Being outside, high in the mountains, deep in the desert, or somewhere on a river — it’s what I love best. Ever since my much-belated first taste of the wilderness in my teens, I’ve never looked back. But I realize for some, the prospect can seem daunting. Don’t let fear or inexperience prevent you from getting out into Earth’s natural beauty — with these six simple tips, you can make sure your time in the great outdoors is memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Go the extra mile.
I mean this both literally and figuratively. Literally: Drive, hike, bike, paddle, or swim that extra mile, beyond what’s easy and comfortable. You’ll be rewarded with better campsites, solitary views, and, most importantly, a sense of fulfillment that comes from accomplishing something you previously thought impossible — or never thought of at all.
Figuratively speaking: Be diligent in your mental preparation and bring a positive attitude to your endeavors. Things may not go your way — the weather may turn bad or you may get lost. Put extra effort into remaining upbeat and relaxed no matter what happens. This predicts enjoyment in the outdoors far more than a single piece of gear or information.
2. Try it before you fly it.
Speaking of gear, don’t bring new, untested equipment into the outdoors without first taking it for a test spin. Break in those hiking shoes. Set up the brand-new tent in your backyard. Cook a meal on the campstove. Practice casting your new fly rod in the park. Try out that high-tech bug repellent on the front porch. Here’s a handy guide to breaking in some common outdoor gear:
Footwear: Trail shoes and lightweight boots work best if they’ve already had 6-8 weeks of advanced use, while heavy-duty backpacking and mountaineering boots should ideally be purchased and broken in 6+ months in advance.
Stove: Seriously, cook a meal — or at least make some tea — with your stove. Learn how to give it a rudimentary cleaning and troubleshoot common issues (according to the manual).
Tent: Practice pitching it in your yard or a nearby park a couple weeks before using it. Follow and memorize the directions, attach the rain fly, and rig any bungees or paracords necessary to keep it all taut. Consider sealing over the seams to be doubly sure the rain stays out.
Backpack: Test pack it a week or so in advance. This gives you time to organize your gear and pick up any extra packing cubes, compression straps, or stuff sacks you may need.
3. Bring the little “necessities.”
Don’t call them luxuries, because out here they’re necessities. Enjoying the great outdoors doesn’t mean going without those little add-ons that can make your experience with Ma Nature that much better. Don’t bring the kitchen sink, but do consider saving space in the trunk or backpack for the following:
A feast: My goodness people, just because we’re out enjoying the outdoors doesn’t mean we must live like animals! Nowadays, the happy outdoor adventurer feasts on vacuum-sealed filet mignon, blends fresh margaritas, and roasts pheasant sausage over a crackling campfire. I’ve schlepped my fair share of beer a dozen miles into the backcountry and dutch-oven-baked a scrumptious late-night berry cobbler or two while car camping. And let me tell you, I savored every mouth-watering second.
Bug protection: The luxury we really can’t do without is bug protection. My wife and son are like mosquito magnets, no matter how much DEET or lemongrass we slather on them. Setting up a Thermacell Radius Zone changed our evenings. We can now enjoy cooking dinner, playing cards, and lying in the hammock, basically bug-free, no matter how deep into the forest we go.
Hammocks: Lightweight nylon hammocks require little space, but turn any campsite into a cozy paradise. Perfect for afternoon naps and good books (see next).
A good book: Paperbacks, ftw!
4. Know your route and check the weather.
It’s that simple. Ask any adventure guide, and they’ll tell you the key to enjoying the outdoors is preparation. Even if you’re just heading out for a quick jaunt in the woods, a little pre-game research will pay off in spades.
Weather: Check the hourly forecast and pack for possible weather events, including rain, snow, and high wind. Even if there’s only a moderate chance of rain, take a raincoat and think about how water might affect the terrain (below).
Terrain and conditions: What’s your elevation gain/loss? Over how many miles? Are you near water sources? Is it flood season? Is there snow/ice on the ground? Consult a map, check Google Earth, call local park ranger/tourism/outfitter offices to inquire about current conditions, and spend a couple hours perusing online forums and websites.
5. Disconnect, fully.
Learning to enjoy the outdoors means appreciating it for what it lacks as much as for what it possesses. Leave the iPad at home. Turn off the GPS and bust out the printed map. Turn off the bluetooth speaker and tune in to the birds chirping, varmints rustling in the bushes, and, wait, hear that? No? Exactly. That’s the sound of nothingness. No honking car horns. No buzzing electrical lines. No radio or television or YouTube. It’s glorious, isn’t it?
6. Bring the crew!
As the old adage goes, it’s better to give than to receive. Give the gift of the outdoors by bringing along that reluctant friend or cooped-up relative for a day of hiking, biking, camping, or riverside picnicking. Sharing the love is more rewarding than hoarding that joy all to yourself.
You’ll amaze yourself at how much more you notice outside with a friend, how much more you appreciate with another pair of eyes and a fresh perspective, and how quickly time flies when you’re enjoying the outdoors with a loved one. Plus, the more people we can convince to love and cherish America’s outdoors, the more people we’ll have defending our beautiful public lands.