Being Outside- What’s the Hype?

Text and images by Will Day

Here at Open Air we all consider ourselves to be ‘outdoorsy’ and this article will therefore likely be slightly biased. However, what is all the excitement about the great outdoors? Over the last few years, the outdoor lifestyle has become highly desirable, with influencers and celebrities alike venturing into far flung places, armed with nothing but a pair of denim shorts and a Nalgene. And maybe some overpriced sunglasses. And of course their phone. And a team of photographers. And then someone to carry the bags. And maybe their darling little handbag dog too?? Anyway, aside from the ‘aesthetic’, why are so many more people digging out their old boots and firing up the gas lantern nowadays?

Firstly, I think it’s important to define what ‘outdoorsiness’ is. Bluntly, anything ‘outdoorsy’ is anything done outdoors. The outdoors, by Oxford Dictionary definition is:

The countryside, away from buildings and busy places.

Does ‘outdoorsy’ doesn’t necessarily mean risking life and limb hanging from a steep rock face? No, fortunately not. Walking the dog down a country lane, wandering across a field to the pub, weekend trips to the nearest National Trust property – all of these make you outdoorsy. “But I’m not like any of the action movies, I don’t own a GoPro, I don’t drink Red Bull, I wash regularly and I’ve never lived in a van”. It doesn’t matter, every breath of fresh, pure air will bring you a whole spectrum of health benefits.

2500 years ago, in the crowded urban capital of Persia, Cyrus the Great decided he would create an escape; a small forest in the centre of the city to bring about calm and increase the population’s health. In the early 1980’s, Shinrin-yoku or ‘Japanese forest bathing’ became increasingly popular as a form of nature therapy – the term ‘ecotherapy’ was coined later in 1996. In the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a review of the psychological effects of nature therapy states the process as such:

  1. Stressed State: A person is in a state of physical or emotional stress.
  2. Restorative Effects of Nature: The person spends time in nature, resulting in improvements in physiological relaxation and the immune function recovery response.
  3. Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): Nature directly increases the parasympathetic nervous system and heightens awareness, causing relaxation.

Basically, being outside is incredible for us. It doesn’t take science to tell us either. If you’ve ever felt cooped up, stressed out or overwhelmed and a brief amount of time outside has sorted it out, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Now that we’re all aware being outside is good for us (because science says so), it’s time to get to the bottom of why it’s only recently every man and his dog, (quite literally in the case of dog walkers) are venturing further afield. In Cumbria, a place known for its outdoor beauty, tourism revenue grew by 40% from £2.07bn to £2.90bn between 2009 and 2017. That’s quite a lot. Between 2000 and 2017 tourism revenue almost doubled. Personally, as a climber, walker, biker etc I have noticed a number of people around me begin to pick up these sports. Rather oddly, the ‘dirtbag climber’ look has become rather cool; whereas strolling the streets in a pair of chalk covered baggy trousers, holey t-shirt and smelling slightly of onions has been frowned upon for many years, it is now quite common to see Patagonia-clad youths, on worn out bikes heading home from the bouldering gym. But why?

After “Free Solo”, a Jimmy Chin film about climber Alex Honnold, was awarded an Oscar, it took to the screens of everyone’s home cinema setups; climbers soon became idolised, Instagram followings through the roof, documentaries being made daily and second hand van sales on the rise. (maybe include mention of how it’s recognised as a sport by the Olympics?) Whilst this was quite overwhelming for the climbing community, it is very interesting to see how easily people can be inspired, motivated and roused by something as simple as a movie. So is that it? With all the rapidly progressing technology in today’s world, is it as simple as monkey see, monkey do? 

National Geographic is the 11th most followed Instagram page, producing works of art almost on the daily. Scrolling through comments on a number of their posts, they are filled with friends tagging friends, “let’s go here”, “can’t wait to adventure again” and the occasional spam account offering free iPhones. With advancements in technology we are regularly subject to other people’s daily lives….. Well the good bits anyway. There is very rarely a successful post showing a long car journey, a soaked tent or a busy trail, so maybe we have a distorted opinion of what life is really like outside? In reality it’s not Red Bull and high-fives, it’s a lot of effort, discomfort and commitment. Something that in our cushy modern lives we normally don’t have to deal with. So is it just false advertising, is that big scary thing out there all a lie? I can think of quite a few times I have been thankful to get back inside, and times when I thought I would never make it back inside at all. But the great outdoors isn’t a one trick pony, people keep returning despite having all the knowledge about how horrible it can be. In 2017, the European outdoor industry had grown by €600 million since 2015; not only are people going back outside, they’re putting their hard earned cash towards it! But why?

The cigar moment.

A cigar moment is something I discovered during Army cadets, a few years ago now, whilst learning about section attacks. During a section attack there is a lot going on – rounds flying overhead, people all over the place, orders to give – and it can be quite a lot for the section commander to take in. Therefore, at an appropriate time he/she takes a moment, ‘a cigar moment’, to just sit, observe and breathe. It’s a time to take in your surroundings, gather your thoughts and be still for a moment. Maybe, outside the cadet world, even light a cigar. 

To me, moments like this are why I carry on going outside and why I think anyone ever goes outside. I’ve had moments walking the dog, early in the morning where I have stopped and been overwhelmed by my surroundings, the eerie silence, the scenery and the cold breath of air. Equally, walking off Ben Nevis after a day of Scottish ice, with perfect visibility, the sun setting and the thought of a sleeping bag to return to I have had the same feeling. It’s as if the bitter cold, the aching limbs and the early mornings all get forgotten about. After all, how often do you remember the bad days out, and when you do it’s normally laughing and saying, “at least today isn’t as bad as then”. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, as long as you are surrounded by nothingness, having been on an adventure to get there, then you are outdoorsy. 

Image: Marta Miracle

So, what is the hype? Well, I would say it’s the one in a million moment. You don’t want to pull out your phone and photograph it, you just want to appreciate it. You think about being stuck behind a desk at work, or stuck at home, and you think about how all of those problems have somehow disappeared. You know you will have another moment like this soon and that you’ll be equally grateful. You think about how you want to get back out and do it as soon as possible.

Well, when you do, pay us a visit. Share your experiences with us, and we’ll share ours with you. Our kit may even make the grim moments more pleasant, and in the meantime, follow us on Instagram, Facebook and read our blogs.

Now, time for a walk, it might even be good for you…

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