Last summer, a group of friends and I spent a long weekend hiking in Acadia National Park. We climbed Dorr Mountain and Cadillac Mountain on our first big hiking day, then climbed the Beehive and Champlain Mountain on our second big hiking day. I’d been to Acadia before, albeit several years prior, and told my friends the hiking wasn’t too difficult.
“None of the mountains are that tall,” I said, “they will be easy days.”
What I’d forgotten about was the rocky terrain, the total distance we’d cover, and the fact that an “easy day” can mean something completely different depending on who you ask...
Fortunately, the friends who weren’t avid hikers forgave me for my oversight, implored me to show them maps the next time we went out together, and they’re still speaking to me!
The chance to share a new experience with someone is always a gift, especially when it comes to sharing an experience you’re passionate about. But even if you’re a pro at building fires, setting up camp, navigating complex trails, or cooking gourmet meals in the middle of the woods, someone with little or no experience will still need a helping hand with the basics. The best way to make sure your indoorsy friends want to go outdoors with you, or anyone else, again is to set them up for success.
I’ve had many a friend ask me to take them hiking, and after the Acadia debacle, I learned my lesson. One of the first things I make sure to do is to ask as many questions as I can to understand what they’re hoping to get out of the experience. I’ll ask how long they want to hike for, how far they’re willing to drive with me, what sort of cool things they want to see, like waterfalls or vistas, if they’re interested in camping too, and if they’re up for steep hills or want more mellow terrain.
Then, I’ll come up with options based on their answers and physical ability, usually hikes I’ve done before, and share photos or trip reports to help them decide. This ensures I’m taking them on a hike they’ll actually enjoy! The same criteria can apply to any outdoor activity. Ask your newbie adventure partner what they’d like to do, see, and experience, and go from there.
And keep your options open! If the idea of spending a day hiking isn’t appealing, even a short walk, a mellow bike ride can be enough to get anyone excited about being outdoors.
Once you’ve chosen your trail, describe the day in as much detail as possible. I missed that part in Acadia too!
Let your newbie partner know what to expect in terms of mileage, elevation gain and loss, general terrain difficulty, weather, cool things you’ll see, and how long you’ll be out.
Their response to receiving this information can give you an indication of whether you’ve picked the right trail or not. “I have to walk for eight miles when we’re only moving two miles per hour?!” Might indicate you need to choose a different option. Show them any maps or trail guides you have, what landmarks to look for, and any other important things to remember to look for.
The process of accumulating the gear we need to bike, hike, climb, and camp and be an extensive, and expensive one. If you’re an experienced outdoorsperson, odds are you have at least a few pieces of gear you can share. Your backpacks, boots, tents, sleeping bags, even water bottles can be incredibly helpful to someone who isn’t ready to buy their own. I tend to loan out gear I’m not incredibly worried about being damaged, just in case.
I also love bringing and showing or sharing cool gear I’m excited about. My Luminaid lantern, for example, is a big hit in camp because it’s solar powered and casts a beautiful, soft light. And the Mountainsmith Hemp Cooler Tube is always a crowd pleaser, especially when I open it up!
You’re a pro with a head full of knowledge and experience; share it all! Tell your newbie partner why you chose to do one thing over another, bring one thing over another, what brands of gear you love, and what to buy when they’re just starting out versus what to borrow if they’re interested in building their own gear arsenal. Explain Leave No Trace principles; the earlier those principles are shared, the more likely your newbie friend is to make use of them later on. Show them how to read the weather, and explain what to do in case of emergencies, including what emergency supplies to bring. If you’re camping, share your favorite camp recipes and techniques for selecting a campsite.
Just because you can hike four miles an hour uphill or tackle long stretches single track terrain without stopping doesn’t mean your newbie partner is going to be able to do the same. And even if, intellectually, we know that, it can be difficult to be patient. Preparing yourself to slow down, to pay closer attention to your partner’s behavior than you might if you were adventuring with someone more experienced, and to look for signs your newbie isn’t having a good time can make all the difference. If you’re hiking, consider having them lead, then they get to set the pace. And when the going gets tough, remind them you were a beginner once too.
Veteran outdoorsfolk, what’s your advice when it comes to getting your indoorsy friends to try spending some time outside this spring and summer? We’d love to hear your tips, too!