Fitness and the outdoors go hand in hand for many of us. That feeling of the sun on your back and the beauty of nature all around is just what we need to give our workouts a boost. For Boone Smith, an outdoor workout is all part of the job, and it even comes with an adrenaline rush.
Boone Smith is the star of Nat Geo WILD’s “Man vs. Lion” airing this Friday as part of Big Cat Week. For this adventurer, outdoorsman, tracker and conservationist, healthy diet and exercise are not just a way of life, they are survival skills.
Smith is a fourth-generation cat tracker who lives out his dream venturing into the world’s most remote locations to collar Apex predators like lions, tigers and leopards for research and conservation efforts. Born to a family passionate about the outdoors, Smith’s father and grandfather trained him in hunting, fishing and trapping. As soon as Smith was able to walk they coached him on the skills needed to understand animal signs and habits. The education Smith received from his family taught him how animals relate to their environments and provided the groundwork for his success. Today, Smith works as a consultant for a variety of organizations, tracking and radio collating different cat species to gain valuable data, as well as helping wildlife managers make wise conservation decisions.
Smith humbly says that he is grateful to be part of the big cat conservation process, and helping to ensure that his children are able to see lions and tigers in the wild is of the utmost importance to him. In addition to providing a positive planetary impact, there is a rush that excites him every time he puts on a pack and sets out for work.
“Personally, I love the adventure, the tracking, the excitement of the chase,” says Smith. “Being in wild, remote places, means you have to rely on your senses and skills. Often times you are not at the top of the food chain out there. It really makes you feel alive.”
Food chain pecking order is a significant motivator to be in peak physical condition however it is not the sole motivator. Smith says that, “to catch cats you have to go where the cats are.” He carries a 60-pound pack and hikes miles of steep, rugged terrain in subzero temperatures, often facing bears and wolves on little sleep. Both physical and mental preparedness are a requirement—many times, making it back to camp is not a choice. Knowing how to spend the night in the snow without a sleeping bag or tent is a skill commonly called upon.
When in the wild, there is a lot to think about with regard to diet. Foods have to be light weight, high in calories and able to span the life of the trip. Smith’s working diet includes dried fruit, trail mix and jerky; he also never leaves without chocolate bars and peanut butter.
“Lots of calories, quick energy, and it just makes you feel better,” says Smith.
Smith admits that the job itself keeps him in pretty good shape.
“Even when I am not tracking cats it seems like I am hiking in the hills checking remote cameras, backpacking or just going to see what is on the other side of the mountain,” he says.
In between stints, Smith practices a clean eating diet with an occasional cheat and exercises using what he calls ‘chipper’ crossfit workouts that help provide him with strength and endurance.
Fitness is a way of life for Smith because his job perpetuates it; however, he gets his health motivations from his family and the legacy his family carries for nature, wildlife and conservation. Smith and his father have worked together on many occasions, and when tracking in the western United States Smith always tries to convince his father to join him.
“I get sentimental as I get older I guess, and those trips are starting to mean the most to me,” says Smith. “And if the ‘old man’ can still do it, I better be able to do it too.”
Health has a strong connection with the outdoors and for Smith and his family it is a lifestyle.
“It doesn’t matter if you spend every day in the wilderness or just one day of the year,” he says. “No matter where we live or what we love to do, the wilderness is essential for each of us. It renews us, gives us that spark, and makes us feel alive.”
The purpose of Big Cat Week is to entertain, educate and promote involvement in big cat conservation efforts. Foundations created by Nat Geo WILD such as Big Cats Initiative and Cause an Uproar allow viewers to make a direct impact through donations that go directly to research and projects that benefit big cats. Smith’s ambition is to show people something they have never seen before.
“We want people to say, ‘that is crazy and lions are the coolest thing I have ever seen,’” Smith says. “If we can do that, then people are more likely to want to be involved with big cat conservation and, in the end, that’s what it is all about.”
As an expert, Smith is often asked what to do if one encounters a big cat in the wild. His standard answer?
“Enjoy it. It might not ever happen again.”
Smith’s message to all is to not miss out on the opportunities that nature has to offer. Get out and get active!
Photos by National Geographic Channels/Man vs. Lion/Mariella Furrer