Three simple outdoor guidelines

I have many posts I have written over the years. I’m going to try to get in the habit of re-posting some of the ones that hold up well, covering some of the key outdoor skills or values, etc. Here’s the first one –


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Over the years, many outdoor “experts” will state the rules for the outdoors.

Lists to take, techniques to perform, etiquette that must always be followed, and gear to acquire.

Rules as absolutes.

Instead, I’ve found that there are three simple guidelines to follow that are helpful. They seem to hold up in all situations for the outdoors.

Works for me, anyway.


  • Be safe

That does not mean avoiding outdoor activities that push the envelope, but doing so within your own skills levels, within the environment appropriately, and with the appropriate planning, logistics, and calculated risks understood.

I am a solid 5.6 climber when following. I would not attempt The Diamond nor free-solo any of the FlatIrons.   On the other hand,  I am comfortable backpacking off-trail, performing third-class scrambling, and can read a map reasonably well. Backing solo in these conditions is perfectly safe for me; it may not be for others.

Be smart about it and go on trips that are safe for you.

  • Be courteous of others and their experience

Basically: Don’t let your fun impact on other’s enjoyment of the outdoors

Enjoy music on the trail? Cool. Perhaps use some air buds.

Want to make a phone call to a loved one? Doing so discretely and perhaps not at a scenic overlook is polite.

Love to ride some sweet single tracks? Awesome. Ride where it is allowed and be courteous to fellow trail users.

Have a dog? Please keep it on a leash where leash laws are mandated, especially in a crowded trail area.

I have had hunters thank us when we wear our orange clothing.

Don’t have the proper gear, training, or experience for an outdoor activity? Get a friend to come along or modify your plans so the SAR groups don’t have to come and get you out.

Hunting season? Wear some safety orange so hunters can see you correctly.

You get the idea.

As the old libertarian nugget goes:   “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

Applies to a lot of life, too.

  • Have fun

Another loose definition.

Pushing the limits physically is something many people enjoy.

Others like to saunter and take many breaks by lakes or scenic overlooks.

Both are great because it is something people enjoy doing.

Checking a box off a list and being miserable about it? With limited free time, life is too short to do something not enjoyed. Unless you find that fun, of course. 🙂

Hiking a steep talus field can be fun!

***These are just some guidelines I’ve found helpful over the years.

Maybe they’ll work for you.

Originally published July 2016

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Jarrett Morgan
7 years ago

Great guidelines. I think people would do well to have these in the back of their minds. Another guideline I try to follow is be calm. I love being out in nature and firmly believe there aren’t a lot of reasons to leave a calm state.

Robert Ballou
Robert Ballou
10 months ago

Amen to all that you’ve said. Over the 35+ years that my wife and I backpacked the Sierra Nevada we found great joy in getting off the beaten path in a safe manner to enjoy the solitude of the high country (best at 10,000 ft or more) when conditions allowed. It’s why we are ardent members of the Church of the Rock…the higher the rock the better.

Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
10 months ago

Courtesy may include not only regard for others, but acts of simple kindness. A few years ago, I was struggling toward the end of the first day of a long walk in a remote area, when I passed a middle aged woman going the other way. Her few words of encouragement lightened my load and my attitude considerably, and I will always be grateful.