There are a lot of reasons to not go camping. Sometimes, even when the sun is shining and the air is warm and I feel as antsy as all get out, the excuses get real loud in my head. There are doubts; about gear and money and transportation, and the way my body is softer now and how my ex took most of the camping gear when we broke up, and that if I camp solo I might feel lonesome or unsafe or not know something I really need to know.
I spent a decade camping occasionally and hiking somewhat often and wishing I did more of both – but still never heading out as much as I felt like I could or should.
The only thing I got out of listening to those voices, though, was staying home and spending more time watching TV, or going to yet another bar and drinking another beer that my body didn’t really want. What’s changed is that I finally got tired of not hiking and camping.
I tell you all this to illustrate just how many things can get in the way of our good intentions to get outside.
Money, logistics, health, time, gear, solitude, accessibility, and our own own self-image can all hinder our hopes to hit the trail and sleep under the stars. But study after study has proven that getting outdoors does great things for our health. A dose of fresh air can relieve stress, a walk in the woods can improve memory, forest bathing can help reduce inflammation, and a night under the stars can give you renewed energy. In short, it’s worth it to find ways to push past these barriers.
If you’re determined to not let another season slip by without quality time in nature, let’s address the doubts head on and get past them, together:
Don’t have the time to go camping?
Find a new trail closer to home and head out straight from work. Or try taking a remote work day and plan your trip around a campground that’s WiFi equipped, or pack your mobile hotspot. Rent a car using a service like ReachNow or set yourself up with a conversion van rental from Escape Campervans and roll on into your campsite to simplify your trip. Wherever you park, go camping!
You can also try hammock packing or book a cabin to save setup time at your campsite, and pre-prep your camping meals. Freeze dried camping meals or a couple cans of soup will keep you full with barely any prep.
The same thought process goes for keeping your gear organized and pre-packed so you can take off on last-minute trips. Keep everything you need for a night of camping in one big big; sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tarp, camp stove, tent, a pot, sunscreen, bug spray, and a set of camping dishes should cover it. Throw a gallon of water in there and some food and you’re good to go camping for at least a night.
Also, cut yourself some slack. Your excursion doesn’t have to be an epic multi-night foray into the backcountry to be satisfying and worthwhile. Popping out to the campground for a quick 5PM to 9AM overnighter can do wonders for your mental health.
Don’t have the right gear to go camping?
Rent gear from an outfitter like REI, EMS, OutdoorsGear.com, MountainSide Gear rental or your local university. You might even find that in addition to renting gear you can join a group expedition or learn a new skill like compass navigation or avalanche preparedness.
If you want to limit the amount of gear you need to carry, car camping, RV camping, or cabin camping are all ways to get outside without needing as much gear, or without needing super light, technical (and sometimes more expensive) versions of everything. You can also borrow things from friends or family, or purchase supplies from a second hand outlet or online.
Remember that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to survive outside for a night or two. As long as you have food, water, and a way to stay warm, you will probably be ok in most situations. Humans have survived outside for far longer with far less equipment than the average person has in their house. And your gear doesn’t need a recognizable label to be useful outdoors, especially when the weather is warm and dry.
Healing an injury?
That’s super frustrating! I once broke my arm falling off a cliff on the Fiery Gizzard Trail that made it really hard to paddle board and kayak and do yoga for the rest of the summer. My cousin was three days into a two-week section hike of the Appalachian Trail when his knee swelled up like a balloon and he needed me to pick him up from a remote corner of the north Georgia wilderness. It’s hard when you have a goal and need to get your wiggles out and you can’t get your body to cooperate.
Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Instead focus on other ways you can enjoy your time outside. Busted finger? Belay a friend. Plantar fasciitis cramping your trail run? Try mountain biking. Illiotibial Band Syndrome acting up? Take a zero day in your hammock or go fishing.
An injury is a setback, yes, but it’s also a chance to get creative and try something new. At the very least, a chill day playing disc golf or sitting by the lake with a beer is better than a day cooped up inside feeling sorry for yourself.
Short on cash?
Look into public transit accessible campgrounds before you go camping to save on gas. Collaborate with a friend on a budget excursion. Try a swap-meet with friends to see if you can all exchange gear you’re not using for something you really would like to have in your pack, or sell what you don’t need to a second hand gear shop. Repair stuff you have that’s a little broken. There are a lot of ways to extend the life of your outdoor gear and make it fit your budget.
Plan camping meals with what’s already languishing in the back of your fridge. It’s pretty cheap to dress up college staples like ramen with the last of the carrots and broccoli in the crisper drawer. Backpacker staples like peanut butter and canned tuna are quite affordable, too.
Give urban hiking a shot. Exchange a spendy sport for something cheaper for a season, like swapping your pricy climbing gym membership for a slacklining setup. Instead of traveling to other states to bag peaks, get more intimately acquainted with your own backyard with an activity rewarded by repetition like foraging.
Worried about your ability?
That’s understandable. I’ve talked myself out of many a hike for fear I’d hold my buddy back or that a new friend would be secretly rolling her eyes at how slow I am. I wish I’d said “yes” instead. There are beginner levels for every sport, from mountain biking trails to bouldering routes to meandering hikes, and they are just as legit as the super technical black diamond intensive versions someone you know is trying.
There’s absolutely a trail for every ability level. Just ask the amazing team behind Unlikely Hikers what they discovered about their capabilities once they stopped worrying they weren’t fit enough to head outside. You don’t need to be the queen of cardio to camp–there are plenty of drive in or walk-in campsites that are super chill.
If your concern isn’t with fitness but with disability, check out ADA-accessible campgrounds and parks. They typically have trails of level grades and surfaces that are navigable for wheel chair users or those who rely on other mobility devices. Most states have at least one braille trail, too, for those with visual impairments. Yes, outdoor accessibility still has a long way to go. But take a look for something that peaks your interest or abilities – it’s out there, waiting for you to find it.
Don’t feel confident?
That’s ok! Nobody does!
Yes, the outdoor industry still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, representation, and inclusion. The jargon can sometimes feel like a brick wall when you hear people talking in what seems like another language about pink blazing, Elvis leg, asking for beta, bluebird days, bivvies, cat holes, and big whips. Go outside and go camping anyways.
And ask questions. That’s how we all learn!
Yes, like any other group of passionate, close-knit people the outdoor community can feel cliquish sometimes, especially when you’re new. Remember that you aren’t the only one who has felt this way before.
You can pay it forward as you get more comfortable and experienced by being kind and helpful to another uncertain newbie. Practice the art of trail magic.
Change minds and hearts if you want to. If not, try not to let it weigh on you. You have sites to see and amazing things to accomplish with your body. Invite your friends who don’t camp on a camping trip. Find friends on your level or welcoming souls willing to have fun with you while you learn, and enjoy your own journey. This may take time. Be patient with yourself, and with other people. Even experts don’t feel confident all the time, because they’re challenging themselves, too.
I guarantee you, each and every one of us is harboring some kind of secret tender place, whether we project confidence or not. It’s all a learning process, on the trail and off. Don’t let the doubtful voice in the back of your head keep you from a memorable adventure.
How I’ll go camping more, too:
I’ll leave you with this: When I moved to a Portland three months ago, I purposefully picked an apartment where I can easily get to the trail even without a car. I wanted to cut down on the number of excuses I have for not spending more time outside. I don’t have much gear, but I still head out for weekend hikes with my pleather backpack purse from Target, the water bottle I got as schwag from some event, and a pair of sneakers I bought at Goodwill. When I go camping, I’ll take my grandmother’s backpack, an old sleeping bag from the 70s, and a hammock I picked up on sale at Ace Hardware. Life is short, and I want to get out there.
This year I promised myself that I’d give all my old excuses the heave ho. I’d spend more time watching the breeze play with the tree branches and the bats come out at twilight and thinking about the secret society of roots and mushrooms and moles and ants under our feet in the loam as I encourage myself up one more hill towards a truly stunning view. I dare you to do the same. Whether this is the first time you’ll ever go camping, or the first time in a long time, all you have to do is just let yourself be outside.