5 Ways to Learn Outdoor Skills as an Adult

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Okay, so you weren’t exactly Mr. or Mrs. Adventure growing up, and all your memories of summer camp are hazy at best. If asked to pitch a tent, let alone a climbing rope, you’d fumble around and curse yourself you didn’t join the scouts as a kid.

This is a common experience in our increasingly urbanized and digital world. And yet, it seems, more people than ever are drawn to the outdoors—they just don’t know what to do when they get there. If you’re a rank novice—no shame there—reading outdoor mags and websites can be intimidating rather than enlightening: any more jargon and you’re going to toss your magazine into the trash. (We try not to fall into that trap, but you know…)

Don’t be discouraged, though. The outdoors don’t belong to the experts.

It’s still possible to pick up the essential skills of whatever pursuit you choose—mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, etc.—even if you’re desk-bound 40 hours a week and you spend more time on Netflix than planning your next adventure. The key is getting a little hands-on help from someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Here are a few pointers:

1. Check with your local outfitter for classes and clinics.
Sure, you can buy gear online, but Amazon can’t show you how to use it. Whether it’s your local REI or your local bike shop, almost anywhere that specializes in selling outdoor bling offers classes and clinics—or free advice, if you go to the right place. After all, it’s in their best interest. Bike shops, like BicycleSPACE in Washington, D.C., hold bike-maintenance clinics and host group rides where you can hook up with new cycling buddies. Paddling shops, like New York Kayak in Manhattan, offer paddling 101 classes and guided tours. And of course there’s REI, which has a constantly changing calendar with everything from overnight backpacking classes to an introduction to rock climbing.

2. Take lessons.
It can be a great investment to learn from an expert until you feel ready to head out on your own. Want to learn to climb? Find a climbing gym. Learn to surf? Find a surf school or accredited instructor. Paddle? Check the American Canoe Association’s directory. Whatever you want to do, there’s somebody who teaches it for a living.

3. Learn on vacation.
Any place that sits at the intersection of the outdoors and tourism—ski resorts, gateway towns, beach towns, etc.—likely has a full complement of rental shops, guided tours and instructors ready to serve anyone and everyone with cash to burn. Never skied before? Here’s your chance. Never been kayak touring? Book that family-friendly float tour for a taste of what’s involved, and then ask your guide where you can learn more. It’s what your vacation is for, so take advantage.

4. Join a club or group outing.
Finding like-minded folks who want to explore the outdoors is a good way to make friends and learn a thing or two. Meetup.com is a great resource that lets you search for groups by activity and location. If you belong to an alumni organization or religious group, check to see if it organizes group outings. Check with your local trail organization for a list of hiking clubs. Or find a company, like Discover Outdoors in NYC, that leads affordable small-group outings and overnight trips.

5. Enlist friends.
Chances are you know someone into backpacking or mountain biking or canoe poling—okay, maybe not the last one. The key is not to be shy. You want to learn. Your Facebook friend knows how. Ask him or her, and you might end up with an actual friend and some new skills, too.


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