You spent your winter wrapped in a blanket on the living room sofa dunking your Chips Ahoy! in hot chocolate. Understandable. Outdoor recreation isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind in the bitter cold of January and in the midst of a global pandemic. But now March reminds us it’s time to wake up from hibernation and resurrect that forgotten New Year’s resolution that this year — you’re not going to be such a slug.
Forget about the treadmill and the exercise video promising firmer abs in a mere eight minutes. A beautiful world is sitting out there for you to enjoy, and taking advantage of this free gym isn’t as complicated as it may seem. All you need is a few pointers and a bit of motivation.
Let’s start with the motivation part. Of course, nothing can compete with the beauty of the great outdoors. Whether it’s the ocean, a mountain, a lake, a river, a forest or a field, creation is breathtaking and never disappoints. Time spent in nature refreshes your spirit and can reconnect you with the one who made it all.
Peter, an avid backpacker and outdoor adventurer from Colorado Springs, Colo., believes people are more candid when they’re involved in an outdoor activity. “People tend to open up and be more ‘real’ when they are stepping out of their comfort zone and really being challenged,” he said, “and that seems to happen often when I’m out playing hard with friends in this amazing creation all around us.”
Getting your body moving also has the positive effect of getting you in shape. According to a study done by Men’s Fitness magazine, the most physically fit cities in the U.S. were the ones where the most people were using the outdoors as their own natural fitness center. Greg, also from Colorado Springs, hikes around five times a week and recommends getting outside because it’s relatively inexpensive. “You get to breathe the fresh air, and it gives you a lot of energy,” he said. “I do it because it’s just really a lot of fun!”
Countless different ways to enjoy the outdoors are available to you, with skill levels ranging from the most hardcore to
the greenest beginner. Take your pick — hike, go camping, bike, fish, kayak, go horseback riding, view wildlife, ski, rock climb, go caving … With so many activities to choose from, there’s got to be at least one that strikes your fancy. Many require spending an entire day or a weekend, but some can be tailored to fit an hour or two if that’s all you have. And you can try most of these without years of experience or piles of gear.
For example, for a day of hiking, the main thing to remember is to have the proper shoes and plenty of water. Margaret, an Alaskan outdoors enthusiast, recommends bringing an extra pair of socks, lightweight snacks such as energy bars, trail mix or granola bars, and if you’re walking near fresh streams, a water purifying device, since it’s more efficient than lugging around heavy bottles of water. Also, hikers should always bring a friend or let someone know where they’re planning to hike in case of emergency. For biking, add a quick-fix tire kit. A map always helps, too.
If camping sounds fun to you, decide if you’d rather backpack or car camp. The backpack version requires bringing a lightweight sleeping bag and tent, toilet paper and a flashlight or headlamp, plus hiking supplies. Car camping is easier — basically you can bring as much as your Prius can fit. Margaret suggests taking along a battery-powered radio, pillows, soda, steaks, a grate to put over the fire, s’mores supplies, a guide to the stars and of course, a camera. For activities that require a little bit of know-how, basic lessons or a guide can get you started.
Where you go, of course, depends on your location. If you’re willing to plan a trip, you could visit one of Backpacker.com’s readers’ picks for the greatest backpacking national parks in the U.S. Topping the list was Montana’s Glacier National Park, featuring “massive U-shaped valleys, castle-like peaks, (and) emerald (lagoons) tucked below shorn cliffs.”
Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington won second place for its “blue-ice rivers” and “alpine meadows of timberline, thick with wild- flowers in summer or crucifixion thorn in fall.” California’s Yosemite National Park came in third for golden rock walls and “thundering falls,” followed by Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, with its moody weather adding to the natural excitement. Some national parks have trails up to 90 miles long, which can be segmented to make for shorter trips.
If you’re looking for something closer to home, nearly every town has a state park nearby filled with trails and handy picnic tables and outhouses. Most parks will have some sort of visitor/nature center where you can get maps and information. Chain outdoor equipment dealers or local bike shop employees can generally provide maps and direction to local trails as well.
Having the right gear is important, and the bad news is that getting what you need will probably cost you. “You really get what you pay for,” Greg said, “which stinks because most outdoor gear is really expensive.” The good news is that quality gear is built to last, and much of it comes with some sort of guarantee.
The clothes you wear to brave the elements should generally be waterproof/resistant, lightweight, easily packable, breathable and comfortable, have pockets and shouldn’t hold odors. That’s a pretty tall order, and you may have noticed that “fashionable” didn’t make the list. Outdoor clothing is meant to be practical.
Peter maintains that the best stores to go to for gear are local outdoors specialty shops, where you’ll find the best service from employees who have first-hand experience.
So put down the remote and start stretching a little — creation awaits. Bring a friend. Bring your journal. Bring your dog. You’ll never regret getting outside and enjoying nature, and once you’ve climbed that mountain, kayaked that river or survived three nights sleeping in a tent, you’ll have full bragging rights.