Solo adventuring can be great—it’s easy to do exactly what you want right when you want to do it. And it’s a perfect time to dive into some introspection and contemplation.
But there’s often no substitute for experiencing a new place with friends. Unfortunately, not everyone has a go-to travel partner, or an available crew to camp with. If you’re looking to expand the number of friends you get outside with, you’ve found the right post.
Your existing group of friends
The first step is to check with the friends you already have. Maybe one of them has been dying to get outside, and just needs someone to suggest a destination. Or maybe you never quite realized that someone loves to hike or camp, but similarly doesn’t have someone to go with. It’s funny how often I see someone post a photo of a hike they did, or a new tent they just bought, and thought to myself, “wow, I didn’t know they enjoyed that sort of thing.” So, ask your friends. Post a few messages on facebook, then mention it at your next happy hour get together. Start here first.
Your existing irl social networks
After you’ve checked with your circle of friends, expand a bit to the other social networks you belong to. Check with your co-workers—the ones you can stand, at least. Check with the folks at your _____________ club, whatever that might be. Work, school, hobbies, parents of your kids’ friends, neighbors, regulars at your gym class…we’re all connected to various groups of people we already somewhat know, each of which may yield some new hiking partners. But only if you ask.
Meetup has been an absolute treasure trove of outdoor clubs for me. I regularly kayak with three groups, day hike with another two, and occasionally jump on backpacking trips led by couple others. But it wasn’t always that way.
A few years ago, I decided that I didn’t have enough backpacking in my life. While several of my friends routinely said they wanted to go, I could never quite pin them down for a trip. So I headed over to Meetup.com and searched for some groups. I found half a dozen that were backpacking-focused and seemed pretty promising, joined each, and took a look at their trip calendars. There was one trip coming up to one of my favorite destinations, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, which requires permits that the trip leader had already secured. They had a spot open, so I RSVP’d yes. A few days later, I was sleeping under cottonwoods gazing at the stars with five people I had just met. They weren’t all going to be future friends, but one of them is. And best of all, I got a fun overnight trip out of it.
A week later, I went with another meetup group that was heading to Havasupai, one of the jewels of the Southwest. I hadn’t been there before, and the permits can be hard to get. It was only four days long, but I made a ton of friends on that trip—many of which are among my most cherished friends today.
Within a week, I was organizing unofficial trips for my new friends and have helped lead trips (and happy hours for connecting with new members) ever since. That group basically became my primary “outdoor adventure” crew, the ones I spent most weekends with. I’m not guaranteeing you a similar outcome, but it’s a common meetup experience I’ve seen so frequently that I’m confident you’ll make some outdoorsy friends if you give it a sustained shot.
“But I’m too shy for that”
Meeting new people and doing a trip with them isn’t necessarily easy or fun for everyone to do. I understand, I do. I generally felt the same way. I’m not an outgoing guy. I’m rarely the popular one in groups. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was worried that there’d be some creep or asshole on the trip that drove me nuts. I was worried that someone might be totally unprepared and we’d have to help him along the whole trip. I was worried I’d be the outcast on the trip, that I just wouldn’t fit in. There were a thousand other worries I had, too. And yet, none of those things happened. Not one. That’s the thing with most fears—your imagination is far worse than what’s likely to actually happen.
If the idea of this simply terrifies you, and you’re unwilling to force yourself to try it just once or twice—no matter how uncomfortable it might seem—then don’t. It’s that simple. Stop reading and focus extra energy on the first two steps, instead. But if you’re intrigued, even just a bit, but still pretty anxious about the idea? Well, I say go for it. Talk a friend into going with you. Start with a group that does a social activity so you can meet the regulars first. You’ll feel less anxiety if you know you can bail during one of these event more easily than an outing in the wilderness. Don’t see any outdoor recreation groups that offer one? Email the organizer and suggest it. Likewise, if you’re a woman and worry about spending a weekend with a bunch of strange, possibly horny, men who might constantly hit on you? Well, email the group organizer and suggest a girls-only trip. There are often ways to mitigate the fears or hesitations you might have. Start slow and work up to an actual outing if you need to. Or do what I did and just thrust yourself into it——like jumping into a cold lake instead of trying to ease your way in. Either way, give it a shot.
But what about small towns?
I should note that I live in Phoenix, a large metro area with great weather, abundant public lands, and plenty of people who enjoy getting outside. You may not live in such a place. You may live in a small town, far from a population center large enough for a single outdoor rec meetup group, let alone the dozens I can choose from. Bummer.
But all is not lost. Try searching for specific destinations instead. In the search box, type the place you want to go (it works best if it’s a somewhat coveted destination). Change the “distance from” your location to “any distance” and select “all meetups” from the options on the right, then look through the results. You may find groups from across the state, or even from across the country, leading trips to that destination. It’s not uncommon for people to join trips being led by groups far from own city.
Check facebook for various hiking or outdoor-related public groups in your area. Often, individuals from these groups will lead hikes or other outings, sometimes formally and sometimes informally. If you don’t see events being mentioned, ask if anyone might want to join you. Even if you don’t have a lot of luck here, you’ll probably enjoy conversing with them anyway. In addition, these facebook groups often offer the side benefit of providing some great ideas on future destinations to explore.
I couldn’t find a kayaking trip scheduled for this Sunday in my normal meetup groups, so I jumped into a new facebook group I recently joined for kayaking the lower Salt River outside of Phoenix. One post and one day later, I have a small group of paddlers joining me on Sunday morning. It turns out that there are often people who would love to join a trip; they just need the suggestion to go. I see this regularly in other hiking facebook groups I belong to. Don’t see an outdoorsy facebook group for your area? Create your own and see what happens.
Other clubs & organizations
You’re probably already familiar with a number of national outdoor/conservation/recreation groups, many of which have a local chapter or partner that’s active in your state. For instance, the Sierra Club in Arizona has a pretty regular calendar of member led-hikes and activities where you’d undoubtedly find others who enjoy the outdoors. Groups like IMBA have lists of local mountain biking clubs you could get involved in. American Hiking Society has a similar list of hiking groups. Hike it Baby has a network of local branches offering outings for families. There are obvious too many to list here, but a quick search will likely uncover plenty of local groups to investigate.
There are a number of new female-focused hiking groups springing up recently, such as Hike Like A Woman. Some of these are set up as national networks with local chapters—often with one or more local ambassadors—that organize hikes and other events.
There are also a number of local or regional outdoors groups, too—and even some outdoor retailers that offer women-focused events. REI’s Force of Nature program also hosts a number of classes and events geared specifically for women. Other organizations, such as Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, OutVentures, and Unlikely Hikers host events for communities often underrepresented out on the trail. I’ve listed just a small sample of the groups out there, so spend some time googling in your local area.
An often overlooked place for finding outdoor clubs is community colleges. Student orgs can be pretty hit-or-miss and don’t always persist thru the summer, but it’s worth checking your local community colleges for any active groups. The community college crowd usually has a much wider age distribution than four-year universities. So while you’ll likely find many twenty-somethings in these clubs, you won’t seem totally out of place even if you’re 40-something.
Guided hikes & volunteer projects
In the suggestions below, the goal is to connect with others who enjoy the outdoors and who also live in your area. Since these things can vary greatly depending on where you live, you’ll need to do a bit of digging to see what’s available in your own area.
Some outdoor outfitters, like REI, offer various outings and outdoor ed classes. If you’re anything like me, these are your people. It shouldn’t be hard to get a conversation going about various trails or destinations, which provides a perfect segue into a “sounds great, so when do you want to go?” comment. Climbing gyms are also great places to make some new friends, though not everyone who climbs indoors enjoys outdoor activities.
Volunteer service projects on our public lands, such as trail maintenance or trash cleanups, can also be a great way to meet people who enjoy the outdoors. Not only might you make some new hiking friends, but you’ll be giving back to the outdoor community. Check in with your local land manager for opportunities near you. You might also want to contact local outdoor outfitters, conservation groups, and “friends of” groups, which often sponsor or organize volunteer service projects, too.
If you have a county or regional park system, you might want to see if they do any guided or interpretative outings. You’ll want to focus on places where locals routinely go, not the more touristy destinations that might attract out-of-towners. For instance, most visitors to metro Phoenix probably don’t even know about the Maricopa County Regional Park system, so they’re unlikely to attend their events. That might not be the case for nearby Lost Dutchman State Park, which sees its fair share of tourists given its popular RV campground and proximity to the famed Superstition Mountains Wilderness.
Some cities and counties also run their own outdoor programs through their respective recreation departments. Many times these are focused on general exercise and fitness, but plenty of them also include outdoor recreation activities—especially in places with urban mountain preserves and other outdoor rec opportunities.
Other social media networks
If you’re a regular user of social media, especially open networks like instagram and twitter, then you probably “know” quite a few people. That is, you follow them, they follow you, and you at least occasionally have some sort of conversation with them. Well, maybe it’s time to meet in person for a hike!
Sure, distance is often an issue for these sorts of relationships; these networks are worldwide, after all. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put a little energy into following more people in your own area. It’s particularly easy to do this on instagram. Simply search by some local hashtags and you’re bound to find others who enjoy the outdoors. It might take some time to develop an online relationship with the people you find, but it’s a quick and easy way to find fellow hikers. Like facebook groups, you’re also sure to learn about some outdoor gems in your area. Oh, and feel free to give me a follow on twitter or instagram while you’re at it.
An important note on “meeting people from the internet”
Nope, this isn’t a cautionary disclaimer. It’s the opposite, actually. Sure, you should be safe when it comes to people you don’t know. That’s true whether they’re people you meet at the grocery store, on the internet, or at your local church.
But, here’s the thing. Most people are just fine. Sure, some can be socially awkward. Some are weird. Some are even creepy. And anytime your spidey sense alarm goes off, it’s best to pay attention. But the vast, vast majority of people are perfectly safe to spend time with, especially in a larger group setting—whether or not you’ve met them on the internet.
Fifty years ago, it was perfectly acceptable to make friends at the bowling alley, back when being in a bowling league was far more common. But let’s face it, it really wasn’t much different than meeting someone from the internet. They were a complete stranger, you got connected because of a shared interest, and here you are doing stuff together in real life. It’s basically the same thing as what happens with meetup, except that now you can actually stalk their profile a bit before you ever show up. And that’s just one of many precautions not available to previous eras.
The internet is a fabulous tool for finding people with similar interests as you. For finding your tribe.
The bottom line
If you want to make outdoorsy friends, you live in the very best era to do so. Go on, make it happen!
Jessica Schultz took the featured image, as well as the one of our group at Havasupai. She’s currently adventuring around the West in her Airstream full-time. Follow her on instagram or at CampfireHappy. You’ll be happy you did.
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