We love being outside. We love it when others love being outside. We don’t love it when others don’t respect outside. So with more and more people heading outdoors these days, we thought it was high time that we discussed a few rules for the outdoors so all of us can enjoy the outdoors together. Some of these are suggestions that merely make the whole outdoor experience more pleasant for everyone involved, and some are hard and fast rules that can destroy delicate ecosystems (or your life) if not followed. So read up, then get outside and wander on!
10 Rules for the Outdoors
1. Leave No Trace
We wrote a whole post about the 7 principles of Leave No Trace here, but here’s the general rule: leave no trace that you were ever out there to begin with. That means if you pack it in, pack it out (including trash and even your own poo if necessary) and leave the area better than you found it so when the next hiker/backpacker/picnicker passes through, they don’t swear and berate the last noob who trashed the place for everyone.
Here’s another way to think of it: treat the outdoors like it’s someone else’s home (because it is). You wouldn’t carve your name into someone’s coffee table if you were visiting would you? Then why would you do it to a rock or tree? Don’t be a jerk. Don’t leave a mark, don’t leave apple cores on the ground, don’t start campfires wherever you darn well please… The outdoors is someone else’s house, so treat it with the same respect you would your best friend’s grandma’s place. It’s the first of the rules for the outdoors for a reason
2. Always tell someone where you are going
Almost all the horror stories about lost hikers and explorers dying alone in abandoned buses and adventurers having to cut off their own arms to escape precarious situations could have been avoided by following one simple rule: always tell at least one other person where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Send your best friend a text. Send your mom and itinerary. Send your partner a timeframe and the name of the trail you’re on or the park you’re in. Just tell someone! That way, if you don’t check in by the time you’re supposed to be back in civilization, that person not only knows that they need to contact search and rescue, but where SAR needs to start looking. Do it whenever you go on a hike or backpcking trip in an unfamiliar area, but especially if you’re going alone. No excuses. Just do it.
3. Be friendly
It’s OK to be friendly. In fact, it’s encouraged. After all, we’re all out here together. Say hi, on long hikes, ask where people are from, offer info about how far it is to the next lookout or, if you’re going down, how far those going up still have to go before they reach the top. At the very least, offer a smile and a nod. There’s a camaraderie in the outdoors that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Enjoy it! You might just make a friend in the process. We have!
4. Pack wisely (10 essentials)
Being prepared is one of the most important rules for the outdoors. And while we wrote a whole post about the 10 essentials for hiking, here’s the basic list: food, water, extra clothing, emergency shelter, first aid kit, navigational tools (including a map–always), sun protection, fire starter tools, light, and a multitool of some sort. That way, if you get stuck outdoors or suffer an accident, you’ll have the supplies you need to survive.
5. Make sure your fire is out
I mean, make sure it’s reeeeeally out. We produced a whole video on how to build a fire here, but the bottom line is this: don’t go to bed or leave your campsite until you’ve drowned the fire and coals so sufficiently that you can stick your hand on top of them without getting burned. Just do it. Smoky the Bear beseeches you.
6. Store your food in your car
Even if you’re not in bear country, when camping, store your snacks and coolers in your car. Bears may be the worst offenders (and you don’t want one in your campsite), but squirrels, raccoons, opossums, javelinas, ravens, ringtails, etc. are more clever than you give them credit for and have been known to chew holes through bags, walk off with sandwich fixings, and figure out how to open coolers. So stash it all in your car or a food locker (if your campsite has one) before going to bed or leaving for the day.
7. Use the opportunity to disconnect
We’re constantly bombarded with technology. When you’re outdoors, take the opportunity to unplug and just enjoy nature. Use your senses and take in all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures around you. Plus, studies show that time outdoors without tech equals free therapy. So save the Instagramming and email checking for when you get home. Nature can be healing and oh so stimulating if you let it.
8. Wear the right clothing
In hot, dry climates, go crazy with cotton. But everywhere else, synthetic is king. Cotton doesn’t dry like synthetics, which means you’ll be wet longer in rainy, snowy, or humid climates, which can lead to chafing and blisters at best and hypothermia at worst. So always opt for synthetic socks and underwear, but deck yourself in the right clothing for the climate, keeping in mind that synthetics are almost always your best bet, and keep yourself comfy and dry. This isn’t as big of a deal on short, urban day hikes, but for longer treks or journeys farther from civilization, the wrong type of clothing could quite literally be the difference between life and death.
9. Bring camp shoes
This is one is the one that makes me feel like a jerk if I forget to recommend it to new campers or backpackers joining me on an adventure. Because honestly, there’s nothing better at the end of a long day of hiking than kicking off your hiking boots (or hiking sandals) and putting on a comfy (or at least different) pair of shoes. So whether it’s a pair of cheap flip flops or fancy vegan Birkenstocks, bring a pair of shoes just to wear around camp!
10. Have fun out there
Yeah, it’s important to plan ahead, prepare, and stay safe when in the outdoors (in fact, it may be the most important), but don’t forget to have fun. Slow down and enjoy the experience whether you’re hiking, kayaking, backpacking, or just taking a bike ride around your neighborhood. Notice the natural wonders around you. Don’t race to the summit or campsite or back to the trailhead. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember when you were a kid and going outside meant it was time to play? It should still mean that. Just, you know, with fewer pairs of light-up sneakers…probably… So stay safe and be smart, but have fun out there!
Have your own suggestions for rules for the outdoors? Tell us about them! Wander on!
Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com