Getting outside can often feel easier in the summer—the season of 8 p.m. sunsets, outdoor dining, and open beaches. But as fall winds down, people living in climates with cold or harsh winters can feel like they’re staring down a period of confinement.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Although you’ll probably never head outside in January as easily and casually as you do in June, a little prep work and some practice can pay off in more time spent out of doors in the winter. To help break things down, SELF talked to experienced outdoor enthusiasts to get their advice and best practices for winter recreation.
1. Calibrate your expectations
When trying to spend more time outside, it’s helpful to set the bar a bit low and maybe even redefine what counts as activity. For example, hiking doesn’t have to mean a four-hour trek through snow to a picturesque vista; it can be as simple as a stroll around the neighborhood or standing on the back porch. “In the outdoor industry specifically, there can be a lot of debate about what’s actually considered a hike,” Brooke Murray—cofounder of Wild Kind, a membership community for parents who want to do outdoor recreation with their children—tells SELF. “And I feel like with kids, if I’m walking on a dirt path, I’m calling it a hike.” Heather Balogh Rochfort, an outdoor journalist and the other co-founder of Wild Kind, agrees: “It doesn’t have to always be the scenic postcard. It could just be right outside your front door.”
Along with walking, birdwatching is another low-stakes activity that can be fun in the colder months, and can be done in your own backyard or a nearby park. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could combine it with something more active like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Beyond that, there are always the classic high-octane winter sports of skiing and snowboarding, or traditional regional pastimes like ice fishing.
But being outside doesn’t have to relate to fitness either, which can be a change for people used to exercising outside in other seasons. Outdoor advocate and climber Katie Boué says that in the winter, she splits up her exercise goals from time outdoors.
“I don’t go outside in the wintertime for fitness, period,” she says. “When I go outside in the winter, it’s purely to interact with nature and fresh air, and get out there and enjoy it.”
Murray and Balogh Rochfort—who have four children between them—say that when they plan an outing, their goal is generally to stay outside as long as it took to get everyone packed up and ready. This rule of thumb can also work for adults, many of whom also see getting geared up and out the door as a big hurdle.
Plus, if you’re recovering from an injury, childbirth, or illness, your activity level this winter may not look like it used to, Rachel Welch, a pre- and post-natal fitness expert and the founder of Revolution Motherhood, tells SELF. “Know that it’s okay to start a little slower,” she says.
2. Always prioritize safety
Safety and preparation can mean a lot of things, and will depend on your needs and your chosen outdoor activity. On a personal level, doing some targeted exercises can help reduce your risk of falling and prepare your body to more easily handle winter activities.