How to Take Your Non-Outdoorsy Mate into the Outdoors

This post is a copy of an original blog post I wrote for the ‘Snowy’s’ blog. The original can be found here along with many other informative blogs about getting out and about. The aim of this post is obviously to inspire more people to try their hand at bushwalking in a way that doesn’t scare them off. As you’re reading along, if you feel like you’re the ‘non-outdoorsy’ type and want an ‘outdoorsy’ mate to take you on an adventure, well, you know who to call then, ghostbustersme!

Chances are you’ve clicked onto this article because you’re super keen on the outdoors. You know the benefits of being outdoors, the joys of being in cool places and the sense of accomplishment that comes with pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. The trouble is, you keep having these great times and telling your non-outdoors friend how much fun you’re having but they’re just not appreciating it enough as you’d like and you even think they could benefit from getting outside and embracing being outside their own comfort zone. Well, after working as a school outdoor instructor for several years I’ve had my fair share of experiences taking non-outdoors people into the outdoors and I’ve been able to achieve some pretty cool things. I even once took my Dad on his first ever bush walk along the South Coast track in Tasmania! Throughout these experiences I made a few mistakes though and in the interests of not letting other people make these same mistakes here are some key considerations to make when you decide to take your own non-outdoors friend into the outdoors. 

Dad and I on the South Coast Track in 2018.

Disclaimer: The first step in taking your non-outdoors friend outdoors is they have to show some interest in going outdoors. Just because you want them to go outdoors 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…

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, basically an expert lets a novice sleepover 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, doesn’t parade around in fancy gear and doesn’t sit Luke (the novice) down and tell him how good he (Yoda) is at using the force and how much fun the force is to use. Instead, Yoda takes his time with Luke slowly and lets Luke discover his own capabilities and shows him what standards are possible.

Taking this example and applying it to our scenario, when you are starting to take your non-outdoors friend outside for the first time, channel your inner Yoda. Don’t berate them for every mistake they make. Don’t tell them how good every walk or destination is going to be before you’ve even left home and don’t make yourself look superior with all your high level gear. Instead, try letting your friend set the destination and create an environment where you both are 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.

Another good tip is to drop down to your non-outdoors friend level and use similar gear to them, i.e. if heading out trail running, leave the running vest, poles, expensive socks and caps etc. at home and just throw on a pair of shoes and focus on having some fun together. To relate to my own personal experience, the first time I took my Dad on an overnight walk on the South Coast track was also the first time I had done the South Coast track. I was amazed at the wilderness we were in and the mud that existed at times so I could share this with Dad while he was amazed at everything!

My sister’s boyfriend on his first climbing experience with me.

Expectation vs Reality.
Before you head out on your adventure with your non-outdoors friend it’s a good idea to get their expectation of what the experience will be like and to do the same for yourself. Having an honest discussion upfront on what the day/s will look like removes the chance that at the end of the day your friend is muttering dark thoughts about you. It’s hard to re-convince someone to go on another adventure if their first one was a disappointing experience.

So, setting the expectation of the experience as close as you can to the reality of the experience, without ruining any surprises of the experience, is in your best interest. Also, prepare your own self for the scenario where your friend doesn’t enjoy every step of the way. We all know the feeling when you show your mate your new favourite band/TV show/food and they don’t froth over it. Avoid that sinking feeling in the outdoors by preparing yourself that your greatest plan of having a non-outdoors friend turn into a hardcore outdoor person might not eventuate, even though you might 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 the horror stories from other camps and used this to prejudice their own experiences. Removing some of these horror expectations helped some students relax, release any anxiety they had about camp and embrace having their own experiences without any negative expectations.

When expectation does not meet reality this is what Dad’s face looks like…

Have a long term investment horizon.
Seems like these days most people are into the sharemarket and are dipping their hands 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 with bringing your non-outdoors friend outdoors, i.e one day of bushwalking does not turn anyone into a god of bushwalking. The classic scenario to avoid is that your non-outdoors friend is a Parkrun/F45/HIIT machine and you just know that their athletic prowess would allow them to really embrace some high level outdoor trips. So you bring them into the outdoors and suddenly, their ability to do 100 pull ups in ten minutes or a 17 minute Parkrun doesn’t matter compared to their inability to pack a rucksack in the pouring rain deep in the Tasmanian South West and they become as useless as the toilet paper they have just left out of their rucksack getting soaking wet…

It’s a slow journey bringing your non-outdoors friend outdoors and enabling them to become skilled and adept in the outdoors. Setting some short term goals with them in order to achieve an appropriate long term goal that will eventually stretch both of you is a great strategy to keep both of you motivated whilst you embark on the long ‘outdoor-investment horizon’ journey. My own personal journey through the outdoors started out as a normal year 8 student who was pretty fit but had never slept in a tent or been on a real camping trip but by the end of year 12 my peak experience was a 5 day cross country skiing trip in the Victorian alps!

My OG mentor, Gordon Begg. First time we met was in Year 9 and this photo is 7 years later after we paddled around Kangaroo Island together.

At the end of the day, these tips are based on my personal experiences as a school outdoor education instructor and also as someone to take my immediate family members into my ‘workplace’. But the simplest bit of advice I think I’ll leave you with is not my own advice, but something I heard a mountaineer say once…

The three golden rules of mountaineering are firstly, stay alive, secondly, stay friends and lastly, get to the summit. 

Wise mountaineer

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