For us outdoor enthusiasts, we know firsthand the benefits to our mental and physical health from being outside in nature, from getting exercise and fresh air.
Social distancing guidelines just got extended for another month. They are being enforced by the authorities and even our peers. Meanwhile, the weather is warming up in some areas, cabin fever is mounting. Some are disappointed about cancelling their camping trips or seeing their adventure goals pushed back for who knows how long. You might even say it's making some people grumpy.
Getting out in nature has become a touchy subject to talk about and some people are conflicted. Can we go outside or not? How are we defining, at least for today, safe outdoor activities?
It Comes Down to Physical Distancing
At this writing, fortunately, most communities allow walking, hiking, bicycling, running and dog walking as long as individuals keep a physical distance of 6 feet from others outside their home.*
Note: In many areas, public restrooms, water fountains, shared recreational facilities (playgrounds, sports fields, outdoor gym equipment, picnic areas, dog parks, barbecue areas, golf courses, tennis courts, rock parks, climbing walls, pools, disc golf, and basketball courts) are now temporarily closed to the public.**
Sports or activities that include the use of shared equipment may only be engaged in by members of the same household or living unit.**
Parks and trails remain open in a lot of areas, however, they will close if they become overcrowded, and or if visitors do not follow their own regional guidance and orders which include practicing physical distancing.*
* The National Park Service modifies its operations on a park-by-park basis, so check their website for updates.
**To get details for your specific area, you need to visit your local county or state's website.
Let’s Put It Into Context
If you were planning to travel all 2,600 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, most of us would agree, that trip is off the table for right now. Even if you weren’t worried about catching or spreading a virus, just the lack of resources for resupplying along the way puts you at serious risk.
Well, as of today (April 2, 2020) most Forest Service recreation areas in Washington and California have had to shut their gates, simply because of the crowds of hikers and visitors, despite the warnings about social distancing. Trailheads, viewpoints, picnic areas, boat ramps, and visitor centers, are now closed according to Backpacker Magazine and here's why.
If you are living in a heavily populated urban area filled with millions of people, crowded streets and parking lots—social distancing is really tricky.
If you live in a rural area, in the mountains or desert, close to outdoor spaces and trails with zero foot traffic—social distancing is a piece of cake.
But something else to consider: what if you got injured while out on a hike or ride? Hospitals and emergency personnel are struggling as it is. They lack manpower and necessary supplies. Many of us are lucky not to require their services right now. Let’s be thankful for that and do all we can to keep it that way.
Maybe this is a good time to stay away from treacherous rocks, steep trails, motorbikes, snowmobiles, things of that nature. Here is where you have to use your own judgement and common sense.
Is it Worth Going Outside at All?
Yes, most definitely. As long as you will conform to the social distancing rules. That does the greatest good for all concerned. Just remember, the trail or park you go to cannot be overcrowded, and you have to be able to maintain that distance (6 feet) from others.
Do you prefer cycling? You can absolutely ride alone, no reason not to do daily rides, just avoid contact with other people.
If all you do is walk or ride a bike in your own neighborhood, that's better than no outdoor activity. But do it at least once a day. Maintain the "6 feet apart" rule.
Give yourself a daily goal of how much physical activity you'll do.
Wear a fitness tracker. If you're living with others, challenge them on their activity, make it a game.
If you have little kids, take them with you and help them learn the geography of your area. Make it fun.
Wear our phone belt (see photo) so you can be hands-free while you talk on the phone or listen to music. Our FlatPac money belts are currently 40% OFF. And they ship immediately! Make sure to enter FLATPAC40 at Amazon checkout.
If you still cannot find any way to get outdoors, get creative with what you can do on your own property. Think of things like:
Wash your backpack
Set up your tent in the backyard
Refresh the waterproofing on it or patch that hole
Learn how to tie special knots
Practice survival skills
Wrap up other home projects
Read up on adventure stories
Make Outdoor Activities Virtual
April is normally the time to celebrate our planet, and the 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Things are very different this year, so thanks to the Sierra Club, here’s a new way to celebrate. They’ve made it possible for outdoor activities to be “virtual” so we can all join them while sitting in our homes.
You simply share a photo of nature on your social media. For example: take a photo of a flower from your window, use a photo from a past camping trip, or even a backyard BBQ. Tag 5 friends and challenge them to share their own nature photo. Help bring the outdoors into the homes of your friends, family and people across the nation. (Make sure to use the hashtag #QuarantineLifeCalm)
These small moments of relaxation can help us right now—and studies show that looking at nature reduces stress.
However You Can, Get in Some Daily Physical Exertion
Please don't turn into a couch potato during this time. We need you fit for the fun adventures in our bright future that lies ahead.
Dedicate a spot at home for exercise, whether outdoors or indoors. Search around and see what equipment you have, dust it off and get it into use. If you have none, you can find plenty of affordable fitness and workout accessories for purchase online at Amazon: yoga and pilates gear, free weights, kettle balls, resistance bands, jump ropes, balance boards, medicine balls, workout steps, you name it.
In summary, we get it. It is a rough springtime for all of us. Do we have to sacrifice our desire for adventure and fun? No!
Let’s embrace the next month (or two) and focus on the things we can control. We can control our social distancing. We have to. Here are a few recommendations:
Keep 6 feet away from others (unless you live with them)
Look for nature nearby, but avoid crowded areas, including parking lots
At trailheads and on trails, pass in single file (6 feet apart)
Take walks in your neighborhood (when not crowded)
Wash hands as soon as you get home
If you are sick, stay at home
If you have a backyard, sit outside (or on a porch or patio)
Avoid single track, one-lane trails
Avoid crowds in parks, trail heads, beaches (anywhere)
Don’t enter another’s community
Don’t touch anything in public (rocks, trees, picnic tables, sign posts, etc.)
Don’t go where there’s high risk (where you could potentially get seriously injured and need an ambulance or a Search and Rescue team)
If all communities will commit to staying safe, then our parks can stay open.
Get outside when you can, but please take precautions and use common sense. Know we are in this together. Fighting a pandemic is a team effort. And yes, this is a rough season for all, but we will get through it.
We hope this article helps you make good choices about going outside. We believe that watching out for the well-being of others includes watching out for your own.