Taking your friends and loved ones with you is one of the neatest things you can do in the outdoors. Who's going to believe you saw Sasquatch unless they're right there alongside? Here's how to make it easy for them.
A lot of the stuff I do outdoors I do by myself or with a friend like Chris, who's experienced and who can keep up. But, for my friend Mark's birthday every year, we organize a big group camping trip for a bunch of city kids who consider hiking Runyon Canyon to be an extreme adventure. Mark let me plan it a couple years ago and I took everyone off-roading through Death Valley National Park. We ended up losing half the group and the rest got mad at me when I spent all day rescuing some moron instead of taking them to the hot springs I'd promised. It was a major fail.
What I'd failed to take into account was that the really hard stuff — in this case the off-roading — that I find so rewarding is actually boring to most people, largely because they don't have the perspective or experience to appreciate it. Sitting in the back of a car, even a car that's got two of its wheels off the ground while negotiating a treacherous 1,000-foot cliff, is still just sitting in the back of a car to most people.
There's also the question of how most people perceive nature. While I think the stark desolation of the desert is compelling and beautiful, most other people just look at it as a giant sand pit that's featureless and boring.
Luckily, from my mistakes, we can all learn a little about taking new people into the outdoors for the first time. This guide is intended to help people that, like me, enjoy the outdoors already plan a trip for their girlfriend/boyfriend or a group of first timers. Hell, I've used camping trip as third date deal sealers for years. Right, Lara?
Hot springs make for great camping trips.
Water Works: People like water. We need it to live and it gives girls an excuse to wear bathing suits. Planning a camping trip or other outdoors adventure around water is a great idea. It'll help sell the trip to the n00bs while also making their experience much more fun.
Cliff jumping, hot springs, tubing or even just barbecuing on a beach are all great pegs to anchor a trip around. Hanging out in the middle of the desert, doing nothing, is boring for most people. Hanging out on a beach, doing nothing, is exciting for most people. Go figure.
Keep It Easy: Don't take a girl on an 80-mile trip her first time backpacking. Don't expect your friends to drive 12 hours just to see a good sunset. Don't set up huge challenges only for people to be challenged by them. Pick a destination that's just far enough that it'll feel like an adventure, without taxing anyone's patience or endurance. Earlier this year I figured it'd be no big deal to ride dirt bikes for eight hours in high winds just to hit some remote hot springs. It ended up being hard and scary rather than fun for the other guys. Try and put yourself in their shoes.
Gear Them Up: It's your job as the most experienced person on the trip to ensure the comfort of your friends. The last time I took a new person camping, it got a little colder at night than expected, so I put him in my 20-degree bag while I was stuck with a cheap summer weight item that I had to load up with hot rocks from the fire all night just to stay warm. He had a great time and can't wait to go again; I'll pack myself a warmer bag next time.
Regular people don't tend to realize what being outside for long periods in varied temperatures and weather conditions can be like. A 45-degree night might not sound terribly cold if your experience with that temperature comes from walking between cars and restaurants, but it's fucking freezing if you're out in it for 12 hours with inappropriate clothing.
I once had a friend forget to bring socks. Yes, socks. Make a basic packing list and send it around to everyone that's going. Then, pack whatever extra equipment you have that's appropriate for the conditions. A few extra sweaters, wool socks and gloves can go a long ways to making a cold night more bearable for the unprepared.
On that list, I typically just include things like clothing, basic toiletries and other common personal gear that literally everyone has. You know, "two pairs of warm socks, a wind-proof jacket," stuff like that. I then take it on myself to bring all the specialty stuff like camping stoves, a wood saw, a bear canister, a coffee press and all the stuff your average non-outdoors person isn't going to just have in their closet, ready to go.
If you're sleeping outside, make sure everyone is equipped with a comfortable air mattress of some kind. People seriously think they'll be able to get away with using a yoga mat, but there's no quicker way to spoil a good time than with a bad night's sleep.
Plan Activities: Taking normals outside is a bit like being a Cub Scout Den Mother. It's your job to make sure everyone doesn't get bored and any fun activities you plan will need to be thoroughly thought through and problem-solved ahead of time. Want to take everyone on a little nature hike? A field guide to local flora and fauna will help you answer all their questions and turn what's otherwise an annoying task into something fun. Chris and I are planning a Kayak camping/spear fishing trip next weekend and we've spent the last week making sure everyone will have snorkel gear and boats. At the very least, make sure you packed a deck of cards.
Food and Beverages: Like clothing, I like to make a list for everyone going. Plan out their meals for them and split the components equally if you're expecting them to pick them up at the store. Big, group meals are fun to make and a good way to pass outdoor evenings, but can be a financial burden if any one person is expected to do the shopping. Plan meals that everyone can participate in; fajitas are fun and easy for everyone to cook over a fire. Take more beer than you think you'll need, it can make even sitting around in the desert, waiting for me to repair someone else's car a bearable, fun way to pass an afternoon.
Safety: If you're planning anything remotely risky, make sure you're clear and upfront about the dangers involved. Don't downplay them in order to assuage fears, that'll just heighten the chances of something going wrong. But also don't scare people off. Again, you've gotta be the Den Mother and should be the one prepared to mitigate the risks and respond to accidents and injuries. Make sure your first aid kit is full, that you know how to use the stuff in it and that you're the responsible parent, keeping a watchful eye over everyone. I've got experience with water rescues, which is why I feel comfortable taking people ocean kayaking for the first time next weekend.
People sometimes get annoyed at my safety nagging and call me "mom," but at least I know they're safe. Have a plan to deal with the worst possible situation that could arise.
Yes, heels, really.
Be Cool: The idea here is for your friends to have fun and want to go again. If a car full of girls forgets to buy water before heading into Death Valley, don't say anything, just go back and pick it for them. Or plan ahead and pack extra. If Alex forgets his socks again, don't make him feel bad, just give him your extra pair. If Sean crashes for the 3rd time on the first day of a three day motorcycle camping trip, don't make him feel bad about it, just fix his bike and carry on. If Samantha tries to wear heals on your hike, just hold her hand when it's time to climb down the boulders. Yeah, all that might be a pain for you, but everyone's going to learn a little each and every time and, before you know it, you'll have peers on the trips, not problems.
Photos: Alex Hodges
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.