A guide to exploring the outdoors beyond UVic’s campus

Photo via Creative Commons, Timothy Neesam GumshoePhotos

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the school year with all the events and activities happening at the University of Victoria. Since there is so much to do on campus, why leave? Well, there is lots of fun to be had off-campus, on the trails, and in the mountains of Vancouver Island. 

If you’re an experienced outdoors person, you may have chosen this school precisely because of the myriad of opportunities for outdoor recreation available: mountain biking, skiing, climbing, backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and surfing, to name a few. But if you’re new to any or all of these activities, now is the perfect time to try one.

A great place to start is by joining a club. There are 31 different Vikes Recreation sports clubs available,many of which are focused on outdoor sports and activities. Joining a club on campus is a great way to get off campus without the hurdle of covering all the upfront costs yourself. Clubs also have more experienced members who can help teach you the necessary new skills you may need to master. And, as a bonus, clubs are a great way to meet some new friends who are also interested in the same sport — you definitely don’t need to jump in alone.

It’s important to not overestimate your ability in the outdoors, especially if you’ll be going up mountains or into the backcountry, as this can lead to being dangerously underprepared. Always carry these 10 essentials: a method of navigation, a source of light, sun protection, a first-aid kit, a gear repair kit, shelter, a communication device, extra layers, food, and water. Don’t just bring these items along — know how to use them. And remember, your phone is not a replacement for carrying a separate headlamp and paper map with a compass or a GPS. The 10 essentials can vary depending on the activity you’re looking to pursue —  while those listed above are a basic guideline, don’t rely on this list alone and always ask someone more experienced. Although the outdoors can be fun, it can also be really dangerous if you’re not well prepared. 

Going out with a club or more experienced friends is a good way to learn how to pack and be prepared for a particular activity as every sport has different essential requirements.Mountain Equipment Co-op, located downtown at Government Street and Johnson Street, also offers free introductory clinics on navigation, packing, and gear repair. If you want to venture out without joining a club but lack some of the necessary equipment, such as a tent or kayak, CARSA offers gear rentals to students. 

Starting small — like hiking peaks close to home, camping at an established park, or kayaking in a bay — is an important first step for building your confidence and knowledge of the outdoors. Some great places to go hiking around Victoria are PKOLS (sometimes called Mount Doug, but reclaimed to its original name in 2013), Mount Finlayson in Goldstream Provincial Park, Mount Work, and Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. Thetis Lake and Elk Lake have running trails that you can buss to from campus. Elk Lake’s trails are more accessible and user-friendly. 

Even Going for a short hike at one of these parks or trails will provide the benefit of reduced stress that comes from spending time in nature. That’s why it’s good to get into an outdoor activity now, before school gets too hectic. Once the stress starts to hit, the outdoors are a great outlet for mitigating it — but you also don’t want to worry about who to go with or where to get gear at that point. 

While it’s important to be prepared, getting outdoors shouldn’t feel impossible because of barriers like cost, experience, or lack of knowledge. Luckily, in Victoria, you’ve got access to so many resources and friendly outdoorsy people that can show you the ropes and help you get started with whatever activity you choose. After all, the outdoors truly are for everyone.