Now more than ever being outside is an important source of joy, peace and healing. I’m trying to take advantage of the flexibility working from home gives me to schedule my days around getting outdoors as much as possible.
Research shows getting outside is not only beneficial for physical and mental health, but can also help give a boost to the immune system as well as reduce stress and anxiety in the body. While there are lots of benefits to being in nature during the pandemic, there are a few important precautions I follow to keep myself and others around me safe.
With travel restrictions and the risks traveling poses for COVID transmission, I’ve avoided even my usual hiking spots a few hours away. In part, this is because rural areas and Native communities have less hospital capacity and health resources. I’m lucky to call the D.C. area my home where there is an abundance of green spaces and wooded areas managed by the National Park Service as well as state and local governments to adventure and explore in. So I’ve used this time to discover all the outside gems steps away from home and it’s been nice to have this time to rediscover my hometown.
As I’ve been adventuring close to home, I’m also gaining a stronger appreciation for what these close to home spaces mean for diversifying the outdoors. These everyday opportunities to connect with nature and get introduced to the joy and fun of the outdoors are crucial to redefining the outdoor narrative – outdoorsy doesn’t have to be conquering the outdoors.
Because it’s possible to transmit COVID even in the outdoors, I follow all CDC and locally recommended social distancing guidelines. As much as possible, I try to maintain six feet of distance from anyone I run into on the trail.
As more people are venturing outside, local trails and parks can get crowded. Also, trails are almost never wide enough to allow six feet of distance. I try to hit the trails during off peak hours (early in the morning, close to dusk, middle of the day, etc.) to ensure I’m not in close contact with a large group of people, especially on really popular hikes. I routinely take a walk on the trail that is literally in my backyard in the middle of my work day because there are less people on the trail and it’s a nice way to break up my day.
Hopefully, this doesn’t need to be said – if you’re not feeling well stay home. If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID make sure to follow CDC and local government guidelines for self-isolation.
Let’s admit it – not many of us find wearing a mask comfortable. Even on an empty trail, I keep my mask in an easily reachable place and wear it when I’m around other people even if they are six feet apart or we’re just briefly crossing paths on the trail.
I’ve long been a fan of using beck gaiters to keep dust and bugs out of my face during backpacking trips. These are incredibly popular face coverings especially among people exercising and doing other outdoor activities. I use them frequently when hiking but also make sure fold it over to ensure it has two layers (guidelines the CDC has provided for optimal masks). That’s tough during the hot and humid months in D.C. when I’m sweating so much that sweat pools around my mouth making it hard to breathe. As a fix around this, I carry a second one or opt to wear a regular mask. On cold days though, these neck gaiters work really well if not for anything else but keeping my face warm.
Please note that I’m not a health expert. These are the safety precautions I take. If you have questions on how to recreate outside responsibly during the pandemic, I encourage you to visit the resources below which are from medical experts.