Five ways social media is lying to us about the outdoors

‘Social media is toxic’, ‘social media is fake’, ‘social media is bad for your mental health’.

How many times have you heard (and perhaps agreed with) those statements? The truth however is more complicated. Social media is a tool, and like any tool it’s how you use it that matters.

Social media and the outdoors

Take the world of outdoor adventure as an example. Social media has encouraged lots of us to be more active, and enjoy the mental and physical benefits of an outdoor lifestyle. If you don’t believe me you just have to look at successful campaigns like Sport England’s This Girl Can and Ordnance Survey’s GetOutside. Both are brimming with encouragement. Both have had a really positive effect in helping people deal with their worries about being outdoors.

The outside isn’t really like that

Social media however is well-known for being either economical or over enthusiastic with the truth. This is particularly true in the outdoor lifestyle arena. Whilst being outside is a wonderful experience, it (mostly) doesn’t happen in the impossibly blue/green/shiny places social media likes to suggest. Here are five examples of lies social media is currently telling us about the outdoors.

‘The sea is always turquoise’

Image filters have a lot to answer for. Be suspicious when the Instagram images of Devon look more like the Caribbean. On most days you can expect the sea here to be grey with the occasional hint of blue. On all days you can expect it to be cold.

‘Mountain summits are always deserted’

From excessive erosion to preventable accidents, concern is mounting about the overcrowding on our popular mountain summits. Not if you look on social media however. Scroll through the images and you’ll struggle to find any that show the long queues that led to all those Snowdon summit images.

‘Wild camping is all about the campfire’

Campfires are great in designated areas on campsites but they cause all kinds of problems in wilder locations. Stoves (whichever type you prefer) are lighter, cause less damage, and will make your hot chocolate far quicker.

‘Jumping into cold water is a great idea’

I would be the first person to advocate the benefits of cold water swimming but jumping in really is asking for trouble. Cold water shock, submersed objects, and tricky exits are all potential killers. Far safer to get in gradually and enjoy the slow tingle.

‘It’s safe to paddle board without a buoyancy aid’

If you’re not sure on this one, British Canoeing have issued some buoyancy aid advice for individual paddle boarders as well as those hiring paddle boards out or giving SUP lessons. They recommend a primary flotation device (your leashed board) and a secondary flotation device (a PFD).

How to get good outdoor advice

It’s easy enough to negotiate the nonsense if you have plenty of experience but what if you are new to an activity? I would always recommend consulting a quality source of information. Top of this list would be local experts, these include national park authorities, the National Trust, local walking guides, and guide books written by locals.

As well as that it’s always a good idea to look at advice given by overseeing bodies. For hill walking and climbing that would be the British Mountaineering Council or BMC (nowhere near as scary as they sound). For canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding look at British Canoeing (very friendly), and for sailing the Royal Yachting Association or RYA (also not scary).

Honesty is the best policy

If you can’t be sure someone is a local or nationally recognised expert, and are looking for general encouragement, go for the people on social media who go out in all weathers, look really scruffy in the rain, have terrible hair in the wind, and admit when they have made mistake. Those are the people who have really experienced the outdoors, and will be able to tell you how to avoid making the same errors (and perhaps tie your hair back properly).

Social media is great for all kinds of reasons but when it comes to the outdoors remember…

Social media isn’t real life!


Desperately seeking wilderness. We outdoor writers have a responsibility.

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