Guide to Getting Dirty: 16 Tips to Enjoy the Outdoors

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By Kimberly Alexander

Ahhh… The great outdoors. The fresh air. The starry skies. The expansive landscape.
And also the sweat, the cold, the bugs, the dirt!

If you tend toward the second sentiment, this blog is for you. It is no secret that time spent in nature is important to your overall health, both physical and mental. For example, a recent popular article published by NPR referenced a study published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), which found that growing up near green spaces was associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. A Science Daily article referenced a study that found that spending time outside reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.

But what do you do if you DON’T LIKE the outdoors?

Below I will cover a list of tips for each of the most common inconveniences - sweat, cold, bugs, dirt - but the simple (not easy) answer is the same I would say about all things related to “health:”

There are not a lot of people I know that truly ENJOY eating healthy… at first.
Or exercising… at first.
Or cleaning house… at first.

Like all our Elements of health, they involve a little bit of “dirty work,” and the Outdoor Element is no different… literally and figuratively! Simply put, you must spend time in the dirt to enjoy being in the dirt.

But just as you might follow our Batch Cooking Guides to learn how to cook, our Training Maps to learn effective exercises, and our Products Recommendations to learn what to use to clean your home, this blog is meant to be a tool to help you take steps to enjoying your time outside. Below I will list my favorite ways to boost your tolerance for all the inconvenient aspects of Getting Dirty!

SWEAT TOLERANCE

Many outdoor activities involve some physical element to them, from yardwork to hiking to setting up camp. If you don’t like getting sweaty, or just don’t want to be sticky or stinky later, here are a few practical tips to stop sweating getting sweaty:

  1. Bring along a change of clothes. Clean undies can make even the dirtiest person feel fresh as a daisy. This is a great tip if you won’t have time to go home between your adventure and your evening plans, but it can also be nice just to change your shirt partway through your activity. Remember to bring a bag to store your sweaty clothes when you’re done.

  2. Pack some biodegradable wipes to freshen up with along the way and when you are done. If you hate feeling sticky, this is the solution for you. These Beautycounter wipes work amazingly as body wipes, have the safest ingredients of any we have found, and are truly biodegradable. Better yet, pack a few damp cloths in a reusable silicone bag or other airtight container to wipe down with. Same effect as the wipes without the waste!

  3. Don’t care about being sticky but don’t want to be stinky? Yes, you could just make peace with the fact that we humans are not sterile creatures and go au natural like I do, but I understand that not everyone is “there” yet. If the wipes and the change of clothes sound like too much work, the Primally Pure activated charcoal deodorant is the absolute best I have found. You’ll still sweat (it’s good for you!) but you won’t have to resort to giving low-fives at the end of the hike… high fives all around!

  4. The first three tips are my top 3 because they are all affordable. My final tip is to invest in some moisture-wicking clothing (never cotton, which will soak up moisture and never dry). This clothing is usually light and quick-drying so you won’t feel soggy as you are trying to enjoy nature. We love Patagonia and Prana because of their quality and commitment to good labor practices, but they are also on the more expensive end of the spectrum. You can often find great “technical fiber” clothing at second-hand stores, which is also an environmentally friendly way to shop. Win-win. Better yet, do a clothing swap with your friends to get some bonus Community time!

COLD TOLERANCE

I know a lot of people who love to get outside in the summer but spend over half the year indoors because they hate the cold so much. I assure you that, unlike bears, the health benefits of spending time outdoors do not hibernate in the winter. Here are a few tips to help you warm up to being cold:

  1. Pack warm food and beverages in quality thermoses. Hydroflask and Stanley both make really good thermoses that will keep your cocoa and soup warm for HOURS (although, if you want something with a leak-proof drinkable lid we recommend this one from Klean Kanteen). Not only does consuming warm food make you feel warmer, it will keep your metabolism burning. Oftentimes we feel colder when we haven’t eaten enough, which is common when you are outdoors, engaged in your adventure.

  2. Two words: Little. Hotties. Yes, these are disposable, so not the most eco-friendly, but they are biodegradable and non-toxic. And they are awesome! Stick one in each pocket and put one in the shelf-bra of your base-layer and you will have hours of warmth. HotSnapz makes some that are reusable, so more eco-friendly in that way, but the warmers don’t last for nearly as long - less than an hour for the hand warmers.

  3. Figure out your feet. Having cold feet is miserable. It took me years to figure out a system that worked for my feet. Here is what I discovered: less is more (for me). I kept trying different styles of thick socks, layering thin and thick socks, adding wool insoles… My feet still froze. Then I realized that all that thickness was cramping my style… Literally. My shoes were not big enough to accommodate all the extra material – my feet were getting squeezed, and so was my circulation! I currently wear just my normal socks and shoes when cold weather hiking and just a silk sock liner in my ski boots, my mountaineering boots, and my snow boots; my feet no longer get unbearably cold. Note: You *could* buy shoes that can accommodate a thick sock but I like the versatility of wearing my shoes in multiple seasons, and not every occasion necessitates thick wool socks. Note: If your shoes are too narrow in the toe box your foot might get squeezed no matter what. Look for shoes that have a rounded toe box that is equally wide across all five toes. I love Lems and Vivobarefoot.

  4. Just as with getting hot and sweaty in warm weather, your clothes are equally as important in keeping you warm in cold weather. The very first rule of your cold weather wardrobe is to avoid cotton, especially next to your skin (yes, this includes your undies… it’s better to go without than wear something that will hold onto your sweat and be cool against your skin as soon as you stop moving). Wool or synthetic base layers - long underwear and camisoles or undershirts - are imperative to keeping your core temperature from cooling off. From there, layer up. I recommend starting the day wearing just enough clothing to keep you warm at the start so you have something to add if you get cold but also something to remove if you get too hot - it can be tough to stay warm if you get really sweaty when it’s cold out. For me, layers look like this. I have starred the items I usually start out with, adding the other items as needed.

FEET: *Shoes and *socks (I always pack an extra pair of socks in case my first pair gets wet).

LEGS: *Long underwear or synthetic leggings. Depending on the activity, pants that act as a water resistant shell.

TORSO: A *camisole, *wool or synthetic long sleep shirt, *fleece vest, then a puffy vest, puffy coat, and/or raincoat, depending on the activity and conditions.

HANDS: *Mittens or gloves, but preferably mittens for ultimate warmth. I have found that I would rather take my mittens off for a brief period if I need to do something with my hands than wear gloves, which are usually cumbersome if I need to accomplish this same task. Just as with your shoes and socks, gloves can make your hands colder if they are too small.

NECK: A scarf or ascot is a must for warmth. You have large arteries on both sides of your neck that emit a lot of heat as blood rushes close to the surface of your skin.

HEAD: A *beanie or headband that covers my ears. There is a lot of surface area on your head to cool off so a hat just covers that much more of your body.

BUG TOLERANCE

Full disclosure: I’m still working on this one. Mosquitos love me. I hate them. Facebook would say, “It’s complicated.” Generally speaking, my best advice is to breathe and become one with nature. If your adventure takes you to places where disease is almost a guarantee and it is impractical to walk around wearing mosquito netting, then I would suck it up and go with DEET. This statement is sacrilege in much of the “holistic health community” but sometimes the stress of certain things trumps the health benefits of going the other way. I, for one, would say that Zika is worse than the toxic burden of DEET for a week. Just sayin’. I mitigate the effects of things like DEET in my body by living according to our Dirty Health Elements as much as possible so that it’s not as big a deal when I can’t (or don’t want to!). All this said, here are a couple practical and non-toxic ways not to let bugs bug you so much:

  1. If you are new to the outdoors and you just need to have some positive experiences before getting your feet really wet, then choose adventures in places like the high desert (altitude + dryness = no annoying bugs).

  2. Wear impermeable clothes when bugs are present. This looks like a raincoat, rainpants, gloves, and maybe long socks pulled over your rainpants to protect your ankles. I also recommend a headband that covers your ears because the sound of a buzzing mosquito in your ear is enough to send you into a paranoid frenzy that they’re EVERYWHERE.

  3. Go with a safer bug repellent that isn’t DEET. Citronella is great but I haven’t found it to be super effective by itself. In fact, most “natural” bug repellents don’t work that well. For some reason, the combination that Badger brand uses in their products does. They have sprays and balms and sunscreens… Check them out! Another health blogger, Wellness Mama, also has some recipes if you want to DIY. I have never tried them but I have loved everything else of hers that I have tried so I imagine they work well.

  4. If you don’t mind looking a little ridiculous, there is a lot of mosquito net clothing on the market now. I have never used any of them so I can’t speak to their efficacy, but I know that the bug shelters and mosquito bed nets are quite effective, so I imagine the same is true for “fashion” items.

DIRT TOLERANCE

This is what DHC is all about! But not everyone is. And, even though I have always loved the outdoors, there have been many times that I haven’t wanted to deal with cleaning up after getting dirty. This mostly looked like me saving up all my pennies to finally afford some outdoor gear and then, when the time came, I didn’t want to “ruin” all the shiny newness by getting it dirty. I also used to do this with floss. I didn’t want to “waste” it so I would have a full roll of floss sitting in my bathroom drawer that I only used when I felt like I really should (usually the week before my dentist appointment). I used to do this with planners, notebooks, pens, and spices, too. Then one day it dawned on me that I wasn’t “wasting” or “ruining” these things, I was USING them. I know this is not the case for everyone, but, in the case of getting dirty, mindset is everything. Here are a few ways to help you get down with getting dirty:

  1. Reframe the idea that getting dirty “ruins” things to the idea that getting dirty is an accomplishment. You have allowed the gear to serve its purpose in helping you complete your adventure - it’s an achievement! Plus, all gear and clothing can be washed if you prefer to keep it closer to its original state for longer.  

  2. If it’s not your gear you’re worried about getting dirty, but your skin, rest assured that exposure to dirt is actually MORE healthy for you than staying clean. You get BONUS health points for getting dirty. Many studies have found that soil contains microbes that work to boost our immune systems and even our mental health (here are some links to a few articles). Plus, just as you can wash your gear, a warm shower will clean you right up when you get home.

  3. Pack some biodegradable wipes to wipe away dirt along the way and when you are done. These Beautycounter wipes work amazingly as body wipes, have the safest ingredients of any we have found, and are truly biodegradable. Better yet, pack a few damp cloths in a reusable silicone bag or other airtight container to wipe down with. Same effect as the wipes without the waste!

  4. Bring a change of clothes and shoes to keep your car clean on the way home (plus a bag to put your dirty clothes in for the ride). If this sounds like a hassle, then bring a towel to throw over your seat and set newspaper or a couple paper bags down on the floor to keep it clean from your muddy shoes.

  5. (I’m only halfway serious about this tip…) Sometimes exposure to something in a different context can help alleviate any stress around that thing when it happens. Consider doing a mud bath at a local spa where you will be covered in mud, but you don’t have to wait until you get home for a warm shower.

All of these tips are designed to help you work your way up to being excited about being outdoors. Additionally, if getting outdoors is new to you, I recommend starting small… maybe even in your backyard. Eat a picnic lunch on your lawn, plant a small container garden on your deck so you have to go outside to tend it each day, plan a “hike” through your town, stopping to play at all the local parks along the way. You do not have to “be outdoorsy” to reap the benefits of being outdoors. But if you find yourself enjoying the feeling you get from fresh air, sunshine, and a little physical movement, follow along for more blogs on how to get even dirtier with other outdoorsy activities like backpacking, mountain climbing, and even cyclocross!

Were these tips helpful? Do you have other tips that have worked for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!