It is about that time of the year again when a healthy dose of the mid-winter, cabin fever blues has set in and people are ready for fairer weather to liberate them from close quarters. For you outdoor junkies and particularly for you beginners—whether your thing is camping, hiking, trail running, etc., here are a few ideas to get your plans in motion for the upcoming season.
There are a couple of ways that a fun-filled outdoor experience can go wrong, and most fit into two categories. The first involves not having the proper equipment; the second involves something like accidentally being eaten by the local wildlife (e.g. mosquitoes or bears); both fall under the category: “lack of proper planning.”
It is true that preparation goes a long way when dealing with different conditions and environments. So, what are some things that a person should consider when beginning to explore the great outdoors? The answer will depend on the type of experience you are seeking. If you are planning on a 30 minute trail-run in a highly trafficked state park, some of these ideas will not be as important as they might be if you were to go backpacking deep into Yellowstone National Park for a few days.
First, do at least a little bit of homework on the area you will be in ….
As a rule of thumb, the depth of information you learn about the area should be gauged by how far away from your car you will be—and for how long. Bad weather won’t be a big deal if you are camping 10 feet from where you are parked. However, a little dampness with no way to get dry for a night can make for a miserable experience. Here are some basics to learn about:
Weather: Is it likely to rain, snow or be excessively hot? Is the area known for sudden changes in weather?
Hazardous wildlife: Plants, insects and animals are all a part of why nature is as beautiful as it is. However, getting too close to the wrong species can prove dangerous.
Experience needed: Would a park ranger or an experienced outdoorsman/woman advise the area you are interested in visiting for a beginner? As simple as enjoying the outdoors may seem, some areas demand different types of skills, depending on a variety of factors ranging from the type of terrain to risks that are unique to the area. Beginners should always start out visiting areas that are easy to access, with a small amount of equipment that they can easily become familiar with.
A state’s Division of Parks and Recreation website should have information about local conditions and hazards to consider. Books about the area and park offices are good sources for information, as well.
Next, get the right equipment …
Other than a few key items, most outdoor equipment is worth purchasing second-hand and can be found at very reasonable prices. Craig’s List, eBay, Wal-Mart and Army/Navy Surplus stores are all great places to look for beginner’s equipment. Garage sales are another good way to go if you have enough time on your hands.
Friends and family can be a great source for free equipment, too. This is the best way to test things out to see if they are items you would want to spend money on.
As far as the things you don’t want to scrimp on …
If you are dealing with extreme weather conditions, like being out in the cold or rain for long periods of time, you will want to have quality equipment that has the ability to keep you dry and warm. Also, sturdy and comfortable footgear will be your best friend out on a long trail.
If you should bring food …
The primary things to consider regarding food are whether it can be water sealed and how heavy it is. Lightweight, high calorie food that can be protected from the elements is the ideal.
Sealed food packages are also less likely to attract critters. However, it is best to anticipate that any food will draw critters, so it is best to store food away from your sleeping area and out of animals’ reach is preferable (some people hang food containers from trees by a rope). For those venturing into areas known to have dangerous wildlife (i.e., bears, coyotes, wolves, etc.) it is mandatory to read literature that deals specifically with how to camp or hike responsibly and safely in those areas.
Finally, make a point to learn …
Nature is one of the most beautiful and captivating classrooms in existence, with a seemingly infinite amount of information to draw from. It is worthwhile to pick up a book on the local wildlife and to turn excursions into opportunities to learn about the flora and fauna that make each area unique.
To learn more about effectively planning for outdoor excursions visit the following sites:
www.rei.com (Look for "Expert Advice" under "Travel Resources")
www.helium.com (For dealing with critters)