Parks are closed.
Everything is cancelled.
You’re trying to work from home, and so are the kids.
Or more accurately, you wish the kids were trying.
Maybe you thought 2020 was the year that you’d finally break free and hike the Appalachian Trail?
Think again. That’s cancelled too.
I get it – you’re stressed, you’re worried, and the only thing that’s guaranteed to re-center your universe – escaping into nature – is gone too.
You’re going stir-crazy.
Maybe you’re stunned by anxiety and boredom, or maybe you’re exhausted from trying to work from home.
Here’s how to rise above it and take control.
Before we dive in, I just have some quick, 3-step advice on how to break out of a downward spiral:
1 – Switch your phone to airplane mode before bed
2 – Get up early. The term “early” varies for everyone, but what this means is to get up before the distractions in your household begin to unfold.
3 – When you get up, resist checking anything on your phone. Immediately tackle something that empowers you – this can be anything, like reading, writing, practicing music, etc.
If you’re obsessed with backpacking like me, then maybe you’ll tackle one of the activities listed below.
This isn’t a guilt trip.
Maybe you feel guilty… because instead of cleaning the garage, you’re just binge-watching Netflix.
And that’s okay.
We all need time to zone out and do nothing – to eat all the food and consume all the bad things. It’s part of how we heal.
After all, rediscovering the power of renewal is a big part of the silver lining these days. Hasn’t it been wonderful to step off the great big treadmill?
However, if you’re in need of stimulation, let’s get started.
10 Smart Ways to Satisfy Your Inner Backpacker… from Home!
Stuck at home?
1) The Most Important and Simplest Solution
…is to get outside. Sit on your porch or in the backyard as you engage in the activities listed below.
Or kick it up a notch and exercise. Go for a walk or a run or a bike ride in your neighborhood. I know, I know… this is obvious, but it’s so important!
Here’s how to crush it:
Backpack your neighborhood.
That’s right – load up your backpack with some significant ballast. I like to use water weight, cushioned with spare clothes, towels, etc.
Lace up your hiking shoes, step out the front door, and explore.
Don’t feel silly for wearing your backpack – consider it your apocalypse costume!
In case you haven’t noticed, the world has become so quiet and peaceful. Less traffic means clean air, less noise pollution, and more wildlife.
It’s springtime, and Mother Nature is rejoicing. Listen to the birds. Observe the bunnies. Admire the clouds.
If you’re short on time or want to get extra Type A about it, get up early and do this every day. Log your time, distance, weather, etc… as if you’re thru-hiking something like the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe you’ll get awful blisters and realize you weren’t ready for that thru-hike you’d planned after all.
Take pictures. Share them on social media. See your neighborhood through the eyes of a child eager for adventure.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
2) Dive into Hidden Worlds and Unlock Their Secrets
I’m talking about reading books, of course.
Nobody seems to find time for books anymore – we’re too busy scrolling away on our phones.
The Vicarious Experience:
A solid thru-hiking memoir usually taps all the feels and memories of the real thing. You’ve probably already heard of and/or read Wild and A Walk in the Woods. To dig a little deeper, check out the following titles that carry more authenticity:
- AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
- Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart
- Lost on the Appalachian Trail
- Becoming Odyssa
Otherwise, good writing about your favorite destination is fairly easy to find.
The Master’s Collection:
Take this time to catch up on those non-fiction titles about the outdoors that you’ve always wanted to read. Plow through a dense John Muir work, or start a lighter page-turner like The Last Season or Into the Wild.
Check out this triple crown hiker’s virtual bookshelf as a great place to look for more suggestions.
Personally, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the Harry Potter series and completing the John Muir Nature Writings volume!
Get Your Fix and Chill
If books just aren’t your thing, then check this out:
Not in the mood for a full length movie? Then just get lost on YouTube! Darwin on the Trail is a great place to start. He has a wealth of vicarious, virtual hiking material, as well as plenty of gear-related items. Afterward you can just get lost on YouTube’s endless stream of related videos.
3) Optimize Your Tools the Quick & Easy Way
Take this opportunity to overhaul your backpacking gear!
You’ve probably heard of the “big 3” items that you use on a backpacking trip. If not, then these are your shelter (tent), sleeping bag, and backpack. Replacing these three items also happens to be one of the simplest ways to drastically reduce your pack weight.
If you’re not ready to go on an online shopping spree (If things stay the way they are, gear will soon go on sale anyway), now is a great time to take a hard look at your typical packing list. Your stuff is just getting dusty in a closet anyway, longing to be handled and inventoried.
Go crazy and pack for an imaginary trip. Get crazier and weigh each individual item. Go full-on psycho and create a spreadsheet. Oooooooh yeah, now we’re talkin’.
Check out my ultimate gear list for ideas on replacement items.
4) Please Wash that Toxic Sleeping Bag. It’s Gross.
Step 1: Get some special soap for all your nasty down-feather gear, and maybe some tennis balls, too.
Step 2: Read an online guide about how to wash a down sleeping bag.
Step 3: Just do it. Please.
Give that gear a home
This is the part where I tell you that you can use this time during quarantine to organize your gear… but you already knew that.
If find that it helps to start by separating my gear storage into 4 categories:
- Current backpacking
- Car Camping
- Other – cycling, rafting, etc.
- Old / miscellaneous
5) Manage Your Food Like a Backpacker
There’s a few ways you can go about this:
1 – Let Your Pantry Run Dry.
Thru-hikers don’t get to just run to the store for that last thing they can’t live without. We have to make do with whatever is left in our food bag, for better or worse.
You can do this in your own kitchen. You’re not supposed to be going to the store every day anyway. Get creative with what you have.
Instead of going to the store when you’re out of your favorite things, wait to go until you’re actually out of food.
The pioneer crew on the first river trip through the Grand Canyon survived for weeks with nothing but moldy flour and coffee. John Muir seemingly sauntered through his backcountry ultramarathons whilst subsisting on nothing but bread.
Think about that the next time someone tells you these are so-called “troubled times.”
2 – Shop as if you’re backpacking.
Once your pantry and fridge are empty, you can shop for a week’s worth of food at a time. When you go to the store, just treat it as though you’re going camping for 7 days and won’t be able to return to the store until then.
If you live alone and you’re super bored and want to go full-on nutcase with this, then combine this with the “backpack the neighborhood” concept. That’s right, you can walk to the store with your backpacking pack, buy a week’s worth of food, and then carry it home.
Extra points if you sit on the curb in front of the store and repackage everything into Ziploc bags first. Yeah, this is an absolutely silly idea, but it would very much be your reality if you were on the Pacific Crest Trail right now.
happiness on my bicycle ride across America
3 – Become a Trail Chef
If those other food management ideas sound a bit too extreme… well… I don’t blame you. But if you’d like a final food-related, more sensible way to burn up that cabin-fever energy, then try out some new recipes!
Andrew Skurka is known for posting some of his best meals as of late.
If you’re even more inclined, you can use this time to finally buy a dehydrator and go wild.
6) Acquire Some Mad Skillz, yo.
In addition to working on your culinary attributes, there’s some things that are best learned off the trail.
You’re off the trail right now, aren’t you?
So what are these skills?
Find your way
Well, navigation is a big one. Downloading the Guthook App for your trail of choice or simply following the white blazes is just the beginning. Map reading and using a compass is still relevant, and maybe someday you’d like to reap the rewards of hiking off-trail in Alaska.
Get started with this free, comprehensive How to Navigate class, covering everything from map & compass to CalTopo to the Gaia GPS app.
Know some knots
Nothing makes you feel more capable than being able to whip out a handful of useful knots. This is a great way to keep your hands busy and off your phone.
Cam Honan has a useful post here with the best knots for backpackers, with links to animated examples on how to get started with them.
Sleep with a clear conscience
How does one sleep outdoors with a clear conscience? Well, it helps a whole lot to know you’ve done everything you can to avoid being eaten by a bear overnight.
7) Organize Your Archives
Maybe all the photos and journals from your previous trips are a mess, carelessly stowed away as a stack of digital memory cards.
I keep my logs organized on a set of external hard drives. I create folders named for each year. Within each year, I title the sub-folders by date and place.
So to find the waterfall picture at the beginning of this article, I opened up the folder called “2008.” Within that folder I had a sub-folder called “6-29havasu.” If this were a multi-day hike, I’d have additional sub-folders for Day 1, Day 2, etc.
Even if you’re already well-organized, now is a great time to look over and relive those memories you haven’t touched for a while. Better yet, share the good stuff on social media as you go – this social distancing is a boon for the platforms.
Take the next step.
Once you’re organized, maybe it’s high time you started your own hiking blog. I’d tell you how to go about this, but just go ahead and google it for a million how-to guides on the subject. You’re basically starting a “travel blog.” Come on in, the water’s warm.
8) Turn Dreams into Actual Plans, followed by Reality
With all this uncertainty in the air you may be hesitant to plan your next trip, but that kind of thinking is folly!
Sure, you may want to wait a bit longer before booking flights or getting permits (Actually, permit offices are currently closed).
This doesn’t mean you can’t zero-in on those dream hikes and work out the plans.
You can still compile day-by-day itineraries and gear lists based on your season of choice. Then once things open up, all your homework’s done and you can just plug-and-play those plans and make them your reality.
9) Unleash Your Inner Naturalist with 2 Magic Words
Admit it – you’ve always wanted to be that outdoor master with a cool set of binoculars, readily identifying every bird, bee, tree, flower, and scrap of poop in sight.
Well now’s your chance to get started. Don’t know how? That’s okay, it’s really simple.
Here’s the magic words:
Just get a Field Guide for your state, and get to work. It’s as easy as going on Amazon and entering the search term “Field Guide to (your state of choice goes here).”
“But what if I live in Oklahoma?”
That’s okay, even Oklahoma has a set of field guides.
Since you’re quarantined in place, you don’t have much of a choice but to study your neighborhood, which is great, because it’s easiest to start in your own backyard. It’s even easier if you live in a dry or desert environment, where there’s less variation.
For animal tracks, you can get started online here.
Discover the Power of Birding
Birding is a magical activity that can be done anywhere – even from the kitchen sink!
There’s nothing that connects you to the outdoors as easily and effectively as the simple act of observing a bird. One cannot help but to forget all their daily troubles and pause in the moment, admiring their wildness and delicacy.
And yes, even Oklahoma has a field guide for birds. I found it by simply searching “birds of oklahoma” on Amazon.
Better yet, you can often search online and on YouTube for individual species to hear examples of their songs.
And you’re on your way!
A good pair of binoculars is helpful, and eventually becomes necessary for the avid birder. I find that my park ranger spouse’s Nikon Prostaff binoculars are wonderfully effective and affordable for beginners.
Deploy Your National Park Rangers
Maybe your backyard isn’t very exciting, and you’re much more interested in something big and grand, like a National Park. I also imagine that if you’ve made it this far down the page, then you most likely have a favorite Park.
Did you know that all the National Parks have official YouTube pages, loaded with educational videos?
The way to find them on YouTube is to search for the name of your preferred park, and be sure to filter your search by channel. A channel should come up with the telltale NPS arrowhead insignia as its profile picture. That’s it!
Think of the rangers featured in these videos as your personal army of naturalists, eager and ready to educate you about the parks! You can be an expert in no time.
10) Go Camping Anyway – Just Do it in Your Backyard
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you can totally camp in your backyard.
It may seem like a silly thing to do – especially if you don’t have any kids around to indulge, and especially when your bed is just a matter of feet away… but remember, these can be tough times.
And when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
This Too Shall Pass
And for many of us, things pass a lot more easily when we’re able to sleep out in the fresh air, under the stars…
… under the stars that have now become visible, thanks to this lovely quarantine.
Enjoy this quiet time, and leave a comment with your own ideas!