hiking, homeschooling, outdoors

Tips for spending time outside [even when the weather isn’t ideal]

I’ve had this post planned for some time and, ironically, this week has been snowmageddon in most of the midwest and south… which has been a unique “opportunity” to practice what I’m preaching here!

I know that everyone is wired differently, so it’s not everyone’s jam to spend hours and hours outside; BUT, I am also a huge believer in the importance of spending time outside. It’s good for our brains, for our bodies, for our souls and it’s critical for developing kids too.

I’ve always been a nature girl. Thousands and thousands of hours throughout my childhood were spent outside (usually without shoes on). Most of my favorite childhood memories involved building outdoor forts, making mud pies, playing two-hand-touch football with all the neighbor kids (sans shoes, of course), collecting rocks, exploring ridepools, watching the seasons change, observing different landscapes and ecosystems, camping out in the middle of nowhere, sleeping under the stars and standing in awe at the beauty of God’s incredible creation.

This love of nature is one of the things that first connected my husband and I when we were just two fifteen year olds with old-souls; I’m thankful that it has remained a shared passion over the past seventeen years. When we became parents we wanted to make sure that we gave our kids the same opportunities to be in nature that we had been given. We had them helping us in the garden from the time they were toddlers and have intentionally cultivated so many memories out in nature. 

It has, however, been interesting to notice just how much our culture has shifted since we were kids. Between electronic distractions, growing concerns for safety and a general increase in the pace of everyday life, time outside doesn’t always “just happen”. It takes effort. This goes for children and adults alike. 

So–whether you’re a basement gamer that could spend months inside without missing the fresh air or you’re a pseudo-hippie like me that genuinely enjoys living as much of life outside as possible (even if the “toilet” is the cluster of trees behind your tent), or you fall anywhere in between these two extremes– if you want some tips on how to get outside and enjoy yourself even when the weather isn’t great, this is for you!

Looking for a spot to take a snack break during a hike

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Whether it’s sweltering hot or freezing cold, preparation is key to enjoying (or at least surviving) your time outside. Preparation includes having the right gear, shoes, layers of clothing, adequate hydration, etc. I have found that even the most unbearable weather can be enjoyable, if you’ve got the right gear and you’re prepared to take on the elements. Preparation looks different for everyone depending on the climate where you live and also on your personality–some people really do love “winging it” and others have to have a solid plan before they walk out their door. Here are the things that I think are most important to consider when you’re preparing to head outside:

  1. Hydration. This one is not to be underestimated. Ever. If you are just heading out for a short walk around the block or spending a quick 30 minutes at the playground with your kids, you probably don’t need to be too concerned about bringing water along; but, if you’re heading outside in a summer heat wave or planning to spend more than a hour outside, water is critical. My motto with hydration is always–I’d rather bring it tand not end up needing it than leave it behind and regret it.
  2. Clothing. It is amazing how much of a difference the right clothing can make. If it’s cold, be sure to keep your head, hands and feet warm (these are the areas that you lose heat from fastest). If it’s cold enough to get frostbite (typically 31 degrees), make sure your skin is covered and you’re well insulated. If it’s hot, wear loose fitting clothing and keep your hair out of your face. These examples only scratch the surface, but hopefully you get the idea.
  3. Shoes. Shoes can literally make or break your time outside. If you’ve never had to deal with blisters or freezing wet feet, you are not missing out. Wearing shoes that are made for your activity (hiking, snow, running, swimming, etc) makes a massive difference–as do the socks that might accompany them. If you’ve never taken the time to dial in your shoe situation, I encourage you to take some time to figure this out. A trip to your local running/outdoor sport store can be a total game changer!
  4. Food. This doesn’t really come into play until you’re talking about spending hours outside at a time or venturing off the beaten path, but having some emergency food on hand is always a good idea.

A special word to those of you who don’t want to bother planning and just want to be spontaneous–I get it. Preparation can feel like a killjoy. Sometimes you just want to get out there and go on an adventure. But, as one gypsy soul to another, being prepared is the very thing that has often allowed me to be spontaneous. There have been several times when a 3 mile hike has turned into an extended 10 mile hike to reach just one more vista and a swimming hole. Being prepared gives you the freedom to change plans and still have fun.

Running in the ice covered field behind my house during a break in an ice storm

It’s All in your Head

You may have heard it said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” Gosh, if this isn’t the truth with spending time outside!

If you decide that the weather sucks and you aren’t even going to try to get out there and make it enjoyable, then that is the reality you’re going to live in. Now, I’m not suggesting that you go surfing during a hurricane or take on a trail run during an ice storm, but most of the time the weather isn’t THAT dangerous–we just convince ourselves that it is. Sure, you might need to take precautions or make adjustments depending on the weather, but for the most part, I truly believe that you can get outside for at least a little bit each day.

The mindset that you choose to have about spending time outside is especially contagious with your kids. I have been consistently amazed by how much fun my kids have outside, even when it’s less than ideal weather. Don’t get me wrong, we have days when the wheels fall off. There have been several occasions when we are halfway through a hike and one of our kids starts melting down (this happened more frequently when they were pre-school age for sure). There’s no one “right” way to deal with meltdowns or protest, but we’ve always tried to default to gratitude and perspective. Sometimes you need to pause and have a snack. Sometimes you need a hug. But, most of the time, you need to be reminded that many of us living in America have just grown accustomed to very comfortable conditions. 

Will walking another mile with wet shoes kill you? Probably not. Does discomfort always indicate a major problem? Rarely. Will falling down and scraping your knee scar you for life? I certainly hope not. There are millions of people that walk miles every day with no shoes on. There are countless people who spend every moment of their lives in what we would consider discomfort. God has equipped our bodies with far more strength and resilience than most of us realize. Spending time outside is a beautiful opportunity to be reminded of that.

23° and having the best time

Set Realistic Expectations

Spending time outside takes mental muscles just as much as it takes physical muscles. If you’re heading out on your first hike with your kids, don’t expect them (or you for that matter) to suddenly become John Muir and tackle 15 miles with ease. If spending time outside is new for you or your family, then focus on little steps at a time and keep it fun. Maybe you can start by walking/biking to your favorite spot to get a special treat instead of driving there. Maybe you can start eating just one meal outside a week. Maybe you can buy a few hammocks and find a fun spot to relax with a good book. Start small and build from there.

Have Fun

Spending time outside will sometimes take some effort, but it’s definitely not a chore. There will be days when it doesn’t go to plan. There will be times when you feel cold or hot and you’re thankful to come inside after only 15 minutes; but there will also be days when you lose track of time and spend entire days outside in bliss. Unless you’re training to run an actual race or summit Everest, the goal is simply to enjoy being outside, so let go of any expectations and just have fun.



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