No matter your level of experience, at some point you’ve likely dealt with fear and anxiety on or leading up to an outdoor adventure. Personally, I can be a worrywart, and even when I know my fears are overblown, they can be really paralyzing.
Recently, I was on a 15 mile day hike. The day started out as sunny, so I wore shorts and a t-shirt. Given the length of the trail, I should’ve packed a rain coat, just in case, but I didn’t. Two hours into the hike, dark patchy clouds started to roll in, and I found myself in a near panic. I kept asking myself how could I be so stupid to forget my rain gear (don’t I read my own blog!). Ultimately we decided to keep going and it ended up being fine, except for a quick 30 seconds of hail. With that said, I found it really hard to enjoy myself with all of that nervous energy and thoughts of the worst case scenario.
Had I been prepared with a rain jacket, I wouldn’t have been so worried about the pending storm. Instead I would have had a fabulous day and been proud of myself for crushing those 15 miles, and if it rained, oh well.
I share this because I’m sure that some of you reading this can relate. Maybe you’ve even let your fears about the outdoors keep you inside. Having a few outdoor fears is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it’s not just totally normal, it’s healthy! One of the surest ways to find yourself in trouble in the outdoors is ignoring the warning signs and red flags that pop up to help keep us safe.
The trick to managing your outdoor fears and adopting a healthy mindset around them is to know when to hold back and when to push on ahead. Every good experience in the outdoors is a combination of risk-taking and making smart decisions. Sometimes it’s not worth it and sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. Knowing the difference and being prepared for what nature may throw at you is key to safely enjoy your time outside.
To help you do just that, here are some tips for addressing the most common outdoor fears so you can get outside more with less worry.
Fear of Getting Lost
As outdoor lovers here at Bearfoot Theory, we certainly understand this fear. Even for an experienced hiker, it’s not hard to get lost while you’re hiking or exploring someplace new. Perhaps you misread a sign or weren’t paying close enough attention while wrapped up in a good conversation. Maybe it was even the weather that made an area appear slightly different than it has in the past.
Remember, if you do get lost the best way to handle yourself in a scary situation like that is not to panic, stay calm and alert, and be as rational as possible to get back on track. Although we have to be honest here, the best way to prevent getting lost is not to get lost in the first place.
To help you overcome your fear of getting lost in the outdoors, check these things off your list before you go out:
- Pack navigational gear like a compass and a map and download a digital map on your phone that will work for offline use
- Make sure you have the 10 hiking essentials with you for safety
- Tell someone where and when you are going and when you’re expected to return
- Weigh the risks and rewards: A challenge is a great thing, being irresponsible and unprepared is not. Be honest with yourself and make sure you can handle this, chances are that you can!
- Be alert and aware while you’re outside so you can trace your steps back in case you do get lost
- Always remember this if you get lost: Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.
Read Next: How to Avoid Getting Lost While Hiking
Fear of Not Being Prepared
If you’re worried about getting caught in a rainstorm (like me) or otherwise being unprepared for whatever your outdoor adventure might throw your way, the best thing you can do is prepare to the extent that you can and then roll with it. We can’t control nature or the weather, and sometimes unforeseen obstacles come up that we have to work around but that’s part of the process of building outdoor skills and adventuring.
It’s always good to be prepared when heading out for an adventure, whether a hike, backpacking trip, bike ride, or paddling trip. Be sure to:
- Do your research for the place you’re going to be adventuring so you have an idea what to expect and prepare for
- Check the weather before you head out so you can pack appropriately and prepare for cooler temps
- Carry plenty of water for your outing and be sure you’re protected from the sun
- Wear comfortable clothing and bring extra layers as needed
Fear of Being Uncomfortable
The fear of being uncomfortable goes hand in hand with the fear of being unprepared. Do what you can to prepare so you can be as comfortable as possible, then embrace the challenges and any discomfort you encounter from there.
You don’t need to be suffering on account of hiking boots that are too stiff or too small, or from not hiking in the right clothing or bringing proper layers. But outside of that, a little discomfort is a good thing. You might get cold or wet or hot, sweaty, and dusty (or all of the above) but that’s all part of the adventure. If you want to live life to the fullest and have some new experiences, a little discomfort is inevitable.
Plus, growth happens when you get outside of your comfort zone. You may have heard this from fitness trainers or motivational coaches, and it’s true. Here are our tips for preventing and embracing discomfort:
- Get the gear you need to be comfortable, whether that’s buying new, shopping for discounted or secondhand gear, or borrowing from someone before making the investment
- Check the weather and read up on the terrain so you can dress properly and bring the right layers
- A comfortable pair of hiking shoes sized correctly is key, as is a comfortable pair of hiking socks
- Embrace the discomfort knowing it will pass and that it’s all part of the experience
Fear of Creepy Crawlies
But what about the bugs? This is a common outdoor fear that we hear a lot from friends and family that are newer to the outdoors. While flies and mosquitos can be annoying and spiders and scorpions can be a little scary, they’re not out to get you (well, aside from mosquitos).
We’ve been hiking, backpacking, and adventuring in the wilderness for years and have seen everything from scorpions and centipedes to spiders the size of your hand and all kinds of other strange insects but we’ve never had any serious encounters. For the most part (ahem, mosquitos), bugs don’t really want anything to do with you.
Insects play their own part in the web of nature so it’s best to let them be, not worry too much about them, and take a few basic precautions to avoid unpleasant encounters.
- If you’re going hiking in an area known for mosquitoes, bring some bug spray and cover up with lightweight long sleeves and pants
- If you’re going camping, keep your tent zipped up and avoid keeping it open for long when going in and out
- Shake out your shoes and clothing before putting them on if they’ve been sitting out
- Learn how to avoid ticks and be sure to check yourself when you get home
- If you have an allergy such as to bees or wasps, bring whatever you need to be safe on the trail and if you happen to encounter any, turn back or do whatever you need to do to be safe
Fear of Being a Beginner & Trying a New Activity
It’s the night before your first-ever mountain biking day trip with friends and you are the only beginner. You’ve gotten into bed early, packed everything up for tomorrow but you worry about not being good enough or holding back the group — in short, you’re not confident that you can pull this off and you’re starting to think you might just cop out and skip the whole thing.
I know because I’ve been there, and I’ve literally canceled plans because of my fear of slowing my more experienced friends down.
Whether it’s your first time trying a new outdoor activity or you’re getting back out there again, we’ve all heard that voice in our head that makes us think we can’t do something due to our lacking confidence, skills or experience. Yet the best way to gain confidence is just to do it, especially when it comes to being outside, the only way to get better is to get out there!
Here are some tips for channeling your inner confidence on outdoor adventures:
- Start by taking small steps and set a few attainable goals for yourself to help build up the confidence and skills that are necessary.
- Go with supportive friends who will encourage you and make it fun.
- Be prepared! Do research about the proper attire and gear you’ll need for your outdoor activity.
- Stay positive. Know that you will progress and that the challenges you are facing now will make you stronger and more experienced in the long run. Things can only go up from here.
A final tip, I once read a blog post by Syd Shultz, a female pro mountain bike racer. She said that if you find your friends waiting for you, instead of apologizing for being slow, thank them for their patience. This turns a negative statement where you are criticizing yourself into a positive statement that compliments your friends for waiting.
Check out all our Outdoor 101 posts for beginner friendly tips to up your outdoor skills in everything from hiking and backpacking to paddling, skiing, and biking.
Fear of Being Out of Shape
Although it may not feel that way, it’s totally fine to feel nervous about being out of shape while doing an outdoor activity. While it’s certainly a personal and much more intimate challenge to face than others, spending time outdoors can not only help you become physically stronger and more healthy, it can also boost your mood and help you to feel more comfortable in your own skin. You can read more about all the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of hiking and spending time outdoors here.
Try not to worry about other people’s opinions, chances are they aren’t even thinking about you! Everyone is their own worst critic, so sometimes taking the first step is the biggest and most difficult one to take, after that things become a little easier. Be kind to yourself and remember that although this might take some time, it’s worth it.
It’s not just an internal battle, there are plenty of external things you can do as well to become more fit and overcome your fear of being too out of shape for the outdoors. As someone who has been there, here’s my advice to you:
- Pick a few achievable goals you can set for yourself and focus on that, whether it’s going for a walk every day, going on a weekly hike, or whatever it is that will take you a step closer to your goals
- Prepare yourself physically for a longer hike by improving your lung capacity, or even do some yoga to connect with yourself, stretch, and strengthen before heading outside
- Get the gear you need to be comfortable outdoors, like a pair of trekking poles to provide support and balance as you hike
Fear of Dangerous Wildlife Encounters
A huge part of being a competent outdoorsman or woman is respecting your surroundings and the wildlife that calls those places home. While the animals you may encounter on your hike, bike or trail run may scare you, it’s pretty likely that you scare them even more.
Even though we want to tell you not to worry, there is always the off-chance something could happen. So, before you head out, do a little research and look into what sort of wildlife inhabits the area you’re visiting and the best way to avoid them or defend yourself if need be.
I also recommend carrying bear spray in Grizzly country and knowing how to use it!
Read Next: How to Avoid Dangerous Wildlife Encounters
Fear of Hiking Alone as a Woman
Going on a solo hike is something that many women have been discouraged to do by others who, although they mean well, fear for their safety in the outdoors. This stigma surrounds girls of all ages and doesn’t empower them in the outdoors, rather, it keeps them from going outside. While it’s good to acknowledge that the outdoors can be dangerous at times and there can be creeps out there, women are not helpless victims, and it’s important to remember that.
There are plenty of ways to stay safe and be smart while you’re alone in the wilderness — hey, it’s even ok to admit you’re scared!
- Start out by going on a well-traveled and popular trail rather than somewhere that is more isolated
- Share your location and how long you’ll be out with someone so they know where you are
- Chat with other hikers on the trail and tell them where you’re going, this way people will know in case of an emergency
- Be prepared: Charge your phone, carry the essentials, and know where you’re heading
- Carry a safety whistle you can use if you need to signal for help
- If you’re hiking somewhere more remote without cell service, carry a Garmin inReach or an inReach Mini so you can call for help if you get lost or hurt
- Be confident!