How to play more outdoors

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You love the outdoors. You love play. Playing more outdoors seems like a no-brainer, but given you are already frazzled just trying to keep up with work, family and all the other commitments that modern life entails, it just doesn’t seem to happen. How can you squeeze yet another activity into your busy schedule without adding to your stress and resenting rather than enjoying it? Although it’s still very much a work in progress, I have increased my outdoor playtime massively over the past few years, so here is what has worked for me.

Results of First PMO Survey

Thank you written in sand

My aim with this blog is twofold: to promote play outdoors and to create community. The first is fairly self-explanatory; time spent enjoying the outdoors with friends is its own reward and the the more you and I do, the better. The second is actually a key element in the first. We humans are social animals, and community drives, amplifies and gives meaning to what we do. So the stronger and more active a community we can build, the more successful we will be in getting out and playing.

Benefits of the outdoors

Man relaxing on mountain
Lucas Foglia

The term “the outdoors” makes me uncomfortable. It distinguishes between the mental spaces of the natural and the artificial environments, and implies the artificial to be the norm. Outdoors is therefore a space to be ventured into for a short time before a return to the sterile predictability of the manufactured environment. While I would rather this not be the case, I have to accept the reality of modern living: we do spend the majority of our time inside – whether at work or at play, and a lot of this time we spend experiencing life through the lenses of our TVs, computers and mobile devices. But contact with the outdoors produces great benefits for us, both physically and mentally.

Play

Kids in tree
Playing like a boss.

 

“Humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity.” Dr. Stuart Brown

One of the key concepts of this blog is “play.” This is because play is key. In short, playor active funis one of the few things that make life worthwhile. Achievement, interpersonal relationships and self-actualization are also important, but it is play that forms the basis for these. But in my late 30s, I seem have now lost a lot of the playfulness I had as a kid, and I don’t think I am unusual in this respect. This atrophy of play as we grow up is due to a whole host of factors increasing responsibilities, social pressures and the habits we pick up. The simple joy of play gets replaced by other important priorities, which are no way near as much fun.

PLBs and SENDs

personal locator beacon
Bryan Hansel

In the not-so-distant past, you were on your own when you ventured into the back country. Not just physically, but in terms of assistance. If something went wrong, it could take days before a search party would find you. Nowadays, mobile phones – or rather smartphones – are now so ubiquitous almost everyone is equipped with one. This means you can easily contact friends, family or emergency services when something goes wrong, which is great. But what happens when you have no cellphone reception, which can happen very quickly in remoter or more mountainous areas?

Keeping mobile aka tool kits for outdoor sports

Bike chain held by wire

So, by now you should be packing a first aid kit. You should have the appropriate clothing to prevent hypothermia or exposure. You have enough water to last the day or the means to obtain more. And you should have a stash of calories to avoid the dreaded “bonk.”

All of this is important stuff to pack, but if a gear failure immobilizes you, you may have to spend an unscheduled night outside, your folks will worry, and you will generally have a Bad Time.

Tool kits are ultra sport-specific, which makes it quite hard to give a definitive list of stuff you need to pack. But the actual process of making your own is simple:

  1. Look at the gear you use for transportation.
  2. Identify likely failure modes.
  3. Bring tools/spare items/methods of coping with failures.

Fuel for outdoor sports

 

Trail runner in the mist
Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

 

I started off with the title of “nutrition” for this blog post, but decided to change it.

Nutrition for sports and indeed health in general has become an absolute minefield in recent years. Conflicting information abounds on what we should be putting into our bodies to elicit peak performance. While massive amounts of time, energy and money have been spent on identifying the best approach to nutrition a consensus has yet to be reached except in the broadest terms. Coupled with the fact that diet is one of the major factors that impact body image, nutrition is an emotive topic with few concrete answers.

Water

Filling bottle from stream
lifestraw.com

The value of recommended daily intake of water depends on the source but it seems to be about 2L. This means water, and doesn’t include coffee or beer, apparently. If this is true, I imagine a lot of people are spending their lives in a state of persistent mild dehydration. Of course, 2L is just the basic requirement. We need more if the weather is hot and humid, when exercising, and at higher altitudes. Concerning exercise, the rule of thumb is that we need an extra 500 ml of water per hour of “moderate exercise,” so a water bottle is an essential item to bring on any outdoor activity.

Protection from the elements

Right then, on to item two of considerations when packing for outdoors mischief. Here is that list again, in case you forgot.

  1. First aid
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. Mobility
  6. Communications

Similarly to first aid, there are no concrete answers for what to pack for protection from the elements, but the considerations are simpler. In fact, you only need to keep in mind two things – hypothermia and sunburn.

First aid kits

Credit: www.advmedics.com

This is the second post on packing for outdoor sports.

So, to revisit the list of priorities in an emergency from last week:

  1. First aid
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. Mobility
  6. Communications

Some of these items can compensate for others to a certain degree, depending on your situation. For instance, if you are able to communicate with rescuers, remaining mobile might not be as important, or vice versa. However, life gets miserable quickly if you don’t have the top three sorted, and of these, first aid is the most important.

Packing for outdoor sports

Ready for anything. Not moving too quickly though. (Credit: Bowhunting.net)

When I was in my early teens, my friends and I used to spend the weekends bivouacking in the local hills and woods of south-west England. To begin, we did not have a clue about bivouacking and tried to compensate for this by packing for every eventuality and bringing enough food to last a week – despite only camping out for one night at a time. But as we gained experience and confidence, we were able to reduce the volume of stuff we would pack. Eventually, it became a matter of pride to pack the least and still be comfortable.

Obstacle course racing

It’s great to watch the joy with which young children throw themselves into mud. As any parent will know, kids seem to make an almost instinctual beeline to muddy puddles. Getting completely caked in dirt is a pure form of hedonism and a playful up-yours to the prim sterility of modern living. But as kids get older and start to play in more “sophisticated” ways, there are fewer opportunities to get feral in a mud-bath. Most of us adults are unable to remember the last time we did so. It seems a shame to deprive ourselves of such an innocent means of enjoyment and connection with nature.

Core training for outdoor sports

Hiking with a heavy pack is core training. Credit: Sierra Trading Post

Core training is a popular term in sports training circles, but it has a strange status. Everyone seems to talk about how important it is, yet it gets relegated to the end of a training session as an afterthought. Core training usually consists of a few ab exercises, such as crunches, sit-ups, planks or the like. Except for planks, these are similar to exercises that target the major muscle groups. The athlete concentrically contracts her trunk muscles against resistance and then eccentrically releases them under control. The logic is that if extension and contraction of the muscles under load works for the arms and legs, then it must be effective for the abs, too, right?

Maintaining an aerobic base

Credits: Andy Porter

Today’s post is the second of two posts answering the question of how much training is necessary.

A quick recap. Last week we looked at MAF training and how to build aerobic fitness, which directly improves performance in most outdoor sports. Aerobic fitness, or your aerobic base, is your ability to move at a “slow,” sustainable pace for an extended period of time – around several hours. However, the initial question was how to maintain the minimum level of fitness necessary to go on a sudden hike into alpine territory, do a long-distance bike ride, or whatever. We can break this down into two questions:
 
1. What kind of aerobic base do you need to be able to go on a sudden epic mission without any preparation in the way of physical conditioning?
 

2. How much do you need to do to maintain this base?

Aerobic Fitness

Aerobic fitness forms the base for all your outdoor adventures. Training in aerobic fitness is essential if you want to play outside longer or improve your performance in sport.

The aerobic and anaerobic systems

There are two systems (three including the ATP-PC energy system) that provide your muscles with energy during exercise: aerobic respiration and anaerobic respiration. During physical exertion, these are active in varying degrees and the ratio of power each system provides depends on the type of activity.

Trail running: the best outdoor sport, for all the wrong reasons

Running is the best outdoor sport. You probably didn’t want to hear that, did you? I don’t like it either, because I hate running. Man, I hate running. I hate running 4-6 times a week for between 5 to 25 kms at a time and at varying, hateful speeds. There are several types of running, and yes, I hate them all. I hate tempo runs, interval runs, recovery runs, ventilatory threshold runs, long distance runs, and especially, maximum effort sprints. Oh man, do I hate them!