waste time learning the technique when you are in an emergency or survival situation when your life or at least your comfort might depend on getting a fire going right away. Some flint and steel fire starter kits come from the factory with a protective coating that needs to be scraped away before you can get a good spark, so that is another reason to practice beforehand so it will be ready to use instantly when you really need it. Another good skill is being able to start a fire using only what nature provides. Most techniques involve friction to create enough heat to ignite an ember. Learn how to make and use a hand drill, a bow drill, and a fire plow.
Other camping skills you can practice at home include setting up your tent and camp cooking. Practice setting up your tent in your back yard so it is easy for you when you need it in camp -- or in a disaster situation. Know the best way to layout it out, stake it down, and raise it. Know the best way to take it down and put it away -- and how best to organize the components and any tools you need. You can practice camp cooking for holiday get-togethers or just family dinners. Try out different recipes. Try your hand at baking cakes and breads. Cooking on a camp stove or over a campfire is different than cooking on your home stove and it will take some practice before you are comfortable with it and able to get consistent results. You should get used to using your camp or RV stove or Dutch oven and try out some recipes where you still have alternatives if things turn out badly.
Dutch oven cooking is a good way to prepare meals in camp or at home during an emergency or power outage. It is kind of like a pioneer crockpot, allowing you to slow-cook an entire meal in one pot. Once set up it requires very little attention so you're free for other activities. Charcoal is the favored fuel for Dutch ovens. You usually put the oven on a bed of glowing coals then put several on the lid. Use one briquette on the lid for each inch of diameter of the pot. Be careful to brush away all the ash before opening the lid so you don't dump it into your food! Use a lid lifter or a pair of pliers to remove the lid so you don't burn your fingers!
Hiking skills. You can break in a new pair of hiking boots around home and taking some walks around the block but you'll need access to some real trails to do any real practicing. You'll encounter obstacles and terrain on the trail you won't find walking on sidewalks or even on the nice little trails in your local park. Try to find out as much as you can about any trail you choose to practice on. Local rangers or other hikers may be able to direct you to trails that will give you the kind of practice you're seeking -- and steer you away from trails you might find a little TOO challenging. Like any other physical sport, you'll want to start with the basics and work your way up. Trying to do too much too soon is a really good way to sour you and your family on the whole idea -- or even put someone in the hospital! Most people find a good walking stick is nice to have when hiking. You can make your own from a "found" stick, a sturdy dowel, or buy a commercial one. Home-made ones often bring along memories that are fun to relive. I also have a telescoping aluminum walking stick that makes it easy to store and carry it when I don't actively need it. Its light weight makes it less tiring to carry and use than a heavier wooden stick too.
Personal watercraft like JetSkis and SkiDoos or other water sports like water skiing and wakeboarding need to be exercised in appropriate waterways, away from swimmers, fishermen and other watercraft. The water needs to be deep enough so you don't run aground or hit submerged debris that could damage you or your craft or cause an accident. Might be a good idea to start out in water you can stand up in, just in case. Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device and have rescue spotters to keep an eye on you in case you get into trouble. The first time I went water skiing I barely even got wet. They pulled me up from sitting on the dock and I when I came back I coasted along the dock and sat down again. On the other hand, my brother's first attempt was very different. They tried to pull him up out of the water and for some reason no one knows, could never get him up on the skis.
Snowmobiles have a little more latitude. The best place to practice is in a snowmobile park with groomed trails, but if you happen to be lucky enough to live in a rural area and/or have access to open fields, you can begin your training there. Eventually you'll want to graduate to more technical trails where you can enjoy the thrills of whizzing through the trees and around obstacles, and as the old song says "Over the river and through the woods". There are several classes of snowmobiles. They range of heavy duty "work" machines to very fast performance models. You will want to choose the one that is appropriate for your experience level and the type of riding you intend to do. "Trail" rated machines are a pretty good place for beginners to start and you should pretty much stick to groomed trails. When you get the hang of it you can graduate to a "powder" machine that is faster and more powerful and will accommodate off-trail riding. So why not just start out with a powder machine? Well, the added power and quicker response in the hands of a novice is likely to overshoot the trail and result in inuring the rider.
OHV riding skills need to be developed if you are going to get the most out of your OHV. Unless you live in a rural area and have a large piece of property, you will need to go to a designated OHV area to practice. Plan your practice sessions according to the skill(s) you want to work on. Some common techniques you may want to master include hill climbing, riding in sand, riding rocky trails, negotiating your way over logs and large rocks, tight corners, berms, ruts, and fast trails. You usually should not try to cover all techniques in a single ride. Plan individual rides to focus on one or two particular skills and take advantage of natural terrain in the area where you are to exercise your techniques. Limit the number of riders so you can observe their performance and provide individual attention as needed so they get the most out of the ride. As new riders master skills, put them to work helping less-advanced riders. Not only will it take some of the load off you, it will help them to grow even more. Skill builder rides should ideally be led by an experienced rider who knows the trails and can judge the skill level of his students. Chances are you'll know or meet some riders who will be willing to lead some skill builders if you aren't ready yourself. Skill builder rides need to be interesting and fun. We had a favorite set of rolling hills near "C" Park in California City that were perfect for skill builders. It was even fun for experienced riders.
Driving skills. I recall an anecdote about a radio DJ who, hearing 85% of all drivers considered themselves good drivers, wanted to know why he was always on the road with the other 15%! Most of us probably think our driving skills are pretty good, but driving an RV -- motorhome or tow vehicle and trailer -- involves things you don't encounter wheeling around in the family sedan or SUV. RVs are bigger and heavier. They are slower to accelerate and decelerate and require more room for turns, stops, getting up to speed, and lane changes. They also have significantly different visibility issues, especially when it comes to rear-views for lane changes or backing into a camp site. Not to mention clearance problems -- height, width, overall length and overhang. If you have access to a motorhome driver education course, take advantage of it. They are usually conducted in large parking lots where you practice with your own RV. Often you will be guided using cones so the risk of damaging your RV or something else is minimized while you learn things like blind spots, turning radius, and clearances. If you are not completely comfortable driving your RV now, at least take some time to set up your own practice sessions in an empty parking lot. Fill empty milk jugs about half full with water and use them to layout your own obstacles. Practice making turns without knocking down the jugs representing the curb. Practice backing into a pretend camp site. Practice parallel parking your motorhome (and yes, it can be done!). If your RV is a trailer, make sure you practice backing it up. A handy trick is to move the bottom of the steering wheel in the direction you want the back of the trailer to go. You need to learn how sharply and quickly your trailer will turn, both going forward and backing up. Something novices often overlook is the way the overhang of an RV swings. I know of a driver who ripped the entire rear cap off a Class A motorhome he'd just purchased when he turned too sharply away from the curb and the rear end clipped a fire hydrant. Cutting a corner too close and running over a curb can have catastrophic results. RV steps, dump valves, and even propane tanks often hang low enough to be badly damaged if you turn too sharply and they hit the curb. I've seen RVs take out STOP signs and street signs when the driver turned too sharply at an intersection. Such problems are more common with trailers because the trailers sometimes "cheat" on you (don't follow the tow vehicle exactly, but turn sharper and cut the corner). Know how steep a driveway you can negotiate without tearing off the exhaust system or the back bumper or smashing your dump valves. You might be surprised how much that long overhang dips just going in and out of normal driveways. Always go slow in an unfamiliar situation. A little time spent practicing can avoid a lot of embarrassment and expense. No matter how good we think we are, most of us could use a little refresher and some practice now and then -- especially when driving a motorhome or truck and trailer that we don't drive every day!
Turn every camping trip into a learning experience for yourself and your family. Watch for "teaching moments" when you can take advantage of natural events to increase or share your knowledge of science, nature, and life lessons. Parents often have a tendency to try to do everything for their kids, to give them advantages they didn't have. Unfortunately, in so doing they often take away advantages they DID have -- like learning responsibility, self reliance, and the value of consequences. We don't want our kids to get hurt so we try to protect them from unpleasant consequences, but they really DO need to learn that there are consequences and that they are accountable for their own choices and actions. We may be able to protect them from bullies at school or insulate them from ill mannered playmates who might hurt their feelings (although by doing so we may deprive them if important life lessons), but we can't avoid consequences of gravity when they fall off their bikes. By the way, "protecting" them from many consequences deprives them of some of the most valuable lessons they'll ever learn. I heard a respected child educator promote allowing kids to experience natural consequences whenever possible. When natural consequences are not acceptable (like what will happen if they run out in the street and get hit by a car!), substitute "logical" consequences so they learn to stay away from unsafe and unacceptable behavior. My own kids suffered some sorry consequences of not maintaining and checking their dirt bikes and gear properly for every outing.
Riding OHVs and personal water craft usually require a certain amount of hands-on maintenance out on the trail or at the lake. It is very helpful to practice some of those skills at home so you learn what needs to be done, how to do it, and what tools you need. You probably don't want to make a field repair, even something as simple as changing a spark plug, your first attempt. Much better to try it at at home without a critical audience and when you aren't under pressure to get going.
Practice makes perfect!