Many of us are aware that getting outside is good for us. At the mention of fresh air and sunlight, our hunched shoulders relax from the tension of typing on laptop keyboards. We listen to rain sounds to sleep at night and change our screensavers to woodland groves. We have potted plants that keep us company in remote offices and dogs that need brisk walks.
Imagine now that instead of seeking bite sized pieces of nature, you commit yourself to fourteen days of life outside. You switch out your mattress for a camp pad and sleeping bag. A tent becomes your new bedroom.
Exposed to the elements, you begin to adapt to the climate and landscape. You feel yourself begin to get sleepy as the sun sets. There’s no smartphone screen to keep you up. You notice bird song in the quiet hours just after dawn. The rise and fall of the stars begin to take on a familiar pattern. Your own circadian rhythm falls into step with the world around you.
At Bold Earth, our students and instructors dive headfirst into the experience of camping every summer. These are some of the lessons we’ve learned.
1. Nature improves mood resilience
Being a teenager is difficult, no matter what your background is. Developing methods to balance your emotions is crucial. Mood resilience is the ability to self-regulate one’s attitude and emotional state after experiencing a negative stimulus. In the turbulence of adolescents, mood resilience is a necessary skill to practice. Unfortunately, the cities and towns we choose to make our homes in are not always the best place to practice mood resilience. Urban planning and design is primarily adult centered. Nature is not. Research shows that regardless of demographic background, exposure to nature elevates the self-reported moods of teenagers.
2. Type II fun is sometimes the best kind
In the world of outdoor recreation, we love to refer to the types of fun that can be found while camping. Type I fun is the regular fun, the kinds of things that are always going to be fun in the moment no matter what the context. Eating your favorite trail snack, playing a hiking game, or laying down in a sunny meadow for some relaxing reading are examples of type I fun. Type II fun is the variety of fun that is not necessarily fun in the moment. An example of type II fun would look something like this:
Your task for the evening is to cook dinner for a group of wet and hungry teenage peers that have just set up camp in the pouring rain. All eyes are on you to provide sustenance. The pot of hot water is bubbling away on the camp stove, ready for the instant goodies to be poured in. You toss the bag of instant mashed potatoes into the pot and let it simmer with a pinch of seasoning. Three minutes later, you realize you’ve brewed a huge pot of hot salted Gatorade instead of dinner. You look in shock and horror into the unmarked plastic baggie and realize your mistake. At that moment, it’s going to take some grit to dump the pot and begin again, but three days later you’ll be laughing so hard about this setback that your sides ache.
This is the kind of experience that sticks with us, long after our farmer’s tan fades and our hiking blisters heel. This is the kind of fun that makes us crave challenge and adversity throughout our lives.
3. Self Care for the win
Forming a self care routine while camping is like training for a marathon to run a 5K. Limited resources force us to create and practice routines that are simple, efficient, and comforting. We must be creative and resourceful to maintain our relaxation practices, especially when camping is brand new to us.
While camping, it’s essential to maintain outdoor hygiene and sleep systems that can keep us cozy in any weather. These are the building blocks of quality and rest and health. Bold Earth trip leaders help students develop self care routines that are uniquely tailored to individual needs. These routines will follow our students into their independent adult lives, through college and beyond.
4. Nourish a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset means believing that your skills are continually being honed for the entire duration of your life. You won’t be great the first time you try something brand new. Growth takes time and effort, not natural aptitude.
Living outdoors successfully requires a growth mindset. Tasks that are simple (or even mindless) at home take an extra layer of thought to accomplish. Cooking becomes a group task using propane and communication. Without electricity and modern appliances, putting dinner on the table is a new skill to be learned. Setting up a tent each evening also requires practice and teamwork. Scouting the best terrain for your portable home and learning to read the weather are all skills that can be learned, practiced, and improved for a lifetime.
There will be frustrating times. Wind will blow the tent over because the stakes weren’t pounded in all the way. The camp stove won’t light properly because it’s raining. Every obstacle is a learning opportunity.
5. Expand the comfort zone
Many aspects of camping lie outside our ordinary comfort zone. We have to learn how to meet all of our basic needs without the comforts we’re used to indoors. We build our own portable shelters, make our own heat sources, draw our own water, and improvise our own entertainment. Camping with a team of qualified instructors helps keep those moments of challenge from escalating into panic. Finding belonging in a group of peers who are going through a shared experience also provides emotional and physical support needed to grow.
When we allow ourselves to step beyond the comfort zone, we feed our desire for self actualization. Self actualization, as defined by the psychologist Abraham Maslow, is the level of development where we grow into our full human potential. It’s only possible when all our other needs have been attended to. Camping challenges us by making those basic needs our primary focus. Cooking, staying warm and dry, and filtering water become the building blocks of the day. Once we’ve learned these routines, we’re able to reflect on how much we’ve grown from achieving these fundamental goals.
6. Everything tastes better when you make it yourself
Camping requires our students to become proficient with a camp stove, but it doesn’t end there. When kids take on responsibility for their own meal planning and preparation, they eat more vegetables and are left with a feeling of control and accomplishment. Planning what food to buy and how much of each ingredient will be needed fosters a sense of care for the group.
The responsibility of running a camp kitchen at mealtime is a transferable skill. Developing a set of meals that you feel comfortable shopping for, prepping, cooking, and serving to yourself and friends is something that follows our students far beyond the end of a trip.
7. High doses of nature are better for health
Many of us know that nature is a stress reliever, but the more nuanced research shows that dosage matters. There are articles all over the internet proclaiming that going outside will lead to a healthier life, but guidance on how much nature you actually need to achieve these benefits is less easily found.
Lowered rates of depression, decreasing high blood pressure, increasing social cohesion, and positive health behavior are seen in positive correlation with higher intensity nature (more ecologically complex and wild areas) and longer duration stays. Camping delivers the framework for these benefits to be experienced.
8. There are many ways to be a leader
Leadership is often highlighted as a benefit of any adventure camp experience, and for good reason. With many small tasks to achieve throughout the day, there are endless opportunities for students to step up and help others. While camping, leadership cycles throughout the group and takes many forms.
Some students will find themselves shining in the hardest moments. They’ll be the ones cracking jokes when soggy tents and mosquitos torment the rest of the group. Some will excel at the mechanics of setting up a camp–planning where to put the kitchen and sleeping areas, strategically placing group gear so that it’s accessible and protected from the weather.
When a group has the shared goal of making a home in the outdoors, there’s no one way to be a leader. Instead, each group member develops their own leadership style. Some will be quiet, some will be boisterous. Some will be delegation pros and others will take on the lion’s share of tasks. Camping is our training ground to figure out what kinds of leaders each of us are.
9. Autonomy feels good
And it’s also necessary for the development of positive life choices. It takes self motivation to accomplish chores and choose healthy habits. Good routines that are restorative for the body and mind are key to successful independent living.
Camping provides an autonomy supportive environment to learn these habits in. There are natural rewards and consequences to every independent choice we make. The way you choose to set up your tent will affect the comfort and quality of sleep you get. The food you choose to consume will either fuel you or leave you low energy during your hike. Every day presents itself with new choices to make. Each one teaches its own lesson about how we take care of ourselves.
10. Failure is an option
Too much of the time, society tells us to get it right on the first try. This is simply not the case when camping. Nobody gets it right on the first try. We learn the skills needed to navigate and thrive in the outdoors are lessons by trial and error. We burn rice when the pot is on too high a flame. Our rainfly isn’t staked out properly and we come home to a wet tent. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s fantastic. In making the mistake, we teach ourselves how to correct it.
When things get tough, Bold Earth provides a safety net of qualified instructors and supportive community. It can be extremely challenging to fail. Vulnerability is the base of learning. Empathy is the base of how we teach.