In the outdoor community, the stories we hear about most often are about extreme rock climbing, mountain biking, heli-skiing, and multi-day backpacking trips. It makes sense–people are drawn to the wow factor of it all. But the saturation of outdoor stories by the extreme end of the spectrum perpetuates this notion that if an outdoor activity doesn’t reach a certain level of athletic achievement, the person pursuing it doesn’t qualify as an “outdoorsperson.”
Slowly but surely though, “outdoorsperson” is taking on a broader definition—one that’s more open-minded. One way the term outdoorsperson is expanding is through the acknowledgement of urban adventuring as an outdoor activity. Urban adventuring is the act of exploring outdoor spaces and features of a city by foot, bike, or even rollerblade. But what does urban adventuring actually look like for people living in metropolitan areas? We talked to a few outdoorspeople to find out.
The Misconceptions of the Term “Outdoorsperson”
While the traditional vision of an “outdoorsperson” typically involves someone in technical gear scrambling up the spine of a mountain, for people in big cities across the country, that’s simply not the case. Over in Atlanta, GA, Joel Perkins–a dog dad, alpine ski enthusiast, and realtor–turns to urban adventuring as his main form of getting outside. While as a new skier, Joel loves getting out west whenever he can, he acknowledges that getting into a new outdoor activity can be a little daunting. “[In the outdoor community] there’s this underlying ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way to be outside,” he says. “You meet people in the outdoor industry and they are hardcore, so that absolutely can be a little bit intimidating.”
Getting outside as a city dweller may seem even more daunting if you didn't grow up exploring nature, like Aika Danayeva, a lawyer and Kazakhstan native living in Brooklyn. Aika recently completed a four-day, 40-mile backpacking trip in southern Utah, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she started spending time in the wilderness. “There is absolutely no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be outside,” Aika says. “When you put a label on it, it immediately alienates those who may not be able to do it or may not have the financial means. It's an elitist and, frankly, outdated point of view. ” That outdated point of view is still prevalent, but it’s starting to fade as the outdoor community continues to grow.
Exploring Your Own Backyard
Most Americans living in urban areas don’t have the time or the access to get outside of the city. And a lot of people weren’t brought up with traditional outdoor experiences or lack the means to purchase expensive outdoor gear. This can create a barrier to entry for becoming that “V5 climbing, 14er hiking, double black diamond skiing” kind of outdoorsperson.
For Joel over in Georgia, urban exploring has become a big pastime for him and his 11-year-old dog Samson. “We're probably out at least an hour every night wandering through neighborhoods,” he shares. “I love the opportunity [urban adventuring] has to draw out a whole group of people who live in cities and don't have access to jump in the car to ski or hike.”
Aika also likes to explore the city with her dog, Atlas. Together, they meander around surrounding neighborhoods, meet up with friends, and check out nearby parks. It’s a big misconception that there aren’t spaces to escape to in New York, but Aika explains that, “There are definitely trails around the city. We live close to Prospect Park and go there daily.” Everyone knows Central Park, but through her urban adventuring, she’s discovered additional hidden gems like Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan and Forest Park in Queens. She’s also fortunate enough to have a car that she and her husband use to drive out to nearby state parks whenever they have the chance.
Pictured: Aika, second from left, and friends exploring a local park with their pups.
While there are some instances in which urban dwellers can escape the city and get deep into nature, it’s not always the norm, and the reality is that most utilize their local neighborhoods and parks to get outdoors. As Joel explains, “You can still get out and experience the world around you in your own backyard. It doesn't make you less of an outdoorsperson if you aren't scaling the sides of mountains.”
The Benefits of Urban Adventuring
Studies show that spending time outside–whether it’s walking around a city or hiking in the mountains–can reduce stress, improve sleep, uplift mood, sharpen focus, and boost immunity. “It allows you to break out of a rut,” Aika adds.
Plus, something that urban adventuring offers that hiking can’t, is connecting more with the city around you. It leads you to restaurants and shops that don’t always show up in a Google search, which is great for people like Aika and Joel who like to keep it local. “From finding dog-friendly restaurants and bars to meeting new people and finding new art galleries–the list goes on,” Aika says of the possibilities exploring the city unlocks.
Pictured: Joel and Samson on one of their daily strolls.
One of Joel’s favorite dog-walking discoveries is a niche spot he found nearby: “There's this crêpe place in this old house and I just opened the door one day and asked, ‘Can I order outside?’ Because I had Samson with me.” Their tasty crêpes are what hooked him, but the kindness and flexibility there are what keep him coming back.
The long and the short of it is that you don’t need to summit Denali or climb the Half-Dome in Yosemite to connect with the outdoors. All you need to do is go outside and enjoy–wherever and however that may be. As Joel says, “Be who you are and if you want to get out and explore in the city, do you.”
5 Tips for Urban Exploring
Inspired to get out there in the great urban outdoors? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Rent an e-bike. Available in most large cities through companies like Lyft, Lime, GREENbike, and more. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and get your legs moving.
Take a food tour. With a quick online search, you can find a wide variety of walking food tours in many metropolitan areas. Find delicious eats and discover new places along the way.
Do a pub crawl. As long as you’re doing it safely and responsibly, pub crawls are a fun way to explore new areas, taste local beers, and meet new people.
Go geocaching. It’s something a lot of us did as kids, but forgot about as adults. This is another great and unique way to get out and explore the city.
Check out an app like AllTrails. Yes, even in cities like Atlanta and New York, you can find some dirt. AllTrails can help you seek out the local parks if you need an escape from the concrete jungle.
Need some gear for your urban adventures? Check out our Cada Día Packs for everyday storage made with recycled materials, our recycled fleece for extra warmth, and our bestselling Fuegos outerwear for the chilliest days exploring the city.
Caroline Maahs is a writer based in Salt Lake City, UT. Follow along on IG @carolinemaahs