How to Explore the Outdoors Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic - Urban Outdoors
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As COVID-19 continues to become a part of our daily lives, people are turning more and more to outdoor activities for mental health, fitness, and recreation. Since international travel and air travel are extremely limited at this time, the outdoors is becoming a place for city dwellers to escape the concrete and enjoy new experiences and beautiful views. However, as outdoor travel becomes more popular, it’s important to go outdoors safely during COVID-19 by following scientific guidance as well as local regulations.

The CDC recommends getting outdoors instead of doing things indoors, as the risk of virus transmission is lower in fresh air than in less-ventilated spaces. And, based on current research, the outdoors is a much safer place to be than virtually anywhere else if you’re planning to leave your own home. We’ve compiled some of the best tips for staying safe outside during the COVID-19 pandemic to help you reduce your risks while you’re outside exploring!

How to Get Outside Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abide Social Distancing & Sanitation Guidelines

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC has recommended keeping a distance of 6 feet or more from those who do not live in your household. Even outdoors, you should uphold these distance requirements to keep yourself, your housemates, and others safe. Avoid activities where physical contact with shared items is required (e.g., football, basketball), as these pose a higher risk of transmission than non-contact activities (e.g., hiking, swimming, and biking).

Additionally, you should continue to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly, and avoid touching your face. Because many of the bathroom facilities are shared in parks and hiking areas, we strongly recommend bringing your own sanitation items to avoid unnecessary contact with others.

In addition to your typical hiking essentials, we’d also recommend bringing:

  • A mask
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Biodegradable wipes
  • Your own water and snacks (so you don’t have to go indoors to purchase it or use shared water fountains)

Bring a Mask (And Actually Wear It)

We mentioned this in the last section, but we strongly recommend bringing a mask outdoors every time, and wearing it (at a minimum) when there are others present in your vicinity. Many trails aren’t built to be able to maintain a 6 foot distance at all times, so if you choose to embark on these trails, having a suitable face covering is especially important. We recommend using a Buff or a breathable cotton mask for optimal comfort as you spend time outdoors.

Young man with a medical mask hiking on a road of the ancient Roman Empire. Selective focus

Choose Local Trails, Rivers, and Parks

While it may be tempting to hop on a plane and visit a bucket list national park you’ve been dying to see, we recommend opting for local trails, rivers, and parks over long trips, especially ones that involve flying. Going to places far away can put you (as a tourist) and locals at risk due to the differing rates of transmission present around the country.

The good news is that no matter where you live, there are incredible, off-the-beaten path trails and parks to explore. If you’re not sure where to go outdoors near you, we’ve got TONS of city guides and resources on most metropolitan areas and national/state parks in the USA and Canada. Check them out if you’re looking for the best outdoor activities in your area!

And, if you do choose to travel farther, be sure to read up on the CDC’s website as well as local guidelines for COVID and continue to practice social distancing measures wherever you go.

Opt for Getting Outside During Off-Peak Hours

Popular parks and trails are especially busy and crowded on weekends and holidays, and this can make social distancing nearly impossible. One of the best ways to go outdoors safely during COVID-19 is to avoid these peak times. If you’re planning to hike on a well-known trail or visit a high-traffic park, it’s best to try and do so in the early morning, in the late afternoon, or on weekdays.

During these off-peak times, you’ll find fewer people on trails and less crowding at parking lots. Plus, as an added bonus, the sunlight is usually much better at these times for taking the best outdoor photos!

Bring Water and Snacks From Home

Instead of putting yourself at risk by using public water fountains or buying food indoors, bring your items from home instead. This way, you spend less money, minimize your risk, and use less disposable plastic. During the pandemic, many water fountains and shopping facilities are closed anyway, so you may find it more difficult to locate water or snacks if you don’t bring them with you. We love filling our Nalgenes and HydroFlasks with cold water and bringing Clif bars or trail mix before hitting the road on any outdoor activities.

Explore Less-Popular Trails

While well-known parks and trails are popular for a reason, there are plenty of lesser-known hidden gems that are much less crowded and, therefore, are safer to explore during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no feeling like having a trail or a viewpoint completely to yourself, and hitting less popular green spaces gives you that opportunity and freedom.

When In Doubt, Get Tested

If you’re feeling any COVID-19 symptoms or think you may have been exposed to someone with the virus, please get tested immediately. There are several testing sites around the country, many sponsored by Walgreens, and you can get tested easily and quickly. Testing early and often is the key to managing the spread of the virus, so please do so if you think you may be carrying the virus or are planning to visit another city or state for outdoor activities.

Continue to Practice Leave No Trace Principles

Just because we’re in a pandemic doesn’t mean conservation and environmental principles don’t still apply. Opt for reusable water bottles and snack boxes over disposables, and always pack out any trash that you bring with you. Avoid going off-trail in areas where it is not permitted, and do everything you can to abide by park rules and procedures.

By taking the appropriate measures during your adventures, you can go outdoors safely during COVID-19 and have a fantastic and memorable experience. Following guidance on outdoor activities from the CDC and local/park officials, the outdoors will continue to remain a safe and enjoyable way to get out of your house and explore the beauty of nature.

Additional Resources for Going Outdoors Safely During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Kay Rodriguez is the Chicago-based travel writer and photographer behind Jetfarer and Skyline Adventurer. When she's not blogging furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, or paddling in a new city.

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