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Start Where You Are: a Sense of Belonging Outdoors for All Experience Levels

I often get asked, “What do I need to go hiking?” or “What do I need to go on an adventure?” Automatically, I come up with a checklist for day hikes or backpacking gear. But really, before I was an avid hiker, what did I have? What did I need? The reality is I started with nothing. 

Photo courtesy of Angel Tadytin

As a kid, I grew up next to a canyon, which I’d day hike into every day, with no day pack or water. I did not have a hat or sunblock, nor any electrolytes or energy bars. I went for the day. I stayed out as long as I could before I got too hungry or thirsty. Then as a teenager, I would go camping with friends. We didn’t have Big Agnes tents, REI camp chairs or Jetboil stoves. We took what we had an old pick -up truck and our parents’ Coleman sleeping bags, hiking in canyons with no rope and bald running shoes. I remember many campouts where I just slept in the back of a truck with a blanket. 

Then, finally after having no real quality gear for years, my husband and I decided to get some. It took me my whole life to get great gear, and it was expensive, but we bought one big item every month. Although it seems like you can’t hit the trails without the newest hiking shoe or pack, you can. 

The outdoors is for everyone. It’s for the beginners, the no-gear people, the “using my dads ’80s gear” people, and the “I’ve-got-the-latest gear” people. It’s for everyone. I have been—and seen—all these types of people.

Photo by Angel Tadytin

On the trail to the Wave, I passed a couple with fancy shoes almost like penny loafers. My initial thought was “that has to be uncomfortable,” but coming from where I’m from, I know that sometimes that’s all you have. That may have not been their case, but it didn’t stop them from seeing one of the most beautiful places on Earth. 

One thing that kept me going outside without shame was my ancestors. They were outdoors every day, and with less gear. I often imagine my great grandmother on the trail that I am on. She would be wearing a Navajo tradition shirt and moccasins. How intense would a boulder-hopping hike be with moccasins? How difficult would it be to canyoneer in a skirt? When I go backpacking and I think I need a new amazing light-weight tent, I remember my mom telling me about her childhood sleeping under the stars in summer with no tent or blanket. Thinking of my family and relatives that have come before me reminds me I belong outdoors no matter what I wear or what gear I have.

Photo by Angel Tadytin

Yearly, a group of Navajo hikers takes on the Navajo Mountain-to-Rainbow Bridge trail. The gear the families bring always reminds me you don’t need the latest and greatest. I see families carrying gallon water jugs instead of CamelBak bladders, and carrying comforter rather than sleeping bags. Either way, we are all laughing, smiling, and walking the same trails as our ancestors. 

I now own light-weight backpacking gear, which my legs thank me for on my trips, but I did not start that way. I was the couple that had the wrong shoes—mostly bald tennis shoes—and the family that opted to carry blankets over down sleeping bags. I’ve been the unprepared hiker with no water or sunblock, and that’s okay. We all start somewhere. The trail does not discriminate, and it always gives you more than you are looking for.

Header photo: Courtesy of Angel Tadytin

Angel Tadytin is a Native American from the Navajo Tribe in Arizona. Born Many Goat for the Coyote Pass People, her maternal grandfather’s clan is Bitterwater, and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Towering House.

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