Who doesn’t love a trip to REI? When I walk in the store I get this invincible, adventurous, go out and get’em feelin that makes me want to do crazy things like hike the PCT or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. First they seduce you with a pitched tent right at the door then the rest of the store bamboozles you into purchasing a new water filtration system, special breathable underwear or an artisanal bag of dehydrated camp food.
Don’t get me wrong I LOVE going there…but my bank account lets out a tiny scream when I enter the store. The thing that keeps bringing me back again and again is the knowledgeable staff. During my most recent visit I eavesdropped on an associate teaching a family about camp stoves. Then I tried on some hiking pants. And I rounded things out with a solid lesson on the various types of water filters and purification systems they currently sell. Every time I walk out of the store I feel a tiny bit smarter.
As I made my way to the register I had the pleasure of being helped by a gentleman who we’ll call Mark. As Mark was scanning my purchases he asked me if I had a trip coming up. I said I was working up to backpacking, but wasn’t quite sure where my first trip would take me yet.
In response he leaned in and whispered, “don’t tell anyone, but I’ve actually never been hiking, camping or backpacking”.
We laughed about it and then he let me know my total. My face must have given away my shock because he followed his comment up by saying that he hasn’t gone because getting the gear is so expensive.
This comment struck me as true and really sad.
If I could say one thing to the people who aren’t getting outside because of cost I would say, start small and just go. You don’t need special shoes, high-tech clothing or a fancy pair of trekking poles to hike. All of that gear can wait.
The first step to getting outside is to GO OUTSIDE. The outdoors are all around us. There’s no need to drive for hours to a national or state park to be outdoors. Take a walk around your neighborhood or in a city park. Even when you live in a densely populated urban area you can get outside.
The key is to open your mind to what “outside” means. If you want to be technical about it, outside is simply a space beyond an enclosure. The moment you step out of your house, your car, work or school you are in the outdoors. Once you start paying greater attention to the world around you and you will start to notice new pathways, plants, bugs and animals.
This is pretty much how I started getting outside. Before moving to California I lived in Massachusetts. Back then I was mostly a gym rat, but occasionally on a crisp fall day I would take a walk. These walks were mostly around the streets near my apartment….I wouldn’t want to stray too far, I was indoorsy, what if I got lost?! So I walked. I slowly increased my distance. I enjoyed looking at all of the New England houses (as someone who grew up in Texas the colonials and Cape Cods were new and exciting). I listened to the leaves blow in the wind and the birds singing. Yes, there were car noises, lawn mowers and the occasional leaf blower, but I enjoyed my time outside.
Once I’d exhausted all of my nearby streets I asked a coworker about local trails and she mentioned one just steps from my house. It was a pretty tame loop that amounted to roughly 3 miles from door to door. I started walking that loop in my sneakers and gym wear. No new equipment necessary. I jumped when twigs cracked, moved away from rustling bushes, and occasionally cursed at the bugs who refused to fly anywhere but in front of my face. I bought bug repellent. And I sprayed it on my hat.
Over the next several years I started hiking more. I got a little braver and a lot stronger. I bought a backpack and went on longer hikes. I made travel plans and visited state and national parks. Now I hike several times a month, but until a few weeks ago I didn’t even own a proper pair of hiking shoes. And so I’ll say it again, all of the gear can wait. I’m a testament to this fact. I hiked for many years in my runners, jeans and a t-shirt. I hiked with my phone in my pocket and my water bottle in hand. And it was great!
I got to go outside, appreciate nature, figure out how much I loved it and start saving for the gear I needed and the trips I was dreaming about. You don’t need to go broke to go outside, you just need to open your eyes to the beauty and be brave enough to start a new adventure.