Does wandering around the side of a mountain by yourself with no cell service sound like a good time? For many people, it does! The outdoors is the only place on earth not yet altered by humans for their own comfort. Untouched mountains, meadows, and lakes are so special because they’re naturally beautiful. Exploring the outdoors is a special chance to see some of nature’s most splendid creations, but it’s also intimidating, potentially dangerous, and remote. Nobody wants to run out of water, hang out in a patch of poison ivy, or make the acquaintance of a grizzly bear! Too many people never venture outside of city limits because they don’t know where to start or how to adventure safely. Considering the benefits of being outdoors for anyone’s mental and physical health, newcomers should feel empowered to head onto the trails in a safe, enjoyable way. Here are common barriers for new outdoor adventurers and helpful tips and tricks to overcome them.
Find Your People
One of the easiest ways to learn about the outdoors is to find someone who already knows! That friend of a friend who’s always posting from the top of a mountain? Send them a message and ask about their favourite hikes. Your uncle who’s big into cross-country skiing? Take him for coffee and pick his brain. People who are passionate about the outdoors are generally thrilled to talk about their experiences, and you can learn more about different activities or even tag along.
If you can’t think of anyone to reach out to directly, try searching online for local outdoor meetup groups in your area. Plenty of cities have individually-organized groups that are open to anyone and anyone wanting to get outdoors with some new people. While meeting up with 10 strangers to go hiking could be outside of your comfort zone, being in a group increases your safety in the backcountry and almost guarantees you’ll be able to learn from more experienced adventurers.
Plan Your Trip Ahead
A little planning goes a long way when it comes to the backcountry. When you’re getting ready to take a trip outside, one of the easiest ways to ensure it goes smoothly is to plan ahead! Consider this pre-adventure checklist:
- Where do I want to go
- How long will it take to get there
- How long will I be out
- What do I need to bring
- What are the conditions like
- How will I find my way
Get into the habit of thoroughly researching your intended trip on a few different outdoor adventure websites or indifferent guide books. Check trail conditions, read reviews from other people, know which fork leads to the top and where the stream crossing is. Plan your travel, pack your bag, and know ahead of time what to expect when you’re out. Leave the guesswork out of the outdoors!
Pack Your Bag
So you’re heading out for a 4-hour hike that gains 800m in elevation. It could rain, you won’t have cell service, and you’ll get hungry along the way. What to pack? What’s in your bag and on your body could make the difference between pleasant and unpleasant at best, or life and death at worst. While what to bring and wear differs based on activity, here’s a very basic list that should cover most day hikes. Remember: short hikes are often more dangerous than long ones because people underestimate the risk and show up unprepared!
- Check the weather, but know that alpine forecasts are unpredictable at best and your clear day could turn rainy or snowy without notice
- Bring layers, once of which should be warm and one of which should be waterproof
- Try to wear wool where possible, which absorbs moisture and stays warm longer than cotton
- Bring a hat and sunglasses
- Wear well-fitting hiking boots or at least sturdy athletic shoes (nobody wants a blister at kilometer 10)
- Gear too expensive? Try secondhand sales, online marketplaces, or smaller one-off outdoor apparel stores
Water and Food
- Bring more water than you think you’ll need, as high temperatures and athletic output can make you extra thirsty
- Pack high-calorie, protein-dense hiking snacks like trail mix, protein bars, or sandwiches
- Bring extra water and pack food even if you’re making a quick trip, because you won’t want to be stuck without it should you get lost or otherwise tied up
- Are there bears in the area? Bring bear spray and know how to use it!
- If you’re unsure, ask the sales associate how to operate a can of bear spray while you fill out the paperwork (yes, you’ll have to sign some forms to get a can)
- Consider packing the following as a very basic essentials list: a heat-reflecting blanket, basic first aid items, a whistle, water purification tablets or straws, knife or multi-tool, personal identification, and sunscreen
Any time you venture into the backcountry, you’re putting yourself at risk. Don’t worry just yet! The risk is manageable and mitigable, but it’s important to respect the inherent danger in activities like hiking and know how to reduce the chances of anything unplanned happening. While safety tips can be more comprehensive based on activity, here are some basics.
Try not to go alone
- While many people enjoy solo adventures, new hikers or trekkers should not venture out by themselves if they can avoid it
Share your plans
- Let a trusted person know where you’re going and when you expect to be finished
- Pass along a route map if possible and check in with them along the way if you have phone service
- They should understand when and how to alert emergency services if they haven’t heard from you within an acceptable window of time
- Consider leaving a note visible in your car with your name, basic description, planned route, and anticipated return time
Be smart out there
- Don’t challenge technical hikes or activities you’re not yet comfortable attempting
- Don’t stray off the trail for any reason
- Should you get lost, remain where you are and whistle or signal for help rather than wandering further
- Don’t wear earphones that prevent you from hearing what’s going on around you
- Do speak, sing, or yell to make your presence known to wildlife
- Don’t approach wildlife or attempt to feed any animals (this can get you a hefty fine in some places!)
- Keep an eye on the conditions and be prepared to head home early if they become unfavorable
- Got a feeling in your gut that you’re in over your head? Turn around, the mountain will always be there for you to return to another time
The great outdoors is waiting! Take these tips and tricks with you and make the most of your newfound love for outdoor adventures. See you on the trail.