Chances are you’ve clicked onto this article because you’re super keen on the outdoors. You know the benefits of getting outside into nature, the joys of being in cool places, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with pushing yourself and rising to the challenge. The trouble is, you keep having these experiences and telling your non-outdoorsy mate about how great it all is, but they’re just not appreciating your stories the way you’d like. Furthermore, you think they too could benefit from joining you and stepping beyond their comfort zone!
After working as a school outdoor instructor for several years I’ve had my fair share of experiences with taking non-outdoorsy people into the outdoors. I’ve been able to achieve some pretty cool things and once I even took my Dad on the multi-day South Coast Track in lutruwita/Tasmania. It was his first-ever bushwalk!
My Dad and I taking a break on the South Coast Track.
Throughout these experiences, I’ve made a few mistakes. In the interest of preventing others from the same pitfalls, here are some key considerations for when you decide to take your own non-outdoorsy mate into the outdoors.
Disclaimer: The first step in taking your non-outdoorsy mate into the outdoors is to make sure they have shown some interest in joining you. Just because you want them to go doesn’t mean they do! It’s a fine line, and being on the wrong side of it could mean your friend thinks they are being kidnapped or held hostage…
It’s important to establish whether your potential adventure buddy is actually keen to join you!
Think Like Yoda
If you’re familiar with Star Wars you’ll know the circumstances surrounding Luke Skywalker and his camping trip with Jedi Master Yoda on Dagobah. If you’re not familiar, basically an expert lets a novice sleep at his house for a few days while the novice tries to learn how to be better at life. Yoda (the expert) doesn’t talk much, nor does he parade around in fancy gear. He doesn’t sit Luke (the novice) down to tell him how good he (Yoda) is at using the force, or how much fun the force is to use. Instead, Yoda takes his time with Luke. He allows Luke to slowly discover his own capabilities and shows him what is possible.
Taking this example and applying it to our scenario – when you are starting to take your non-outdoorsy friend into the wilderness for the first time, channel your inner Yoda!
Giving my sister’s boyfriend his first climbing experience.
Allow them to make mistakes without reprimand. Avoid telling them how good every hike or destination is going to be before you’ve even left home, and don’t show off with all your high-level gear!
Try letting your friend set the destination and create an environment where you are both on a shared path to discover something new. This shared experience from the start will break down any hierarchical differences your friend might be silently perceiving exist.
Down-grade yourself to your friend’s level and use similar gear to them. If heading out trail running, leave the running vest, poles, fancy socks, and headwear, at home. Just throw on a pair of shoes and focus on having some fun together. That trip along the South Coast Track with my Dad was also my first time doing the South Coast Track. I was in awe of the surrounding wilderness and marvelled at the extent of the mud, and I could share this with Dad while he was also amazed!
Share in the excitement and challenge of a new experience with your mate. Image: Sam McCarty
Expectation vs Reality
Before you head out adventuring with your non-outdoorsy mate it’s a good idea to understand their expectations. Ask them what they want from the experience and, do the same for yourself. Having an open and honest discussion upfront on what the day/s will look like makes the chance of your friend muttering dark thoughts about you a lot less likely. It’s hard to convince someone to go on another adventure if their first one was a disappointing or unpleasant experience.
So, outlaying expectations as close as you can to the reality of the experience, without ruining any surprises, is in your best interest. It’s also important to prepare your own self for the possibility that your friend doesn’t enjoy every step of the way.
The face of someone when the reality of the experience was harder than the expectation!
We all know the feeling when you show your mate that new favourite band/TV show/food and they don’t froth over it! Avoid being disheartened and be prepared that your great plan to transform your friend into a hardcore outdoors junky might not eventuate, even though you manifest it 24 hours a day.
I used to check in with students’ expectations of camp a lot during the first few days of a one or two-week program. Often they had been told horror stories from their peers and used this to prejudice their own experiences. Debunking these assumptions helped some students to relax and release any anxiety they had about camp. They were then able to embrace having their own experiences without any negative speculation.
My sister and I tackled Alligator Gorge together.
Think Long Term Investment
Seems like these days most people are into the sharemarket and are dipping their toes into ETFs, LICs, or NFTs. If you play those games you should be aware that any investment made into the sharemarket should come with the expectation that returns will be best after at least 3-5 years.
The same applies to bringing your non-outdoorsy friend into the outdoors and one day of bushwalking does not turn anyone into a trail guru. Avoid the classic trap where you assume your park running/F45/HIIT machine-partial friend has the athletic prowess for some high-level outdoor trips. You may take them off the beaten track and suddenly their ability to do 100 pull-ups in ten minutes doesn’t compare to their inability and lack of outdoor experience. Packing a rucksack in the pouring rain deep in the Tasmanian South West or Victoria High Country is another skill entirely, and despite their gym capabilities, they may be as useless as the toilet paper they have just left out of their rucksack getting soaking wet!
Introducing someone to the outdoors life is a journey. Take it slowly and enable them to become skilled and adept in the new environment. Set some short term goals with them in order to achieve an appropriate long term goal. Objectives that will eventually stretch both of you is a great strategy to keep you motivated whilst you embark on the long-term outdoor investment.
When introducing your non-outdoorsy mate into the outdoors, be patient and think of it as a long-term investment.
My personal journey started out as a regular year 8 student who was pretty fit but had never slept in a tent or been on a ‘real’ camping trip. By the end of year 12, I had advanced to a 5-day cross country skiing trip in the Victorian Alps!
These tips are based on my personal experiences as an outdoor education instructor for school-aged students, and also as someone who loves to take my immediate family members into my ‘classroom’. Ultimately, the best advice I can offer is not my own but something I heard a mountaineer saying once…
The three golden rules of mountaineering are: stay alive – stay friends – get to the summitWise Mountaineer
Have you had success with getting your mates to join you on adventures?
About the writer...
I’m a 27-year-old guy living in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, and I enjoy challenging myself in the outdoors. Trail running is my main passion but I’m also a rock climber, bushwalker, sea kayaker, and skier! Can’t not do it all if you want to see it all!