How to Get Outside More for Moms
Identify and Break Through Barriers to Your Outside Life
How do we, as busy moms, move from being curious about spending time outside to being confident outdoors women?
Some of us use goals to achieve this end. We sign up for a trail run. We go backpacking or schedule a camping trip. These are wonderful achievements! But what happens afterward?
Once the goal is achieved, we often return to our usual lifestyle. Unfortunately, goals are not a sustainable way to build an outdoor lifestyle.
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In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that we need these goals, but habits and systems actually shape our lifestyle.
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
James Clear recommends developing what he calls “atomic habits” to achieve long-term goals — like living an outdoor lifestyle. Atomic habits are tiny daily or weekly practices that accumulate over time to remake your life.
Because that’s what we want — to live our everyday as outdoor moms — I’ll draw often from James Clear’s wisdom in this article.
Tip 1: Write Down Your Barriers to Getting Outside
When anyone begins a new habit or hobby, it’s normal to encounter barriers. That’s especially true for moms.
As moms, we experience a tremendous amount of pressure from ourselves, our families, our careers, and society. These pressures divide our time and our attention, making it very hard to start new habits or lifestyles.
Even wonderful things– like our children’s extracurricular activities — can prevent us from getting outside or pursuing a new activity.
If we want to make sustainable, real changes in our lives we must first assess our specific barriers.
Find out what barriers you face by writing them down. Get out a pen and paper and start writing everything that inhibits you from getting outside more.
Be honest and be kind. While you are writing, don’t blame yourself or anyone else.
Try to be impartial when making this list — just as if you were making a grocery list. With this exercise, you are simply observing what challenges you face. You don’t need to solve anything.
No one person will have the same barriers; however, most people’s barriers fall into four main categories:
- Lack of time: This is probably the most universal challenge. Let’s face it, between our kids’ extracirricular activities, our own schedules, meals, and sleeping, there’s not a lot of free time available.
- Social and emotional challenges: These challenge may include anything from your fear of noctural noises to a child who hates hiking.
- Lack of skills: Do you worry about getting lost or hurt? Do you know the basics of the outdoor adventure you wish to pursue? Do you need to become stronger physically?
- Lack of equipment, gear, or finances: Do you need a raincoat to embrace rainy day runs? What physical items would help you?
Most of the following tips will attempt to address common barriers in each of these categories. Once we identify what barriers are preventing us from getting outside, we can start busting those barriers!
- How to Get Outside More for Moms
- Tip 1: Write Down Your Barriers to Getting Outside
- Tip 2: The Shortcut — Sign Up for a Guided Adventure
- Addressing Time Barriers
- Social and Emotional Barriers
- Skill-Based Barriers to Getting Outdoors
- Gear-Based Barriers
- Bust Your Barriers and Get Outside!
- 20 Tips for Getting Moms Outside
Tip 2: The Shortcut — Sign Up for a Guided Adventure
When you made your list, did you feel as if you had overwhelming challenges in each of the categories? Grumpy hikers, lack time, no gear, and a terrible sense of direction?
The easiest way to begin your outdoor exploration may be to sign up for a family trip through REI or a similar outfitter.
REI’s Family Trips sound so RESTFUL for an adventurous mom who doesn’t want to spend her vacation cooking, cleaning, and setting up camp.
By traveling on an organized trip, you will save time before the trip. You won’t need to plan the itinerary, meals, or purchase gear. It’s all provided with the cost of the trip.
Other families will be on the trip, providing social support for you and your family. When you need additional support, guides will be available throughout the trip. Additionally, your kids will even receive their own REI daypack.
Addressing Time Barriers
Tip 2: Embrace the Microadventure
The most powerful tool to bust the time barrier is the microadventure.
Microadventures are small, simple, local adventures that can have an outsized impact on our lives, especially when performed regularly.
A microadenture can help you develop skills and confidence in the outdoors with less commitment. For example, it’s easier to learn to cook over a campfire, if you know that you can easily make mac-n-cheese over your own stove if the hotdogs become char.
Local adventures also reduce travel time and the fear of being in a new environment. They also tend to require less equipment, usually, only a daypack is necessary.
When microadventures become a regular ritual, these habits can change your sense of identity.
“The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
These magical little moments change your perceptions of yourself: You are becoming an outdoor person.
Microadventure 1: Backyard Camping
Don’t have time for a big camping trip? Camp locally or even in your backyard.
Listen to the night noises. If you feel uncomfortable or afraid, don’t be too ashamed to bail. You are just beginning to gain camping skills.
This is also a great opportunity to test the quality and comfort of your camping gear. You can practice pitching your tents, test your sleeping bag for warmth, and notice the comfort of your sleeping pad. Or forget the tent and sleep in your hammock.
Microadventure 2: The Suburban Campfire
Cook over a fire in your backyard. This will remind you of who you wish to become while helping you practice your skills as a camp cook. (Here are some of our favorite family camping recipes.)
Even if you live on a small plot of land, you may be able to have a firepit. Our family recently gifted a Solo Stove to my brother, who lives in a busy suburban neighborhood. He appreciates that this portable firepit burns hot with little smoke.
Microadventure 3: The Mini Hike
Perhaps you want to hike more with your kids. Plan to go for a short hike with your kids every day. Even two minutes count. Everyone will become stronger, learn to manage their comfort in different weathers, and experience the joy of being outdoors.
While you are walking — even if it’s in your neighborhood — notice the wildlife. What birds songs do you hear? What are the squirrels doing? Also, don’t be afraid to explore public land. If your neighborhood has a wooded buffer around a stream, explore that. Or walk down to the culvert and look for water striders.
Tip 3: Make It Easy
This is another stellar tip from Atomic Habits. To get out more, reduce the number of obstacles between you and your habit.
- Keep a “to-go” bag packed with the 10 essentials you should bring every time you venture into the wild. You’ll be able to take off quickly when the chance arrives. (I’ve been stealing my kid’s REI Tarn 18, but it might be time to gift myself with the REI Trail 25 Pack.)
- Store your supplies near the door.
- Keep your car stocked with sunscreen and bug spray.
- Stuff a large plastic tub with all your camping gear.
- Use a checklist system.
- Have hiking snacks always on hand. (Need some snack inspiration? Here are some of our favorites!)
Tip 4: Schedule Outdoor Time
Make an appointment with yourself and keep it! I find it easiest to connect my outdoor time to another rhythm in my day or week.
Stay-at-home moms may give themselves an outdoor lunch break during naptime, while those of us in the office can take our actual lunch breaks outside.
Our family sets aside Sunday afternoons for adventure. In the winter we ski. When the snow melts, we bike or hike. While this makes meals more challenging, the time we spend together outdoors is worth it.
Alternatively, you may be able to take time to get outside during your kids’ extracurricular activities. As moms, we don’t have to watch our child’s every soccer practice to be an engaged, loving parents. Instead, we should model for our children life-long activity and self-care. That might include going for a run while your eight-year-old learns karate.
Tip 5: Use the Margins of Your Day
Many of us have some flexible time at the beginning or end of our days. As a morning person, I have chosen to wake up before the kids so I can exercise. Other people may prefer to find time during the evenings.
Since these times are usually pre-dawn or after sunset, bring a headlamp. I prefer the Black Diamond Spot Headlamps. Ours have been reliable and easy to use. This one inexpensive item can open up many outdoor opportunities!
Using headlamps, our family has been able to take hikes in the late afternoon, knowing we can get home safely. Pre-dawn adventures, such as alpine touring or trail running, are much easier with a headlamp.
Tip 6: Find Shortcuts for Home Chores
For most moms, the biggest drain on our time and energy, outside of family and work, is our home. The average woman spends 2 hours and 15 minutes on daily chores of cooking, dishes, laundry, and general cleaning. Imagine if we could reclaim even 30 minutes of that time!
Consider ways to simplify tasks or share labor. Obviously, we can dream about hiring a maid service, but for many of us, that’s impractical. Here are a few alternative ideas:
- If your budget and room layout allow, get a robotic vacuum.
- Double your recipes so you can cook once for two meals. Keep easy meals on hand for busy days.
- Pay for child labor. Assign a value to certain chores to encourage help.
- Simplify and de-clutter. Less stuff = less maintance. Our family owns a lot of gear but little else. Except Legos. We have a lot of those.
- Lower your standards. Recently, I have begun washing my each of my kids’ laundry as a single load — no sorting by color. The loads stay sorted by person, reducing the time I spend re-sorting them after washing. I also don’t fold my children’s clothing. The kids don’t care. They never stayed folded in the drawers even when I was folding them.
Social and Emotional Barriers
Tip 7: Shift Your Identity
Sometimes big changes begin with small shifts in your thinking.
According to James Clear, you can shift your mindset by identifying yourself as the person you wish to become. While you should represent yourself honestly to others, in your self-talk claim the goals you are seeking.
Instead of saying you sometimes hike, state that you are a hiker. This tiny shift allows you to see your goals as part of your greater identity.
Tip 8: Find Your Outdoor Mentor
Frodo had Gandalf. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. Harry Potter had Dumbledore. If these heroes needed a mentor, we should not be ashamed to seek out a mentor as well.
A mentor can offer you experience and guide you as you embark on more hiking, biking, or kayaking. While the internet is full of inspiring people, the best mentors are local. Ideally, they should know you and your strengths in order to encourage you.
A local mentor can also suggest which trails to take or if you are kayaking, which rivers to avoid. They may also be able to tell you about bear safety and how to avoid tick bites.
Additionally, a mentor can also ease your fears about what is normal when you are pursuing a new activity. They can teach you how to safely handle berms on your bike, paddle efficiently on a kayak, or prepare for a longer hike.
Your mentor should ideally be the same gender as you. (It’s much easier to learn how to pee in the woods from someone with similar equipment.)
You don’t need a formal mentor relationship. Your mentor may be a friend with greater experience than you. Alternatively, your mentor could be an instructor from a class whose wise sayings inspire you to perform better.
My own mountain biking skills blossomed after taking a local women-specific class. I felt at ease with the group and was able to learn at my own pace.
Even two years after the class, I still chant some mantras I learned from the teacher. The instructor continues to “mentor” me years after the course was over.
REI offers a similar mountain course for women. Their Women’s Introduction to Mountain Biking includes biking skills, body positioning, and trail etiquette. If you don’t have a bike, they will loan you one free of charge!
Tip 9: Seek Outdoor-Oriented People
Any outdoor pursuit is safer and more enjoyable with companions. My family members are my primary outdoor companions, but your hiking tribe may not be your family members!
If that’s the case for you, you may need to find outdoor buddies outside of your family. Look for like-minded people on local Facebook groups or in outdoor-oriented classes.
Tip 10: Make Your Time Outdoors Satisfying
Did you take a mini-hike today? Celebrate your achievement! Find ways to recognize and track the time you spend outdoors. According to Atomic Habits, this positive feedback will intensify the reward you experience from the activity itself.
My favorite tracking methods are Strava and photos.
On Strava, I can track my outdoor activities, revisit maps of previous adventures, and connect with outer active friends. I love achieving a new PR on the app and getting “Kudos” from friends.
Photography is another way to remember and celebrate achievements. Not only are photos fun to post on Instagram, but your favorites can become wall art — a beautiful reminder of your accomplishments.
A class in photography can help you capture that frame-able image for your walls. REI offers an introductory class in photography with a focus on shooting outdoors. Through this class, you will gain a greater understanding of how to operate your camera and what makes a stellar photograph.
Tip 11: Don’t Wait For the Perfect Day
Grey drizzle got you down? Too windy? Too rainy? Too busy? Too Monday?
We can all generate thousands of reasons why we shouldn’t start an adventure today. Rather than wait for the perfect cool, sunny day embrace the now.
Weather can force you to modify your plans — especially if you are considering hiking the high peaks — but many people avoid going outside simply because it seems uncomfortable.
Learn the difference between dangerous weather and … umm … interesting weather. Look for pleasure on a rainy day by counting worms on the sidewalk or hiking to a swollen stream. Become a connoisseur of all types of weather.
If possible, fit your activity to the weather. Days below freezing but no snow? Go ice skating. Drizzling with little wind? Look for wildlife on your kayak or hunt for salamanders in your backyard.
Waterproof clothing, at the very least, will help you embrace less than ideal weather.
My husband and I both appreciate REI’s GoreTex raingear. Because it’s made with GoreTex, we know the garment has met the high standards required by W.L Gore. REI offers this dryness guarantee for a very reasonable price with its XeroDry GXT Jacket and XeroDry GXT Pants.
I wear the rain jacket on its own in the spring, summer, and fall. It protects against rain, wind, and fog. In the winter, I use it as an outer shell over a down jacket. Even in heavy rains, water slides off the fabric, leaving me dry. When this jacket wears out, I’ll probably replace it with another REI raincoat.
Tip 12: Don’t Feel Pressured to Do What You Dislike
Many of us want to like an activity or feel like we should like an activity when we actually don’t love it. Running is a perfect example of this.
Most of us begin running because we think it’s healthy — and you only need a pair of shoes and a sports bra to start. However, running requires hours of endurance before it begins to be fun.
Some outdoor activities, like running, become pleasurable with exposure. Other activities may never connect with you.
You don’t have to do it all. Focus on those activities that you find most pleasurable. If you enjoy the activity most of the time, then getting outside will become something you want to do not something you should do.
Also, don’t believe that lie that unless you do X, you aren’t a real outdoorswoman. Usually, I hear this one around camping. Such as, “If you use a cot or RV, then you’re not camping.”
That’s crazy! Camping is not defined by how uncomfortable you are.
If a camping cot keeps you dry at night and enhances your sleep, giving you a better camping experience, then use that cot! Or if you get outside more because you have a camper, then you are doing what’s right for you. Don’t let someone shame you into being uncomfortable.
Skill-Based Barriers to Getting Outdoors
Sometimes our fears are actually flags showing us that we need to gain more knowledge and skill in an area.
Tip 13: Learn to Navigate Using a Compass and a Map
Perhaps one of my biggest barriers to going to new places is a fear of getting lost. I suspect that’s true for many of us who want to go in the backcountry. Our phones and other GPS devices may work well in developed regions, but they are unreliable in the wilderness.
Once you learn the fundamentals of reading a compass and a map, you will feel more confident exploring alone or in a group. REI offers women’s specific classes on navigation, but you may be able to find classes local to you.
Tip 14: Become First Aid Certified
Many of us worry about how to respond if we or our kids get hurt while on the trail. When outdoors, we are putting ourselves at some risk. (Most things in life have risks. Even “safe” indoor activities like video games or TV watching can strain the body, leading to excess weight gain and a lack of sleep.)
At TMM, we highly recommend that outdoor parents learn the basics of first aid, ideally with a focus on wilderness situations.
REI has partnered with NOLS class to offer a Wilderness First Aid course. In this class, you’ll learn to address common health problems, including injury and illness. You’ll be able to effectively evaluate a situation and care for those around you.
Also, keep a first-aid kit handy whenever you go out.
Tip 15: Invest in Yourself Through Sport-Specific Classes
Sport-specific classes are a great way to gain skills in an activity. While it’s possible to learn many outdoor activities on your own, attending a class can help you avoid injury and be more efficient at the sport. This is especially true for sports like cycling, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing.
REI offers a wide variety of classes in cycling, snow sports, climbing, and watersports. Most of these are located in amazing venues throughout the world, but some are virtual, including a virtual trail running class.
Tip 16: Address Health Challenges
Many of us struggle with challenges to our health that limit our engagement with the outdoors.
Some of us have nagging knee pain that manifests itself whenever we hike downhill. Although it’s not the final solution, a good pair of hiking poles can lessen the strain on your knee.
For injury or chronic pain, like knee pain, seek help from a medical professional. This may not feel like “outdoor time,” but it’s an investment in future outdoor time.
Other healthy or fitness challenges may be a lack of strength or coordination. Listen carefully: This is not about your body or the shape of your body! Your body is amazing how it is.
But if you want to feel more balanced crossing a log bridge, practice balancing on one foot while doing ordinary chores.
To prepare for backpacking, load a backpack with heavy gear and start hiking up local hills. Build strength and coordination through weight lifting or body-weight exercises. Remember this isn’t what you look like. It’s about what you can do.
Of all the common barriers, gear-based barriers are often the quickest to address. If you are looking for gear, we have lots of awesome suggestions, like our Epic Winter Gear Guide for Women or our Outdoor Family Spring Gear Guide.
Sometimes great gear can feel inaccessible. Some of us operate on a tighter budget than others. That doesn’t mean that you can’t own high-quality gear, but you’ll need to select your gear more carefully.
Whatever your budget, it’s important to prioritize quality over quantity.
Tip 17: Rent or Borrow Before You Buy
When it comes to learning about ourselves, we can think we will love an activity. However, when we do it, we find it doesn’t connect with us.
If you are trying a new outdoor activity –like kayaking, skiing, or even camping — consider renting or borrowing the equipment before you buy. This will allow you to explore the outdoors without investing in gear that you don’t actually use.
Renting is a great way to explore a variety of sports without committing. It also provides you a chance to test different gear out before determining which is best for you.
Many outfitters or even parks rent equipment. REI rents climbing gear, camping gear, cycling gear, skiing gear, and even paddling gear. (This is also awesome if you are traveling by plane and don’t want to check the gear you own!)
Alternatively, you can borrow gear from a friend before investing. This can be a bit tricky because the gear may become damaged during normal use. If you know your friend well, borrowing is an awesome way to share resources.
Tip 18: Look for Used or Discounted Gear
In my family, we shop secondhand first. Not only does this save money, but it also reduces our impact on the environment. With a little patience, you can find almost the exact item you seek for much less.
Our favorite second-hand sites are:
- REI Used
- Swap (great for shoes!)
- Facebook Marketplace (especially for bikes and skis)
- Poshmark (good for specific items)
If I can’t find what I need secondhand, I look at discount stores, such as Sierra or REI Outlet. Despite my frugal ways, I splurge on footwear.
Tip 19: Pamper Your Feet First
As moms, we face so many obstacles to spending time outside. Our shoes shouldn’t be one of them.
Some sports, like trail running or hiking, put great stress on the feet. If the footwear does not fit properly, these activities are miserable. They may even lead to greater foot problems as we age.
Because it can be so hard to find reliable footwear, here’s a quick list of our team’s tried-and-true favorites.
Favorite Trail Running Shoes:
Our team members’ favorite running shoes are Altras. These lightweight running shoes have a tenacious tread and a comfortably spacious toebox.
For normal to narrow feet: Altra Timp 3 Trail Running Shoes (on sale!)
For wide, flat feet: Altra Olympus 4 Trail Running Shoes
For extra traction and cushion: Hoka One One Speed Goat 4 Trail Running Shoes
For winter running: Altra Lone Peak All Weather
Favorite Sandals for Water Sports:
For most feet: Chaco Z/1
These classics offer a comfortable, grippy footbed with adjustable straps. They look good in the canoe and at the farmer’s market. (P.S. Did you know that they can be customized?)
Favorite Hiking Boots:
Most of us prefer a waterproof, reliable hiking boot. Take your time finding the right boot and consider trying them on in the store.
For narrow feet: Danner Trail 2650 Hiking Shoes (Can also double as trail runners!)
For wide feet: Oboz Sawtooth II Low Waterproof Boots
For normal feet: Salomon x Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots
Tip 20: Make Outside Time Attractive
This last tip, like so many before, is from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. He says that when you are trying to create a new habit, you should make it as appealing as possible. Allow yourself to indulge in tempting “rewards” connected to that habit. The anticipation of these rewards helps strengthen your new outdoor habit.
Here are some examples:
- Listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook while trail running or hiking. (Shokz OpenRun Headphones are waterproof, have a high quality sound, and still allow you to be aware of your surroundings.)
- Have a designated hiking outfit that makes you feel powerful and good about yourself. (PrAna Halle II hiking pants look great on the trail and around town. These rugged pants convert to capris without a weird zip-off. Also, they are available in a range of sizes and colors.)
- Pack your favorite candy or snack to enjoy while exploring. (Better yet, tell yourself you can only eat this treat on outdoor adventures.)
- Fill a thermos with cold brew. Everything feels brighter and easier with caffeine. (If you have this Hydroflask, your jo will look brighter too.)
Bust Your Barriers and Get Outside!
Hopefully, you have now identified your barriers and have a plan to overcome them. Work through them at your own pace, and remember that it takes time to build a lifestyle.
Enjoy the adventure!
20 Tips for Getting Moms Outside
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