Exploring the outdoors can be an invigorating form of recreation and for some, even a life-defining pursuit. For those caught up in the humdrum of urban life, the great outdoors can be a wholly different and exciting realm. It can lead the intrepid adventurer to epiphanies, discoveries and a deeper appreciation of the world and of one’s self.
It is not, however, quite as simple as deciding on a destination, packing your rucksack and hitting the trail. As with any mission, preparation is always key and key to that preparation is building up your knowledge and being in the proper mindset. If you’re eager to hie off for some rugged adventure, here are some things to remember so that your escapade stays safe and enjoyable.
Educate yourself. If someone were to ask me what would be the most important item to bring for an adventure out in the wild, I would always respond, “A good head on your shoulders.” Out there, far from the conveniences and controlled environment of modern life, nature rules. No sooner will you learn just how vulnerable you are than when nature conspires her forces against you.
To become a competent outdoorsman requires experience; cursory how-to’s on camping and hiking (such as this article) are not enough to adequately equip you with what you need for the outdoors. Join an outdoor club and learn some basic outdoor skills. These clubs conduct lectures and organize excursions where you can learn and practice outdoor skills in safety amidst the company of comrades.
In addition, build up your knowledge by reading about basic survival skills, latest equipment trends and the experiences of fellow adventurers. There is always something new to learn so invest in your outdoor skills and knowledge.
Keep yourself fit. A trek through the outdoors is physical activity and, more often than not, the really beautiful and scenic destinations are those that are far from the beaten track. If a 30-minute stroll through the mall already leaves you winded and aching to sit down, then you need to get yourself in shape! Beyond just being able to competently go through the hikes, the fitter you are, the safer you’ll be. An exhausted hiker is more likely to get into an accident or fall ill compared to his more physically fit counterpart.
Plan your trip.Aside from logistic preparations, there are other things to keep in mind when planning your outdoor adventure.
First, familiarize yourself with your destination. What is the terrain like? How long will the hike take? Where are the camping grounds? What will the weather be like? How far is the destination from the nearest town? Are there water sources nearby? Are there any critical concerns regarding my destination that I should be aware of? The answers to these questions will determine just what you should bring and how else you can prepare yourself. Second, plan for emergencies. Leave your trip itinerary, specifying the routes you’ll be taking and the locations where you plan to camp, with a friend or relative. Give them the contact information of point persons involved in your trip and of local authorities in the places where you’ll be heading. Leave word with your loved ones as to when you expect to be back and inform them what to do in case they don’t hear from you after a certain period of time.
Bring the right gear. Here are some basic equipment essential to earnest jaunts into the wild:
- Hiking shoes or boots: These provide better traction and grip on soil and dirt, as well as support and cushioning as you carry that loaded backpack over uneven terrain. Choose a pair that fits comfortably and make sure to properly break-in your footwear ahead of the trip.
- Backpack: The size of your backpack will depend on how much load you will be carrying. Just like with your hiking shoes, what’s vital in selecting a backpack is its fit and comfort. Remember, too, that proper packing of backpacks isn’t just about making everything fit – where you put things will affect just how comfortable your pack is to carry. A general rule of thumb is to put your water load and all other heavy items close to the center of your back and pack lighter items around them. This will help maintain balance by keeping the bulk of the load close to your center of gravity. Remember also to waterproof clothing and other dry items by packing them in plastic bags.
- Tent and sleeping bag: The best camping tents are lightweight, easy to assemble and dismantle, have a strong frame system, and are able to keep you dry and protected during inclement weather. A sleeping bag may be optional if you’re not much of a prissy sleeper, but where night temperatures can drop drastically, this piece of camping equipment is a necessity and a godsend. Bring a rollup mat or earth pad to even out the lumpiness of the ground.
- Camping stove and cooking set: If you are planning only a day-hike, then these may not be necessary. But if you’re to be out in the wilderness for a couple of days or more, then some mindful meal preparation is called for.
- Hiking and camping clothes: Preferably light, quick-drying, and made with breathable fabric. Avoid cotton clothing as these are hard to dry and become heavy when wet. Bring rain gear such as a waterproof jacket and pants, as well as suitable thermal clothing where it is expected to become cold.
- Basic survival kit: These include a headlamp (with spare batteries), some sort of fire starter such as matches or a lighter, and a utility knife. Other useful items that you can throw into this kit are lengths of rope, a whistle for emergency signaling, and a small roll of duct tape for quick repairs.
Be a responsible traveler. Many natural spots for outdoor adventures are slowly deteriorating no thanks to irresponsible and careless visitors. Please do not be one of the offenders. Keep in mind the “Leave No Trace” principle, take your garbage with you when you’re done and be relentlessly conscientious in keeping the destination pristine and undisturbed. Abide by the outdoorsman’s creed: “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.”
Understand also that the backcountry is not a theme park. In the wilderness, you’ll find no hopon rides, no attendants, no flush toilets, no snack bars, and that’s the very core of its appeal. The wild is a different world, and self-reliance is a vital skill for appreciating it.
Remember also that wherever your destination may be, you are merely a guest, so act the part. Be respectful of the local communities and do not be the ugly arrogant tourist. Likewise, realize that most of the other people who head out to the same wilderness are there primarily for peace and serenity so please keep the noise down and leave the riotous antics at home.
There is much to learn from adventures in the wide open so start planning that adventure. Breathe deeply, soak in the views, and immerse yourself in this whole new world because, as someone once observed, “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”