A Beginner’s Guide to Outdoor Hobbies
After shaking off the winter chill, you may be looking forward to heading back outside this spring, and with days lengthening and lush landscapes returning, it’s natural to spend less time indoors. However, this summer, instead of lounging by the pool and scrolling Instagram — although you deserve a break — think about starting a brand new outdoor hobby. It’s easier than you may think.
With little to no equipment needed, exploring the outdoor world in a new way can be eye-opening, no matter when you choose to participate. Perhaps you can only take part in a nighttime hobby or you want to dive deeper into learning about local flora and fauna. No matter your motivation, these five outdoor hobbies are perfect for beginners and will help to jumpstart your summer fun and keep you learning well into the fall.
Whether you’re a romantic at heart, love astrology, or appreciate a clear night sky, stargazing is a fascinating outdoor hobby. Plus, it has the added benefit of being a nighttime activity, which is an excellent way to relax in the evening. This endeavor can be as simple as gazing into a dark sky peppered with stars. However, Sebastian Del Valle, who is the head guide at Rancho Cacachilas in Mexico, suggests downloading a moon phase calendar like My Moon Phase for maximum viewing. Hint: avoid a bright sky during the full moon.
Del Valle also suggests using an app or book, such as “National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky,” to try and identify a few stars and groupings to get your bearings with the sky. “The best way to start is with two constellations that are easy to see,” he says while suggesting that you try to find Orion, the Big Dipper, or the Pleiades first. Also, take note of how the sky shifts as you observe. “Pay special attention to the stars closer to the horizon in the east or west as it’s easier to see the movement,” he recommends while also adding to not overwhelm yourself by trying to find too many things at once. “Read a little, then see it in the sky, and repeat.”
Heading outside to wander your local trails is the perfect way to familiarize yourself with nature. Observing plants, animals, and birds in a quiet environment can be a tranquil experience, whether you head out at sunrise or wait until dusk. Many communities offer hiking trails and walking paths, and several also have pathways open to folks of all abilities. If accessibility is a factor, check the TrailLink website to find wheelchair-friendly places, as many of the Rails-to-Trails — former railroad tracks converted into paths — routes are wide and paved.
If you’re new to trail exploration, start slowly without any expectations as you build up your tolerance for distance. “Start out small and leave time to stop and see the scenery,” says Jane Farmer, who is a Natchez Trace Parkway Ranger. “Don’t miss seeing the beauty of the forest. It is better to go home wanting more than wishing you had done less.” Farmer also recommends taking a few basics on your first venture out. “Take bug spray, water if it’s hot, your cell phone, and comfortable closed-toed walking shoes,” she advises. For the cost of a pair of good shoes, you can explore trails at home or wherever you roam.
Perhaps one of the simplest hobbies to start is birdwatching, which can be done from your window, whether you live in a city apartment or on a few acres out in the country. Tammy Poppie has a backyard birding website and has been birdwatching for over 20 years. She says that this summer hobby requires little more than your senses to begin. “Getting started with birdwatching requires no equipment other than your eyes and ears,” she adds. “Just step outside, watch, and listen.”
If you want to learn the species, Poppie suggests downloading a free app, such as eBird, to help identify birds. Diana Ludwiczak is an avid birdwatcher and encourages you to use your phone as a first step for documenting bird calls. Additionally, you can use the zoom function to look closer without disturbing the creatures. “Having a pair of binoculars can come in handy, but they are not necessary nowadays with such awesome phone cameras,” she adds. Keeping a well-stocked feeder with a birding book close by can also help heighten the experience at home.
Surrounding yourself with anything from a window garden to a full-fledged backyard oasis can serve as a hobby and a way to beautify your space. Gardening can also be rewarding, especially if you start with something manageable. As a University of Missouri Master Gardener Emeritus, Charlotte Ekker Wiggins curates a gardening website and advises that you should begin by planting your favorite herbs in pots, either indoors or out. “Herbs are easy to grow and helpful to add to cooking to flavor dishes,” she says while also noting that starting with seedlings will help set your gardening journey up for success.
If you wish to curate an outdoor garden on a patio, balcony, or yard, Wiggins recommends adding flowering plants like zinnias and nasturtiums to encourage pollinators. Zolene Quindoy, who is the head of horticulture at Yardzen, also suggests getting one essential piece of equipment to level up your gardening game: handheld pruners. “This handy tool is used to trim wayward stems, harvest veggies, and remove dead or crowded branches, so plants stay tidy,” she explains.
When you hear the word “photography,” your mind may wander to needing a professional DSLR camera, multiple lenses, and a plethora of editing software. Although these are valuable tools for professionals, you already have what you need at your fingertips to start photography: your smartphone. “You will be amazed what smartphones can achieve these days,” says Adam Marland, who is a full-time nature and travel photographer. He suggests watching a few videos to hone your craft, learn compositional techniques, and discover tips and tricks for your particular phone.
Amy Boyle has been running her photography business since 2005 and advises that being in the moment — instead of stressing to find a subject — can produce the best results. “To me, photography is an exercise in mindfulness — capturing the beauty, inspiration, and love that is the one-of-a-kind moment that is happening right now,” she says while also concentrating on a simple setup. “A phone camera, good lighting, and editing apps are all you need to get going,” she reassures. Then, after settling in with your particular camera phone, the best thing to do is practice. “There is no replacement for repetitions,” says Marland. “The difference between professionals and amateurs in any field is simply time and dedication.”
During the editing phase, there are several user-friendly phone apps that can put that finishing touch on your images. “When it comes to editing photos, you can use the built-in photo editing feature in your phone or use an application like Lightroom, Photoshop, or Raw Therapee,” says photographer Onye Ahanotu, who also suggests that even simple adjustments can help. “While editing your photos, I recommend starting with cropping and making adjustments to contrast, brightness, and colors,” he adds.