8 Tips for Being an Outdoor Beginner and a Good Adventure Buddy

Being a good adventure buddy is often a key aspect of finding a mentor or getting involved in an outdoor recreation community. Unfortunately, the very idea of being a group member can be intimidating to many of us. We all want to be the person who gets invited on exciting trips, the one who people are always calling up. How do you manage this if you feel you’re less experienced, slower, less charismatic, worse at planning, etc.? The truth is that you don’t need to carry the heaviest pack, have the best outdoor skills, or do all the planning in order to be a good adventure buddy.

For some people, being a fun group member comes naturally. For others, it’s a little more difficult. Personally, while working as a guide I had to compensate for my quiet demeanor by asking people lots of questions about their lives and by being especially knowledgeable about the environment around me. People remembered me in a completely different way than they remembered my hilarious, extroverted coworkers, but that’s okay. Although being a group member is very different from being a guide, I’ve found that a lot of the same tips and tricks really help me be a great member of an adventure team.

1. Bring extra snacks or a beverage to share

This one tops my list because it’s super easy to do and it can make a huge difference for your role in the group. If you bring a bit of extra candy or a handful of dried fruit for everyone in the group, you get to be that generous soul doling out Reese’s Pieces on top of the mountain. Another great thing about bringing snacks is that they can be pretty cheap and they don’t weigh much in your backpack.

Bringing a hot or cold beverage is slightly more difficult, because it requires owning a large vessel such as a thermos and some extra plastic cups. In addition, liquids are heavy. However, if you have the resources and you can handle the extra weight in your pack (or your adventure doesn’t require carrying stuff around!), busting out a thermos of iced tea or hot chocolate is super luxurious and can really put some pep in everyone’s step.

2. Speak up when you need something

In a group setting, especially for more dangerous activities, assertive communication is a critical skill for a reliable group member. Many people might hesitate to speak up for fear of looking wimpy, but the reality for a group adventure is that passive communication and machismo are at best unhelpful and at worst a serious liability.

When you need something, do your best to proactively speak up and ask for it. Your buddies will probably be happy that you mentioned you want a snack because they’re feeling a little hungry too, or perhaps by mentioning that you need to stop and adjust your bootlaces you prevent an ankle sprain later in the day. When you encourage this assertive communication, you also contribute to a group culture in which others feel more comfortable speaking up for themselves – all of which adds up to a happier, safer adventure and a close-knit group.

I know that, for some folks, asking assertively for what you need requires contradicting a lifetime of cultural teaching that you need to keep quiet in order to be tough. It can be genuinely difficult to counteract this, but I promise it gets easier with practice.

3. Don’t be a grumblebug in uncomfortable situations

Yup, it’s raining all right. And as soon as it’s done raining, the sun’s going to come out and roast your group like a bunch of kale chips in a pizza oven. This is worth mentioning to your group if you have legitimate safety concerns about overheating (see my point above about proactive communication), but if it’s not a potentially dangerous situation you should do your best not to cross the line from discussing to complaining. Everybody is in the same boat as you, and they don’t need to be reminded of how uncomfortable they are. Besides, you’ll almost certainly have more fun if you focus on the more positive parts of your experience.

4. Ask lots of questions

This tip is really intended for the quieter folks among us. It’s okay not to be the most charismatic person in the group, but it does help to ask your group some questions to keep conversation going. For those of us who have trouble thinking of questions, here’s a list of conversation topics that encourage storytelling and longer discussions.

Questions to keep conversation going:
- How did you get involved in outdoor recreation?
- What’s the strangest/most mysterious experience you’ve had in the outdoors?
- What are some hobbies/adventures you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet had an opportunity?
- What’s the most unexpected/heartwarming interaction you’ve ever had with another human/animal?
- What effect do you think social media/virtual reality/self-driving cars/etc. might have on society?
- What subcultures of society do you feel you belong to? How would you describe these groups?

On a few occasions, I’ve actually written a list of questions similar to these and kept it in my pocket for a group activity. I feel a bit silly doing this, but every time it’s actually been very helpful for my participation in the group. Of course, use your judgement before bringing up any really heavy or controversial topics, but it’s nice to explore themes that everyone might be interested in chiming in on.

5. If you need to cancel, try to reschedule

Sometimes you need to back out on a scheduled trip. For example, it’s may be best to cancel if you wake up really sick or if something bad happens to a friend. However, leaving your adventure buddies hanging indefinitely might make them feel like you don’t really want to spend time with them. If you find yourself canceling, explain why (if reasonable) and make a specific plan for when you’ll next contact your friends or try to schedule a new adventure. For example: “I’m sorry, my dog swallowed a Tonka Truck whole and I need to take him to the vet. Can I text you back on Tuesday and see if we might be able to reschedule for next weekend or the weekend after that?” I know this is kind of a generic “how to be a friend” tip, but it’s something that took me years to learn, so I figured I might as well stick it on this list to help any kindred spirits.

6. Invite people out on your own adventures

Even if you don’t have the skills or equipment to invite your adventure friends on an epic 3-day canoeing adventure, you can still build strong connections with them in other ways. For example, invite them to an outdoor film festival or an event with a speaker who’s involved with outdoor recreation or conservation. Even asking them if they want to go for a walk around a local park can be enough to nurture your adventure-connection.

7. Pay for gas (if you can)

If you’re driving a long distance, especially if someone else is offering the use of their car, make sure you offer to pay for gas. If you’re way too poor for that and they’re super rich, maybe this isn’t a technique for you, but in most circumstances I think it’s a reasonable thing to do. It might seem like a small gesture, but it’s another easy way to show your adventure buddies that you care about them and appreciate being invited along.

8. Know some games, riddles, or stories

Usually, your outdoor adventure is going to be quite enough entertainment all by itself. However, if you’re sitting in a parking lot for 3 hours waiting for a pick up or you’re stuck in your tent for a day while it rain-snows, the person who can find ways to entertain the group is often the hero of the day. For any adventures where boredom is a possibility, try bringing a list of riddles, a deck of cards, a set of dice for Farkle or Yahtzee, or a ball. Even if you don’t have anything with you, certain ‘kid’ games like Sardines can be remarkably fun with a group of any age.

Conclusion

It can sometimes be tricky to feel like you’re a “good” adventure buddy, especially if you’re new to a sport or activity. In reality, though, plenty of clubs, potential mentors, or friends would probably love to share their adventures with you. I hope these tips can help you proactively work to feel a bit more comfortable as a new member of an outdoor adventure community. See you out there!

Any other comments or questions about being a good adventure buddy? Let me know in the comments section below.