Guidelines for Responsible Outdoor Adventures During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus walking alone
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The collective outdoor community, from distance hikers escaping for weeks on end to urbanite weekend warriors, is predicated on the same thing: the feeling of freedom. Whether it’s a day-hike in the Sierras, a week-long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters, or an expedition around the world, outdoor enthusiasts like to push limits. So, clearly, staying home is a tall order.

But, in the midst of the largest public health crisis in modern history, our collective behavior needs to change, and change quickly. Politics aside, a near consensus of epidemiologists (experts on the spread of disease), agree that we necessarily need to isolate ourselves to stem the spread of COVID-19, for weeks if not months. The only exceptions to this rule are significant others and housemates. That’s it.

These limitations come with massive economic implications, among other complicated challenges. Many people, myself included, are hoping to stay healthy and still get outside within the sedentary constraints of the current lockdown. ‘Responsible adventuring’ is trending, but what does it really mean? Here are our five new rules to stay ethically active in the outdoors, helping to keep you and others safe in the age of the coronavirus.

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It’s still OK to run outside

Or walk, hike, bike, and ski. The important caveat is that you should run by yourself or with just one other, and only if you live with that person. Running shouldn’t be an excuse to catch up with a friend or a good way to date your Bumble match. Just a healthy break from reality that still requires you to stay six feet away from everyone, even while outside.


Keep it casual

Now is not the time to ski an epic line or set a stout FKT. There are a couple reasons for keeping it low-key. First, avoiding big risks helps lower the number of hospital visits unrelated to coronavirus, giving those who are sick a better chance to survive. Your risky decisions could lead to added stress on the system in the event a search-and-rescue team needs to be called in (for this reason, many avalanche centers across the U.S. are closing in an effort to keep backcountry skiers at home). Second, intense training weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to contract COVID-19, be affected more severely, and have long-term heart and lung damage.

Start from your door

Now is a great time to learn to live without your car, other than necessities like grocery runs. Instead of driving to the trailhead or spending the weekend out of the city in a quaint mountain town like Bishop or Moab, try exploring your own neighborhood. Travel increases our ability to spread an infection, often putting smaller communities with fewer resources at risk. Even driving to a state park an hour from your house increases the chance you run into others on the trail. The best thing we all can do is keep it ultra-local for the time being.

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Avoid crowds

This means avoiding popular trails, parks, and running routes, and trying to run, walk, or bike at less busy times. Some states are even closing parks and beaches to proactively prevent this happening. The purpose for avoiding crowds is pretty clear: staying six feet apart from everyone else is impossible when a destination is crowded, regardless of the effort to get there. That advice extends logically to popular climbing routes and bouldering crags. While you’re at it, try to avoid trailhead railings, benches, and public water fountains, because they likely have been touched by hundreds if not thousands of others. So when you pack your gear for a day outside, don’t forget that hand sanitizer too.


Embrace R&R

A good training plan does two things: stresses the body and provides time to recover. Most of our training for big objectives in mind takes care of the first part, though it’s not so great at the second. There’s no better time than now. We all have a unique opportunity to relax, reset, and plan for the next big adventure. It can be hard to embrace sitting still, but it’ll make all of us appreciate the next time we get to spend an extended period in the backcountry.

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— See more recent adventure dispatches from Cochrane, including a recent wilderness journey dog sledding across the Boundary Waters, plus coverage of life on an Alaskan crab boat, the Baja 1000, and an emergency canyon evacuation deep in the Mexican jungle.

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