How digital technology can encourage us to Get Outside

Like many people I have multiple interests and passions. As well as being a keen freelance copywriter and outdoor blog writer, I love the outdoors, am a Get Outside Champion for mapping giants Ordnance Survey and work as an influencer for multiple outdoor equipment suppliers. You would be right in thinking that the contrast between days spent typing at my desk and days spent training people in expedition skills on Dartmoor is huge. Those who love the outdoors are perhaps supposed to spurn digital technology, see the screen as the enemy and frown every time they pass someone using a mobile device. Sport England disagree with this and are calling for the sport and physical activity sectors to embrace technology.

I agree, although traditional skills are vital, an outdoor lifestyle is infinitely compatible with a flair for the digital. Used with care, technology can help us to access and enjoy the outdoors in ways that generations before us couldn’t. For the first time ever, our children are facing a lower life expectancy than us.

Action clearly needs to be taken. Here are a few ideas to help you meld your family’s love of the screen with your own love of the outdoors.

Plan an outdoor adventure (together)

Unless you are in the mood for a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of day (in my experience these are often unsatisfactory) you need information to plan a Get Outside adventure. I am definitely an advocate of talking to experienced people (for example National Park Rangers) once you arrive at a destination but technology can help you do at least some of the planning from home and thus make sure that you take the right equipment. The below are just a few examples of how the digital can encourage you outside.

  • For general ideas take a look at some online outdoor magazines. Countryfile Magazine has a great section on weekend break ideas and TGO Magazine can tell you about forthcoming events. Look carefully in both of these publications and you will find some of my writing, the latest string to my bow and something I am very pleased about.
  • If you are looking for UK walking trails, the National Trust has suggestions for all the family and OS Maps can give you ideas for walking routes that include everything from riverside pubs to trig points at the top of Munros.
  • If outdoor swimming is your thing, the Outdoor Swimming Society has an excellent crowd sourced wild swimming map.

Accept an outdoor challenge

Some of us like to meander and some of like to set ourselves outdoor challenges. The good news is that it is possible to do both of these at once, witness my 50 Sleeps Challenge to celebrate my 50th birthday year. The great thing about challenges is that they keep you heading out of that door. Here are a few examples.

Keep yourself safe outdoors

There is no doubt that some unhappy incidents on our mountains are caused by over reliance on battery-based technology, and misplaced social media posts that give no hint of the precariousness or remoteness of locations. I firmly believe that technology is not a sensible substitute for traditional outdoor skills such as navigation and first aid but apps, if used judiciously can give us an advantage in outdoor emergencies (and maybe stop us from getting into these in the first place).

  • If you need to give your location in an emergency you should always give a description as well as a grid reference. OS Locate is a free app that will give you a quick grid reference and let you know which way you are facing.
  • The best way to be prepared for a medical emergency is to enrol in a First Aid in the Outdoors course. If you haven’t done that, the First Aid by the British Red Cross app gives excellent advice for both before and in the case of emergency.
  • If you are hard of hearing or speech impaired, the emergencySMS service allows you to send an emergency text message to the UK 999 service as an alternative to a phone call. This facility needs to be set up before your outing and may also prove useful where signal is low.
  • Keep your mobile device charged in case of emergencies and, if you do need to call 999 in a remote location, ask for the Police who coordinate remote rescues.
  • OS Maps contains over 300,000 routes that can take you to all kinds of wonderful places. I would recommend searching their Premium Routes only, using the fly-through and Aerial 3D facilities to visualise your walk, and printing off a couple of paper copies to use for navigation (thus keeping your mobile phone for emergencies only).
  • The BBC no longer use Met Office weather data for their forecasts and personal comparisons suggest that the Met Office app is winning the accuracy competition
  • If you need an expert mountain weather forecast the MWIS website and Mountain Forecast Viewer app give vital parameters such as wind impact, freezing level and avalanche risk

Indulge in a bit of outdoor learning

Being outside is always a learning experience but there are lots of apps out there that can add a bit of additional interest and enthusiasm to an outing.

  • Wherever you are in the outdoors there is usually a bird to identify. Organise a photo competition then use the RSPB’s Bird Identifier to see if you have spotted a rare species.
  • Geocaching is treasure hunting for the modern age and can be done as near to or far from home as you like.
  • The night sky is a fascinating place, especially if you are learning to name the stars. Try Star Walk Kids to help the family name and visualise  constellations.
  • Being able to tie knots is a definite showing-off point and the outdoors is a great place to learn. Animated Knots by Grog is my favourite knot app, which, if you happen upon a surprise outdoor dinner party, will also show you how to tie your tie.

So there you go, a longer post than usual but it just goes to show that, with a bit of creativity (and I have only touched the surface) digital technology can be used to get yourself and your loved ones outside just as much as it can keep them inside. The tools are there, how you use them is up to you.

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