Running from 2007 to 2011, ‘The Great Outdoors’ project was the Free Range Network's practical guide to camping outdoors – going beyond the everyday kind of camping guide to look specifically at light-weight, low-impact, low-cost ‘free camping’.
The ‘Great Outdoors Project’ focussed on the practical skills required for adapting to a low-energy and low-consumption oriented lifestyle. For most people this is a challenging prospect, and so the project was developed around a simple activity which most people are able to undertake with minimal cost and preparation: Camping outdoors!
In 2011 the project was discontinued. Against the enforced austerity following the financial crash people, it seemed, didn’t want to go away for weekends to learn how to live with less… They could do that at home for free!
‘The Great Outdoors’ sought to communicate the most basic of skills that are essential to life – cooking, making fire, heating water, and finding shelter – so that we can rediscover our potential as 'human animals'; functional beings who can look after their own needs irrespective of what’s happening around them. What fifty years of consumerism has done for Britain is de-skill its citizens: If we look at the practical skills possessed by their grandparents, many people today have only the vaguest idea of how to manage their lives without mains services and pre-prepared food.
Whether you're an adult or a child, in order to comfortably manage the imminent contraction of energy and other mineral resources we must re-learn the skills that the present generations have lost. Through learning to live comfortably outdoors, expressing these skills becomes a natural and essential part of life, and can be drawn upon whenever necessary to support ourselves and those around us.
‘The Great Outdoors’ handouts
Below are the handouts produced to accompany the camping workshops. These take different elements of camping, backpacking, and developing the resilience required to live with ‘less’.
Please note, on their own these are insufficient to teach you how to camp. They are intended to extend the information given in the many ‘how to’ guides on camping available form bookshops.
The problem with changing to a lower-resource pattern of living is that today we are immersed in a high resource lifestyle that makes it difficult to imagine how we could live with less, or see what skills we might require to live more simply. But there is an easy way that most people can get around the distractions of our everyday life in order to learn the skills of simplicity – go camping!
The most important element of living outdoors is having the right kind of shelter: a waterproof layer – the tent – and an insulating layer to let to sleep comfortably – your bedding. It's also important to organise these elements in a way that's simple and functional. This unit examines how and what to put together to enable you to live comfortably outdoors.
Fire was one of the human species first and most devastating inventions (at least until the plough came along). Fire is a most useful means of converting the stored chemical energy of wood into useful heat energy, but in today's technological society, with predominantly gas and electric heating in our homes, people have lost the skill to use fire safely and have even come to fear it. This unit examines the issue around camp stoves, camp fires, and providing sources of heat.
Clean and reasonably sterile water is important to living outdoors, and finding more of it is essential after a couple of days. We can go hungry for a few days, but a day or two without water can make us very ill. This unit looks at how we can carry find, purify and store water.
If you want to keep walking or cycling then you need the right fuel. Traditionally camp food has been viewed as basic – beans and sausages, or reconstituted dried food from a packet. The fact is that you can carry and cook many of the types of food that you might eat at home, and in this way the restricted scope of camping can be a great tutor for cooking more efficiently in the home.
If you listened to some politicians we might believe that waste is inevitable – some consider it so inevitable that they look upon it as an energy resource! In fact, waste is just something that has no apparent use and so we discard it to avoid lugging it around with us. When camping or backpacking we can take very simple steps to either avoid the need to dispose of waste, or deal with it in a way that causes no harm.
To begin with, when you're learning the basics of living outdoors, you might not want to travel with your camping kit. However, the main benefit of being able to live comfortably with very little is that you can pack up your stuff and move, enabling you to go from place to place or just tour around a small area. This unit looks at a few of the things you need to know.
There are a lot of good things about technology: being able to make light at the flick of a switch is one; getting information and entertainment over the radio is another. This unit looks at how we can generate, store and use electricity outdoors using very small-scale micro-power systems.
Britain's oil and gas reserves are shrinking and we are importing evermore energy. Our power stations are ageing and becoming more unreliable. One of the first features of the stress that the global peak in oil and gas supplies will cause is a greater unreliability of our large energy grids during periods of high demand. The knock on of this could be the disruption of the ‘just in time’ systems that deliver the food and goods we buy from shops. In this last unit we arrive at the final purpose of The Great Outdoors initiative – using outdoor skills to live more comfortably at home when the power and/or gas supply goes off.
The past nine units of this series have looked at the practical benefits of learning to live outdoors. Now we look at a wholly different issue – psychology. Recent evidence shows that living outdoors "in nature" makes you feel better, and has been shown to help those with mental health problems. More importantly, by coming into closer contact with the natural world we can find the space to slow down from the pace of technological society, and in these circumstances perhaps we can more easily visualise our slower, simpler, low-energy future lifestyle.
When static camping, navigation is usually not such an issue – you just find the camp site; but if you really want to experience "travelling light" then you need to leave the tarmac behind and head off into the wilderness. If you want to travel out into the wilds confidently, and come back again safely, then map reading and compass navigation is an essential skill to learn.
The most important skill we can learn in our everyday lives is improvisation – solving immediate problems with what's available around us using our past experience as a guide. The problem with trying to plan and organise is that external circumstances can disrupt your ideally conceived solutions; through improvisation we can move on and work around problems as they arise.