This article is written for you girls out there who love the outdoors but think that they ‘haven’t got the right stuff’ to be considered an ‘Outdoors Girl’. An image Reese Witherspoon in the 2014 film ‘Wild’ comes to mind (not the best example, I know)…yet the ‘outdoors’ is so diverse and can be defined in so many ways.

Sure, walking on the beach is considered outdoors, but my definition would be more specific: Someone who could depend on themselves and limited resources in an unfamiliar natural environment.

This isn’t an article on how to survive outdoors; let’s leave that to Bear Grylls (Or maybe not…haha!) So, how do you really get out of your comfort zone to go on a hike with your gear in your rucksack and pitch a tent for the night? Or how do you start to plan a kayak trip? A solo cycling tour? Without touching on any details of these activities, let us focus on creating a foundation for your newly acquired Outdoors Life:

  • Do 30 squats a day, or at least every other day.

    So, what do squats have to do with the outdoors? Apart from strengthening your hamstrings and tightening your gluts, squats are essential to any girl who finds herself outdoors. Why? Because we all need to pee at some point. Yes, there are She-Wees, portable loos, and other weird and wonderful inventions around – but truthfully, I have never felt the need for one. Strong legs mean you could hold a squat almost anywhere. This counts for a lot of awkward places we might encounter while travelling: squat toilets, dirty toilets, no toilets. A hillside, a rocky outcropping, under a tree, behind the rental 4×4, or in desperation – next to the campervan.

    While doing the squat exercises, also exercise your pelvic floor. This helps with focusing your mind and will help you buy a little time to find some privacy where you could do your business. It also means that when you release your stream, it won’t dribble all over. Sorry…a bit graphic but it’s true!

  • Learn how to dig a proper hole.

    As if talking about the ‘pee stream’ was not enough…yes we have to deal with our poop too! The best thing for outdoor poop is to bury them. You can carry a small hand trowel with you (get a metal one!) and dig a decent hole deep enough so that animals won’t access what you leave behind. I find having squeezy bottle filled with water dedicated to this use helps to clean the underside. Use a little toilet paper if you must, bury it with some dry leaves mixed in. Another option is to water it down until it breaks down; but this wastes precious water. DO NOT use wipes, unless these are guaranteed 100% biodegradable. MOST wipes on the market DO NOT BIODEGRADE. I find it terrible when I walk along a trail and I see a pile of used tissue – someone has obviously wiped and decided to leave the tissue behind. Bury them, or better yet, take them with you and dispose of them properly later on…maybe when you build your camp fire.

  • Invest in some decent footwear: one pair of lightweight hiking boots and a pair of flip-flops.

    In my recent adventures, I have not felt the need to have any other type of footwear (unless I was scuba diving). Flip flops are great all-rounders. The simple rubber ones are inexpensive, usually well-made (although Havaianas have proven very comfy and sturdy) and they are comfortable to walk in for tropical adventures. In an emergency situation in Coron (Philippines), I bought knock-offs for PHP130 (US$2.50). Obviously if you’re doing something more specialised than hiking or walking, then you should research on the right footwear for your chosen adventures. I bought Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX shoes that I’ve owned for over a couple of years now. They are light, lined with GoreTex, very comfortable, and quick-drying in case a bit of moisture cascades down into the shoe. I’ve walked through shallow streams and slippery coasts with them, they kept my feet dry and warm…I could wear mine all day. I would recommend fitting various shoes first though, as every make has a different fit and what suits me may not necessarily suit you.

     

     

    Summer Isles, Scotland

  • Learn how to read a map, and orientate yourself.

    More important than reading a map is proper orientation. People that know me well will laugh at this portion of the article because they know I am terrible at this (except at sea; for some reason, I am a decent sailing navigator and not bad underwater). If I am asked, ‘which way is so and so?’ and I am known to point a certain direction…I warn them of the possibility that it might be the complete opposite direction of where they want to be. Hey, at least I’m consistent! In all seriousness, ORIENTATION is very important to going the right direction. Take note of landmarks, contours, where north/south is. If you need some guidance on this, check out Tristan Gooley’s website and book. It may not apply to everywhere but the principles are a good foundation. Useful apps I have tested myself are Google Maps (download offline maps), MotionX GPS, and ViewRanger.

  • Get a grip on basic natural navigation.

    This is a follow-up on map reading. I already mentioned Tristan Gooley’s resources, and I am sure there are tons others. But the most important thing I would share with you from my experience of getting lost is to ALWAYS LOOK BACK. Yes, we always move forward, but I have found so much value in always looking where I came from (and this applies to life too I guess!) This does not mean dwell on the past – haha – just turn around and remember how it looks like…because if you ever want to find your way back, your photographic memory will serve you well. Know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and it helps to know some constellations.

  • Exercise minimalism on your toiletries.

    Yes, I get it. We are girls and we like toiletries. But they’re so bloody heavy! Ditch the piles of make-up, hygiene wash, conditioner…or any other peripherals. Be conscious of taking eco-friendly products with you. I am still learning through trial and error. Here is a list of stuff I take with me on a regular basis; I am sure other girls have a shorter list, but let’s be kind to ourselves and go slowly:

    • Sunscreen: I use a zinc stick (natural and not harmful to sea life) and have tried Human Heart Nature’s Sunblock, a Philippine-made eco-friendly brand. I travelled to Costa Rica with this and it worked very well; I did not get burnt (although I have skin that can tan well, my Caucasian friends also used it and loved it.) Just take one form of sunscreen you can use on your face and body.
    • Coconut Oil in a Jar: I cannot get enough of this awesome stuff. I mix this with my chosen sunscreen to add a layer of moisture and water-repellence, I mix it with citronella and lemongrass essential oils for a natural insect repellent, I use it as a lip balm, hair treatment after lots of salt water exposure…I cook with it! The ‘jar’ is important, as I have learned the hard way…I had it in a bottle that I refill, and in temperatures below 25C it just goes solid. With a jar, you can still access the solid oil. It also has an SPF rating! Check out more uses for coconut oil here. Secret to good skin? Slather yourself with coconut oil…and avoid stress. Hah. Best bit of all, people come up to you and say you smell good – in a non-creepy way :-)
    • Natural Toothpaste: I struggle with this one, I like the convenience of a toothpaste tube, but when being a bit more eco-conscious, it is not easy to justify more use of plastic. You can give yourself a break and carry a tube of natural toothpaste, but if you want to be waste-free, another small jar of baking soda, peppermint oil, and coconut oil mixed into a paste should be more than enough to give you sparkly teeth. There’s another recipe here.
    • Shampoo that doubles up as a body wash: Ditch those shampoos you see on TV. I opted for a natural gugo shampoo, that allowed me to wash in the rivers and seas guilt-free. There are a lot of alternative shampoos around – refill your bottles and use less plastic, or even just rub your scalp with baking soda now and again to give it a clean. I used my shampoo for my body too…made no difference, and one less bottle to carry!
    • Natural Bar Soap: This is a good alternative to the shampoo-body wash, because it is dry and does not require plastic. You can also get shampoo bars, but a natural soap with moisturising oils will work well, and I also use it to wash my clothes.
    • Menstrual Cup: Some of you will be like, a what?! Especially in Asia, menstrual cup use is not very common. And the unfortunate thing is, the population in Asia is well over that in the west! Menstrual cups free you from harmful bleaching chemicals found in tampons, sanitary pads, and liners. Ever since converting to one almost a year ago, I have not looked back: no awkward irritation, more hygienic, no waste. Yes, they are pricey but all you need to do is a simple calculation and you’ll get your investment back in no time. The challenge is just having to go over the initial discomfort. An alternative is using washable pads and liners (check out Party in my Pants) – but I have found these slightly unreliable in more active situations…so I use a combination of the two, the cotton pads used at night and as liners during the day.
    • If you really must – make-up: I am not really an advocate of make-up. I don’t use much and never really have, even being 34 years old. But if you really must – do it minimally…sometimes I want to be super minimal –  I take one pencil of waterproof eyeliner. When I am in an urban environment, I use a little more; but generally, I am more than happy to leave make-up behind. If you’re trying to impress someone, hopefully they’ve got the capacity to appreciate you for your natural beauty – if not, forget them.
    • Natural Deodorant: I haven’t used a commercial chemical deodorant for several years. It is now easier to acquire crystal deodorant (we have been using this in the Philippines for centuries), all it needs is a bit of water and rub it on your pits. A stick can last years. You could also use your baking soda mixes, and coconut oil helps deodorise, because it has anti-bacterial properties. It’s OK to sweat. It’s healthy and natural to sweat through your pits…just minimise the smell naturally!

My ‘extended’ make-up items (this is pretty much all I own); ‘green’ toothpaste; bamboo toothbrush; coconut oil+citronella+lemongrass; crystal deo bar; bar soap; shampoo+body wash

  • Learn how to light a fire.

    I cannot stress this enough. The first time I stoked my own fire, it was so useless because I could not cook anything on it. I did not even get my charcoal hot enough to heat my rice buns. I did not have enough kindling…so any effort I put into lighting the wood just went to waste.

    Go camping with outdoorsy friends, join an outdoor social group, or find a ‘real man’ that can start a fire. Ask them to teach you. Once you get the balance of kindling and wood, you’re off to a great start…then it’s just a matter of keeping the fire alive long enough for you to get into your warm sleeping bag. REMEMBER not to start a fire in very dry surroundings, and if you have to, make sure there is no wind and surround the fire with lots of rocks…you do not want to start a forest or bush fire!!!

  • Plan your meals.

    This is quite personal, because we all have our food preferences. But my general advice is pack some cured and dry meat or fish, if you are into dehydrating your food , this is great. I have made myself some soup and pasta mixes with dried veg, mushrooms, natural powdered flavouring, a bit of sesame or coconut oil, carried these in zip bags and took some dry udon noodles and pasta with me. I always plan for meals: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner, coffee or tea. I do not compromise on my food, while others are happy to eat rice cakes all day. Of course, the best thing to do also is learn how to forage – there’s so much goodness and nutrition out there, but this is more advanced, and just don’t forget what happened to Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild (biographical film 2007).

     

     

    Cooking the homemade soup mix in water from a nearby stream: all dried – wild mushroom, leeks, onion, garlic, powdered vegetarian bouillon, brown sugar, sesame oil, and a dash of soy sauce.

  • Practice pitching your tent, or your chosen form of a bed for the night.

    Very basic – but think about how to pitch your tent and practice pitching and packing it. Face the reality that it won’t always be sunny when you pitch or pack a tent. Find the most efficient way to do this. I always pitch the outer layer first so I have shelter, then install the inner layer. I’ve slept in a small coffin-like tent, a hammock, and have friends that use bivvy bags…choose your style. I like lightweight tents with some space for my stuff. If you want to be a minimalist, you can pack a hammock and tarp. Or just a tarp, some cord, and a camping bed, like my beloved EXPED Downmat. Depending on which latitude you find yourself, you might need a bug net or a warm sleeping bag. I find I can compromise on the tent – I can sleep in a hammock and or stretch out at the back of my rental car…I’ve slept on a rock with my mat, with just the stars over my head.

     

     

    Cycle Touring & Wild Camping Sunset: Outer Hebrides, Scotland

  • Get rid of your aversion to dirt.

    Enough said…you WILL get dirty. Deal with it. Dirt will find itself between your nails, you might even think you have a fantastic tan but when you go for a wash you realise that it’s just a layer of dust! Dirt is part of the adventure. Go on, give someone a wet, muddy hug.

     

     

    Post-rain meal…Muddy and Hungry: Solo Cycling from Reading to Bristol

  • Learn basic first aid.

    I carry a small first aid kit with me for minor injuries. I added some anti-histamine cream, some antacids, antihistamines tablets, and if the kit does not include first aid antibiotic cream, this might come in handy. For extended trips, it might help to take a short first aid course.

  • Know that it’s okay to get lost…most of the time.

    Like I mentioned above with orientation and natural navigation, sometimes we get lost. It happens – you might lose your way (I do, often!) but the important thing to do is not to let panic set in. If you’re on a multi-day adventure, you know you can camp out anywhere for the night because you have all your stuff with you. If you are on a day hike, you know you are not too far away from where you started. Before setting off, study the route well. Listen for other people’s voices. If you are going alone, make sure you tell a RELIABLE friend or family member where you are going, and what time or when to expect you back. Mark your trail if you want to.

    If I know phone signal might be weak, I give them all the necessary information and what to do if they don’t hear from me at the given time or date. Again, I will point out the unfortunate circumstance in the film 127 Hours (2010), based on a true story of climber Aron Ralston. He did not get lost, but he fell and disappeared for a few days. He was luckier than Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild 2007), but he had to do some pretty harrowing things to himself to survive. I do not wish this upon anyone – but all I can say is be daring, but don’t be stupid…listen to your gut instinct. If you don’t feel comfortable about something, or if someone is pressuring you to do something you do not want to do, just don’t do it.

  • Care for the environment.

    Today, it is difficult to avoid an extensive carbon footprint. Although I walked and cycled to work for almost 10 years, recently I have been flying all over the place, and hire cars when I know I have a limited time to travel a country.  The only consolation is the thought that everywhere I go, I try to make a little difference.

    Try a few of these changes: Don’t use straws, eat less takeaways – or if you must, bring your own tubs or tiffins for them to fill. Take a refillable bottle with you. If you must buy bottled water, buy a big one and refill this when you can have access to clean water. Try making your own natural products to use. Cycle or walk rather than drive. Don’t buy packaged vegetables. Pick up rubbish. There are so many small ways we can really do our part for this world, our home.

     

     

    Washed up plastic collected from a quiet beach in Sabtang, Batanes, Philippines

  • Notice the little things.

    The best thing about being out in nature – is looking up, down, and all around. Stopping now and again to appreciate the wind coursing through the leaves, the sounds…the sun shining through the canopy…the sunset, the shooting stars. Little insects going about their business. Birds flying across the branches.

    People that walk with me probably think I am a weirdo when I stop mid-sentence and just start staring at something, or burst out with a comment at how beautiful a random rock is, or in wonder at how old a tree might be…or run to a bunch of ferns to give them a ruffle.

    Thing is, the chances are – that present moment will never be the same. Noticing surroundings takes you into the present, and gives you a break from your worries or anxieties, your responsibilities. We need to nurture the curious child within us. In nature, none of us are ‘grown ups’.

     

     

    Lichen on Rocks: Achiltibuie, near Ullapool, Scotland

This is a pretty full-on article, and yet it barely scratches the surface. I will write articles on specific things like camping food, pack lists, gear. But for now, hopefully this helps you to pick-and-choose a few things that you want to take on to prepare you for an outdoor adventure. The best way to get out there is really to just DO IT.

Do not heed to unreasonable criticism from people that do not know what they are talking about. That’s how I learned: often the hard way…but hey, I am still alive and always testing those comfort zones. I have not had horrible experiences, and I have always found great people to help me along. Us humans have an innate link to nature and we cannot deny ourselves this. Money, clothes, cars, big houses can only give us temporary satisfaction…nature takes us within, and there, we find true happiness.

You didn’t come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here. – Alan Watts

 

Hike down after an awesome multi-pitch climb: Arapiles, Victoria, Australia