Finding Health & Happiness through the Outdoors

Ok. I’m getting personal…Here I share some parts of my past I’m not proud of and how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today.

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Hi! I’m Kristen. You might know me already. I’m the girl behind Bearfoot Theory. I started this website in 2014 at age 30 to show people that it’s never too late to get your start in the outdoors. As I was re-designing my website earlier this year, I realized that I haven’t shared too much about my own journey with the outdoors. In this post, I’m going to get a little personal. I’ll share some parts of my past that I’m not that proud of and how the outdoors continues to transform me into the happy and healthy person I am today.

My first backpacking trip….or not

I grew up in Idaho, but my parents weren’t the outdoorsy types. I only went on one camping trip in my entire childhood, and hiking, biking, climbing, skiing….they weren’t my thing. Not because I wasn’t interested in them, but because my exposure to them was limited.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college at the University of Puget Sound. It was orientation, and we had the option of going on a 2-night backpacking trip, so I nervously signed up. But then the time came to go pick up my equipment, and I felt so ill-prepared and scared that I decided to hang back at the basecamp where I ended up playing lame icebreaker games all weekend.

Wimping out that day is still one of my biggest regrets of college.

I think about all of the doors going on that backpacking trip could have opened for me, the outdoor skills I could have learned, and the new passion I could have discovered.

The college years

I was a nerd in college.  I majored in chemistry, so you could usually find me in the library jacked up on coffee until 2am every night when they kicked me out. I did well in school, and between studying and my social life, I didn’t have much time to exercise or explore the outdoors. Plus I was in Washington, and it rained all of the time. Who wants to go outside in the rain? Those were the excuses I made as I drank beer on the weekends and slowly packed on the pounds.

At the same time, I remember feeling self-conscious about my body and being out of shape. One memory that sticks out is a time I was down at a cool spot in Tacoma called Salmon Beach. To get down to the shoreline, you have to walk down about 10 flights of stairs. On the way back up I was huffing and puffing and had to keep stopping for air, while my outdoorsy friends zoomed past me and were waiting for me at the top.

I felt ashamed that I was so out of shape. I knew what I needed to do, but I lacked the confidence and motivation to take that first step. I was also afraid to ask those around me to show me the ropes in fear that I’d be holding them up.

My graduation present

Camping gear. That’s what I wanted for graduation. I went to a local gear shop and got myself a shiny new tent, sleeping bag, and backpack, along with a hiking book for Washington trails. Then it sat in my closet for a few months. I was working at a local bar consuming my fair share of IPAs and cheeseburgers, and I was at my heaviest weight ever. I felt depressed for the first time in my life and getting healthy seemed impossible. I considered going to therapy and even told my roommate one night, standing outside the bar, that I thought I needed anti-depressants.

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Then one day, one of my chemistry friends came into the bar for a drink. We talked about going backpacking, and I thought, this is my chance to see what it’s all about. I didn’t tell him I’d never been before, I just said yes. He said he’d pack the food, while I’d bring that brand new tent. Done. A few days later we were on our way to Mount Rainier.

Ok, so now my first backpacking trip….

We got to the trailhead. First thing I realized, I forgot my hiking boots. I guess I’d be hiking in Chacos. I still remember the excruciating blisters I came home with.

The trail immediately went uphill. I think it was only like 1000 feet of gain for the entire trip, but I barely made it to the top. I also remember how thirsty I was and how difficult it was to breathe. I was gasping, dripping sweat, and literally felt like I was going to die. And there were those blisters.

Then we got to a fork in the road and went the wrong way. We didn’t realize it until the next day that we were lost and things weren’t lining up with the map. Whoops.

And I was starving. My friend clearly underestimated my appetite.

But with all those mishaps, there was our gorgeous lakeside campsite, mountain views, the fresh air, the silence. We didn’t see anyone else out there, and for the first time in my life, I felt connected to nature. I thought, maybe this was my ticket to getting healthy and having more self-confidence.

Shortly after that backpacking trip, I quit my job at the bar, moved to Hawaii for a summer, and got a job on a snorkeling boat. There was a steep trail near my house that led to a cool snorkeling cove that I started hiking regularly. Then I went on my second backpacking trip in Waimanu Valley with my friend who I was living with. It was hard. Hard as hell. But I did it. And that waterfall behind me in this picture? I swam in it. It was one of the most amazing dips I’ve ever taken.

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

A happier, healthier life through the outdoors

It’s a mighty statement, but I believe that first backpacking trip changed the course of my life. Without the outdoors, I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten motivated to start taking better care of myself. I learned the healthier I was, the more enjoyable hiking and other outdoor activities would be. And the more I pushed myself outside, the healthier and stronger I would become, which in turn has made me happier. It’s full circle like that in the outdoors.

My best moments in life have been on my outdoor adventures, and I can’t believe how far I’ve come. Whether it’s standing on a summit, hanging around the campfire with friends, or hiking with my man and our dog, those are the times I live for.

Like watching the sunrise on the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48, after 22 days of backpacking on the John Muir Trail

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Or arriving at Everest Basecamp (17,600 feet) after 11 days of trekking in Nepal…

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Or learning how to ski at age 32…

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Or riding my bike 100 miles in Canyonlands National Park…

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Or backpacking for 10 days off-trail in Alaska in Lake Clark National Park.

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

Thirty years from now, you’re never going to remember that fancy meal, or that night at the bar, or that one episode of Game of Thrones. Those events will be long gone from your memory. What you’ll take with you is the collection of epic things you’ve done and that physical body of yours – one that hopefully you’ve taken care of. The stories you’ll tell will be the adventures that made you feel truly alive.

I hope this blog post shows you that those outdoor activities you’ve been afraid of or those you’ve told yourself you aren’t in good enough shape for, you can do them. You just have to try. Your mind is the biggest obstacle. You don’t have to give up the occasional night at the bar or fried food. You just have to stop making excuses so you can start reaping the rewards of getting outside.

I’d love to hear about your journey in the outdoors! Leave a comment below and share your story.

Ok. I'm getting personal...this is my story of how the outdoors has transformed me into the happy & healthy person I am today in hopes that it inspires you to get outside.

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  1. You’re so right, it’s never too late and don’t ever be so scared of your own inexperience that you don’t try!! I still remember your first meet up on Antelope Island in 2015! I met some of my good friends at that and it’s crazy to see how far you’ve come the last 2 years!!

  2. Your story is incredibly inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I find myself in a similar situation, having found a love and satisfaction in being in the outdoors much later in life than most other people. Being a cubicle monkey sitting in a padded cell for hours on end and eating junk food like it was my last meal on Earth doesn’t do your body any favors when it needs to be active and healthy to do hiking and biking.

    Now I take every opportunity I can to have as many adventures as possible outdoors. I love biking so I’ve been doing bikepacking and bike touring trips for longer and further distances. Trips out to Utah, Arizona, Montana, and Colorado only strengthened my appreciation and love for nature to the point that I am planning a move somewhere out west in the near future to make up for lost time and to be fully immersed in a more active, healthy lifestyle.

  3. Thanks for such a cool article. I’m just getting into the outdoors at 28. As someone who feels a bit like a fraud in the gear shops it’s nice to know there are other people that have come into this later on in life. Thanks for being such a great inspiration.

  4. What a great article. I love the story and the pictures. You are an inspiration for others. Thank you for what you do

  5. I know everyone keeps saying the same thing but apparently it’s true for a lot of us- you are such an inspiration. Im about the same age as you and have come to the realization that this body isn’t gonna get any better if I don’t start shaping up now and that there’s a huge gorgeous world out there to see. Just got back from a spur of the moment getaway with my husband. What was supposed to be a trip to do a full day hike had to be cut down to 10 kilometers when our babysitter let us know very late she wasn’t coming. Being a mom to 4 kids and working full time makes it hard to find time to explore my newfound passion but you’ve inspired me to do what I can to get out.there. I am proud to say that I am a certified scuba diver at least and hope to get certified as a master diver! Thank you so much for sharing your expreriances and advice!

  6. Great job Kristen, keep it up! My wife retired this year and our first adventure was hiking down to Havasu Falls ( with the help of one of your earlier blogs). Outdoors IS where its at!

  7. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. I just started following you a month ago and have been so intrigued! I am a casual hiker and love the outdoors. Oh, and I’m 56. I would love to do what you have been doing, even if for a couple of months. Goal!

  8. Kirsten Great comments on your personal journey. I have been following you a while a thought you had it together from day one. Your struggle shows how we can all rise to the top if we get ourselves the goal. One thing though. Those things that happened in your past “The night at that bar” should not be forgotten. They are still part of you and your past is what has set your future.
    It was great to follow you travels over here in New Zealand and I reckon I either drive past you one day or just missed you. To think I was that close to such an inspirational but yet human as the rest of us was great. Look forward to following you for many a year to come.

  9. I identify so hard with where you were at 30; I’m basically there (minus the degree, plus a 4yo) at 31, & I am *dying* to make the outdoor thing happen. I have to move though, so I have a year-long plan to get to that point. Thank you for this. I cried.

  10. I just got home from a road trip from California to the Olympic National Forest. I was inspired by your blog and after reading through so many articles, I realized that it’s not impossible to do and there’s nothing to be afraid of! Thank you for giving the encouragement and desire to hit the road. Looking forward to many more adventures!

  11. Hawaii! I spent 4 years in college hiking up a storm on Oahu but I’m originally from Kauai. Kalalau trail definitely needs to be on your to do list! I did it in 2013 and it was amazing.

    Love your blog! I’m in CA now and I’m dying to do a road trip to the southwest.

  12. What an amazing journey you had there! No doubt, the most important thing is to take a step forward and make a change to be happy with your life. Obviously, that decision of yours paid off. Glad it worked out well for you.

  13. Kristen,
    I stumbled upon your web site while searching for hiking gear. Let me tell you I’m addicted to your site it’s very helpful and also very inspiring. Like you said it’s very to late to get out and go doesn’t matter how far or how fast you go as long as you get out there and make an effort to do something. My husband had a massive heart attack this may he’s only 38 but you know what he was over weight and smoked like a chimney and both me and him ate crappy and he didn’t excercise at all. The hear attack sort of jolted him into reality and he satarted taking care of himself no more smoking or more bad food and he started exercising everyday. Which leads us to where we are now with hiking. He used to do it a lot in high school and feel out of it. Now me on the other hand have never hiked and hated camping. But we started doing day hikes every weekend and it’s absolutely amazing. The rush that I feel from not only reaching points you’ve never seen before but discoving new things. The earth is beautiful and I’m sad it took me so long to discover this. My husband is a lucky man to be alive and he’s living life to the fullest now. I’m glad we could find a great hobby that he can enjoy together and keep us both in shape. So like you said it’s never to late to get out there and moving. My husband is a prime example, he said my inspiration. He’s truly amazing. Thought I would share this with you and your readers. Hope it’s not too long, and I’m sure there are grammar and spelling mistakes because I didn’t proof read. But I hope somebody somewhere can find inspiration from my husbands story and get out there too.

  14. Thank you so much for telling your story. I really needed it today and I’m so glad I discovered this blog! I struggle with anxiety and depression and I swear the outdoors heal me when I start to feel down. I actually moved to Washington state a year ago because of how much I love the mountains and snow and clear lakes—and just everything it has to offer! I’m from Florida, but my mom used to take my brother and I skiing at Crystal Mountain near Mount Rainier every winter, as kids, so it was on my bucket list to move out here one day. So when my husband, our two kids, and I got the opportunity, I insisted we go! I want our littles to grow up appreciating the great outdoors as much as I do, so we get them out and about as much as possible, even in these rainy months. I will add they are little (under 5), and aside from very short hikes, sledding at Snoqualmie, and going for swims in the lakes in summer, I sometimes have a hard time finding the best ways to explore with them. My husband did not grow up outdoorsy (also hasn’t really camped), so he is just excited about whatever I come up with. Finding sledding hills alone took quite a few trial and error trips to Snoqualmie to find hills that weren’t on private property or too close to the ski resort sporting giant signs outlawing it lol. Hoping to find some kid friendly tips and tricks on here to help us explore more! Also, thank you for the article on how to find a career working in the outdoors because when I think about going back to work in an office, once my stay-at-home-mom days are spent, I literally cry myself to sleep at night lol! 😉