Every year since 2008, I’ve set a goal of sleeping outside for a month of each year. I don’t do well with training goals, or trying to climb 5.12 (or even 5.11), or competing in races. But getting myself to places where I can lie down under the stars? That’s just a time- and location-management issue.
Climbing hard, setting a personal best time, riding the best trails possible in the all-too-brief time we have away from work, those are all noble things. But the end goal for me in all of that is getting outside more—and the easiest way to feel like I’ve been outside as much as possible is to keep track of my nights sleeping under the stars. It’s the one thing I can do to slow myself down in a life that feels like it’s all about speeding up. And if I do it often enough, maybe I feel like I can get a little close to the ever-elusive “balance” we always talk about—which I can’t even come close to on a daily basis, but over the span of a year I definitely can, if I spend 31 of my nights not looking at a glowing screen right up until the last minute I finally decide to go to bed.
A month of nights outside is 1/12th of the year, and sounds like a big number at first. But if you consider that between Memorial Day and Labor Day (the unofficial start and end of “camping season” for most folks), we have 16 weekends, including two 3-day weekends. That’s 34 days you don’t have to work, if you have a regular Monday-through-Friday 9-to-5 job. And if you have the average U.S. amount of paid vacation days—16 days per year—and you use a measly fourth of those days to camp, you’ve got quite a few chances to take your sleeping bag somewhere cool. And if you go camping for several weekends after Labor Day (which is quite reasonable in most of the United States), 31 nights can be within reach.
Of course, with a full-time job and all the other stuff we do, finding the time can be a challenge, so I count nights sleeping in my van at trailheads, and nights where I sneak away after work and do nothing more than just cook dinner on a backpacking stove and sleep somewhere away from the city before heading home in the morning. I have rallied friends into “School Night Bike Camping” more than once, where a half-dozen of us meet in a park in the center of the city on a Thursday night and ride bicycles loaded with firewood, beer, food, and tents to the nearest campground, 12 miles from downtown Denver. We all get up at 6 the next morning smelling like campfire and pedal an hour back into work, just over 12 hours after we started. It’s quick, but hey, you take what you can get. People are busy nowadays.
This summer, I’m partnering with Goal Zero to share this idea with everyone. The goal is for me, and you, and anyone else who wants to try, to aim for 31 nights outside between today, May 14th, and Labor Day (ending September 7th). There are no rules—you can count your nights outside when you’re on a 5-day backpacking trip, a 2-day climbing trip, in the back of your car, 15 miles from a road, in the middle of a KOA campground, or in your kids’ Barbie tent in your backyard.
If you want to play, here’s what you can do:
- Go camping, anywhere. Backyard, backcountry, doesn’t matter.
- Take a photo of your campsite.
- Upload the photo to Instagram.
- Hashtag the photo #31nightsout.
- Potentially win a Goal Zero Venture 30: each week, we’ll pick someone’s photo from all the ones hashtagged #31nights out and send them a Venture 30.
- Definitely experience the satisfaction of doing more of something you love.
If you don’t do Instagram or hashtags or any of that, you can’t win the Goal Zero stuff. But you can still try to go camping for 31 nights this summer, which will be awesome just the same.