By Michael Lanza
Do you get outside as much as you’d like, either locally or on longer trips away from home? Who does? For many of us, work, home, and other responsibilities erect roadblocks to getting out as much as we’d like—and the ongoing pandemic has only made travel much more difficult and anxiety-provoking while making time outdoors feel ever more urgent and necessary. This story shares 10 simple strategies to help you sate your appetite for getting outdoors, both on short outings near home and longer trips away from home.
While my work as an outdoors writer and photographer for the past three decades—including 10 years as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and many years running this blog—enables me to spend a lot of time outside every year, like most people, I serve many masters and balance many commitments. (As a side note, as a big believer in community involvement, my commitments have included thousands of volunteer hours over the years working on important causes, among those my current role proudly serving on the board of this very effective conservation group).
In fact, my professional need to get out frequently on trips—along with my desire to get out regularly on shorter, local hikes, runs, rides, and skis of anywhere from an hour to a day—has, over the years, taught me many tricks for accomplishing those objectives within the framework of a busy life.
Although 2020 turned into the year of a pandemic and, yet again, massive wildfires in the West, forcing the cancellation of four backpacking trips and one river trip I had planned (three of them to be with my family—see tip no. 2 below), by employing the tips in this story I managed to adjust and still get out on five backpacking trips (three of them with my family), including the Wonderland Trail and Ruby Crest Trail, and fit in plenty of dayhiking, rock climbing, and local trail running and cycling.
But the point is not whether you’re getting out as much as someone else or where you go—it’s whether you’re doing what’s necessary to satisfy your need for the release and happiness the outdoors provides, or at least come as close to that ideal as possible.
In many respects, most people reading this story face similar challenges and obstacles.
I think you will find that these tips can help improve your life. Please share your thoughts on them, or your own tricks for getting out more, in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.
No. 1 Plan Trips Weeks or Months in Advance
When was the last time you had the freedom to take off on the spur of the moment? Probably been years, right?
Many people lack that flexibility, which means that your outdoor recreation, like your work, has to be scheduled or it doesn’t happen. That’s true whether it’s your regular, short local hikes and other outings or longer trips backpacking, hiking, and camping in many national parks, like Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, and Grand Canyon (lead photo at top of story), which require making reservations months in advance.
I usually have at least three trips in some planning stage; and by late April every year, I typically have blocks of my summer booked with trips long and short. For years, I’ve also maintained a list of trip ideas with some details or links to information; that document is now nearly 20,000 words and the list keeps getting longer, not shorter.
I need to get busy. So do you.
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No. 2 Involve Your Family
As a parent, the best way to get outdoors more is to get your kids involved at a very young age—carrying them on hikes and other activities before they’re walking, then letting them move under their own power as soon as they can walk. Since our kids were babies, we’ve taken them on adventures that were realistic for their ages and abilities. Now that they’re older teenagers, they have—to our joy, for many reasons—grown into enthusiastic and very capable backpackers, climbers, skiers, and whitewater boaters.
I’ve also, for years, taken annual father-son and father-daughter trips, which my kids love and look forward to as much as I do.
The benefits of that include creating additional opportunities for me to get outside and ingraining in our children a love for the outdoors that my wife and I have always shared. Plus, by getting my family out as much as they’re willing to go, they occasionally don’t mind when I take off without them on a climbing or backpacking trip (or maybe they’re just happy to get a break from me).
No. 3 Get Organized
If the thought of packing up your gear for a weekend erects a mental hurdle to going, lower that hurdle. Get organized and efficient not just about packing for a trip, but also about storing gear after trips; having it ready to go helps you get out the door more quickly. Keep supplies like stove fuel and backpacking food on hand. That way, taking off for a night or two of camping or backpacking doesn’t feel like mobilizing an army.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, and other parks using my expert e-guides.
No. 4 Be the Planner
Just about anyone appreciates much of the trip planning being done for them. I look at my list of trip ideas and propose specific adventures to my family and friends. By repeatedly coming up with ideas for great trips and facilitating them, I motivate my family and have cultivated a stable of capable, fun friends to choose from, depending on the nature of the trip.
While it requires some time from me, I enjoy thinking about and planning new adventures. Plus, when you’re taking the lead planning role, other people are willing to have duties delegated to them.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
No. 5 Build Extra Time Into a Business Trip
Whether it’s a week or more, a weekend, a day, or even a morning or afternoon before catching a flight home, when traveling for work, schedule time to get outside. Before you depart on the trip, find out about the local recreation options where you’re headed—the choices may pleasantly surprise you.
For example, on a visit to Joshua Tree National Park, I added two days to a business trip, and a good friend who lived in California was able to schedule a work trip to that area at the same time. We enjoyed bonus days hiking and rock climbing together without incurring more travel time or expense.
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No. 6 Get a Regular Partner
Self-motivating is hard. Find a partner for regular, local hikes, rides, or trail runs who’s compatible with your style and pace. Besides pushing each other to work a little harder, you’ll push one another to stick to the commitment.
No. 7 Schedule Your Weekly Outings
Don’t treat exercise and outdoor recreation as something you’ll get to at the end of the day or on the weekend if there’s time after everything else gets done—that’s the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Schedule your regular, local outings during the week, like short hikes or trail runs, just like you schedule work or personal appointments. Carve out time for it on your calendar and you will do it and turn it into part of your routine.
Get a jump on your next adventure with my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
No. 8 Get Up Early
Whether I’m itching to knock off a quick hike that my family’s not interested in at the end of a vacation, or I’m trying to squeeze in a trail run or ride on a weekend at home, getting up early, before them, and getting it done fast has long been a strategy that works for me.
I’ve done some really nice hikes in national parks—like the Eagle Peak Trail in Mount Rainier National Park (photo above), which I describe in this story—and other places, that I would not have otherwise fit in, just by getting out really early. It’s also a cooler, often lovely time of day, when you might get the bonus of seeing wildlife or enjoying beautiful morning light.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips” and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
No. 9 Live Near Trails
Your ease of access to local trails and outdoor-recreation opportunities greatly affects how often you get outside. I’ve lived in rural areas where, ironically, I always had to drive to go hiking, trail running, or mountain biking. Now I live near the center of a city of over 200,000 people, but I can bike, run, or walk with minutes to access a trails network that spans over 200 miles throughout the Boise Foothills.
While moving obviously isn’t an option for everyone, if you live inconveniently far from trails, bike paths, rivers, or other places where you enjoy outdoor recreation, maybe it’s just time to move closer. Or if you don’t have trails or parks near you, be an advocate for them with your local government.
You deserve good gear. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The 8 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents.”
No. 10 Make a Deal With Your Spouse
My wife and I always gave each other the freedom to get out for daily exercise or occasional trips when our kids were little. Many parents find that’s a difficult stage in life, when you can easily fall off an exercise routine and not get outside much—and suddenly discover that five years have passed since you last got out on a real trip—unless you’re both willing to do these things separately, taking turns.
There’s a side benefit in that each of you will experience the rewards of some solo time with kids. If you don’t have children, you and your spouse may just not enjoy all the same activities or level of intensity. Give each other the space you each need to be happy.