Six Character-Building Lessons Best Learned Outdoors

©istockphoto/wanderlusterSome char­ac­ter-build­ing is best accom­plished in nature. The wilder, the bet­ter. Here are six lessons you learn in the great outdoors.

While explor­ing the back­coun­try, metaphors like “going the extra mile” or “climb­ing to the top” aren’t just the­o­ret­i­cal; some­times they’re lit­er­al­ly what you’ll have to do if you want to make it back to civ­i­liza­tion. The obsta­cles could be small like blis­ters on the heel—or great like a suc­ces­sion of tricky rapids to nav­i­gate in your kayak. You’ll put in the work to achieve your goal. And you’ll feel amaz­ing when you succeed.

Progress is earned in the wilder­ness. You learn to per­form fun­da­men­tal tasks from start to fin­ish using only your own wits and strength. Each new adven­ture brings expe­ri­ence and skills you can apply to the next outing.

Trust and Communication 
When you ven­ture off the beat­en path, you’re putting faith in the peo­ple you’re with. Whether it’s trust­ing that the bud­dy you’re belay­ing with knows the ropes, or depend­ing on a mem­ber of the group to do first aid when you twist your ankle, you’ll have to work as a unit. And if dis­agree­ments crop up, you can’t just walk away. You’ll have to work through your dif­fer­ences and arrive at com­pro­mis­es for the ben­e­fit of the team.


Wilder­ness is spe­cial. But until you’ve worked hard to get some­where tru­ly remote, it’s hard to appre­ci­ate just how valu­able our pre­served spaces are. Get­ting beyond the reach of con­ve­niences and mod­ern dis­trac­tions puts it in per­spec­tive. And human impact shows so glar­ing­ly in pris­tine places, your aware­ness of your behav­iors is increased exponentially.

Brain run­ning a mile a minute? Smart­phone always divid­ing your atten­tion? Even a small amount of out­door time increas­es men­tal acu­ity. Being out­doors can recal­i­brate your sens­es. When you trade the ping­ing of text mes­sages for the music of bird calls, you get a seri­ous brain boost. To enjoy the ben­e­fits, sim­ply hit the trail. Nature will take it from there.

Humil­i­ty and Awe
Words and pho­tos nev­er quite do jus­tice to the beau­ty of nature. We can’t cap­ture it or domes­ti­cate it. What’s more, is nature is always at least a bit of a risk; the unan­tic­i­pat­ed storm will remind you that weath­er apps aren’t gods. The thin air at the top of the moun­tain will give you a les­son in lung capacity.

About the most an adven­tur­er can do is come before it with an atti­tude of respect and grat­i­tude. John Muir described his beloved Yosemite as a cathe­dral, pro­found­ly express­ing the awe that being in wild places instills. You’re not the mas­ter of the uni­verse, and this is a good thing.

The lessons learned in the wilder­ness, from out­door skills to group team­work, add up to con­fi­dence in dai­ly life. You’ve braved the ele­ments. You’ve tast­ed the chal­lenge and thrill of sur­vival, hum­bling your­self in the process.

Pat your­self on the back. You’re ready for anything.