What's the psychology behind liking the wilderness and being in remote areas?

Hiking. Camping, especially backwoods. Float trips. Traveling on backroads instead of interstates. Living in the country.

What draws us to such places and activities?

With me…I like to just get in my car and drive to some of the most remote places (within an hour or two) away from my house. If I get a flat, lose cell phone access, or get lost I’m in big trouble…yet I find the ride very peaceful. I have no explanation. This started a year ago, and it is funny because I am scared of being alone. I fantasize about hiking and camping in the deep backcountry.

Obviously many people feel this way, just look at the magazine rack at Borders. Tons of magazines about camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures which take place in pretty remote areas.

For me, going to places where no other people, or better yet, nothing of apparent human origins, can be found, is a deeply soothing, almost meditative experience. I’m not a people person, and for as long as I can remember (age four or so onwards), I’ve felt a strong draw to such places. They’re elemental, pure, simple yet mind-boggingly complex, stunningly beautiful. I’ve no idea why this is so.

There’s a feeling of excitement and even fear for me when I go out into the Scottish highlands - which is a big part of the draw. There’s something intimidating about the big mountains just sitting there in the emptiness. The Scottish weather is also highly changeable, so that adds a bit of uncertainty.

I’m often on my bike, as well, and there’s always the possibility of something going wrong which adds to it. Not a big possibility, because I can cater for most breakdowns and I’m experienced, but you never know when you’ll have an unusual mechanical, or maybe fall off on some innocuous part of the trail.

There’s a popular national park in northern England called the Lake District where I don’t get nearly the same sense of excitement. It’s a stunning area, but it’s so popular that you never get the same feeling of isolation as Scotland. I think that’s key to the best outdoors hiking / biking for me.

Hm, perhaps some people are looking for peace and quiet, because they are hypersensitive to stimuli. Too loud, too stimulating, they don’t like crowds because there is too much information to process coming in. The peace of solitude helps them wind down or integrate stimulations?

Perhaps others want the challenge of the solitude and a borderline or real dangerous situation - mountains, rock faces, animals, running out of gas and not being in contact for rescue. A safer adrenaline rush than base jumping off the Empire State Building sort of. Or a legal adrenaline rush in strapping into an inflated kayak and running the rapids of the Colorado river in a group.

I like living in a slightly rural area because I do not like to be crowded. I do not like people looking at me through my windows, and bitching me out because I mow my lawn with sheep instead of a lawn mower. I like privacy to yell at the TV without the neighbors hearing me tell the weatherman he is a jackass and that you might expect SNOW in FEB in NEW ENGLAND, or crying BULLSHIT at the person who said dinosaurs were coexistant with man, and god created everything 10000 years ago.

I do not want to be so rural that I cant have high speed internet and cable, and take only 15 minutes to get to a grocery store [it is about 5 miles away] or have access to an ambulance to get me to a hospital before I die.

There is something about an imense natural space. It really drives home how insignificant one is. Not in a degrading way but in a one with nature or one with one’s space in nature. Part of the universe or part of something much bigger than oneself.

I did several solo trekking trips in Tibet in the 1980’s. There was something about being 3 days train ride, several days truck ride, several days hike away from anything resembling civilization.

The other thing that got me was I would be several days train, truck and hike away from the nearest road and a two day hike since I say evidence of a human. Then I’d be off the trail and climb some 16,000 foot peak for the sheer hell of it. This would be some place where there was no natural need to climb the peak (not a pass, no trail, not on the way somewhere). Yet at the top there would be a rock cairn and prayer flags. Someone had obviously climbed up that peak for the sheer purpose of planting prayer flags (buddhist) that would not survive the harsh winter.

Words fail me. I can not describe what that was like nor how profound an experience it was (and I experienced it multiple times). I would dearly love to experience that again and hope I can share it with my kids someday. I’ll probably be too old and frail and too fucking blind to do that though…

A wonderful post that just about sums it all up.

For many people, remote and unpopulated areas provide an experience that can’t be had in any other way. Something about such places seems to trigger feelings of regaining a perspective that can all too easily be lost; of appreciating the richness, variety and size of the planet we call home; and of realising how much noise and cacophany we accept as ‘normal’, and how much it drowns out. It can be like re-connecting with one’s own senses, and enjoying the experience of those senses not being drowned out by billboards, advertising, traffic and telephones.

Sometimes the feelings and emotions are very hard to express in words. I remember walking through part of Labuan Bajo, in Indonesia, where there were very few signs of human civilisation, and thinking ‘This is most ‘different-from-what-I’m-used-to’ place that I’ve ever seen’.

Is there a psychology for people who don’t like that? Not being snarky or threadshit…ty, but I’m one of those high maintenance chicks you see on TV who goes about ten minutes from the city and shrieks about mud ruining her stilettos, very “Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue.” I know, it sounds sad, but when I’m exposed to quiet and stars and darkness, I get really nervous and start thinking about the Clutters and places where serial killers can lurk in the woods. I guess you get used to the fact that there’s noise and lights on every corner after a time.

A possible and very simple explanation is that nature is where we evolved. We like it because that’s where our ancestors of the past 4 billion years spent their time.

For me it’s just hypnotic. I sometimes meditate, and the best place for me to do so is where there’s trees or surf.

Not to mention it makes all of your typical problems seem like they’re a million miles away. Take the worries in your mind right now (job, finances, water heater on the fritz, and so on) - would they apply out in the middle of nowhere? Probably not so much.

When you’re out in the vast expanses of nature, you have two main ‘jobs’: food and shelter. Once those needs are (hopefully) satisfied, you’re keeping up with all of your primary obligations, and the rest of your time and attentions is completely up to you. I think that sort of existence establishes a certain baseline level of fulfillment, and it’s much more relatable than worrying about widget A and tab B, and ultimately feeling vaguely disconnected and frustrated about how our daily concerns don’t really seem to match our true needs and desires.

I’m largely in agreement with all of the above, except Freudian Slit. When I’m out in nature, I’m a long way from advertising, television, pop music, politicians, junk mail, people who jabber loudly on their cell phones in public places, litter, ugly buildings and neighborhoods, big business, job pressures, and everything else that makes life dreary, rushed, or unpleasant. After I’ve spent a few days camping, hiking, rafting, and bike riding, I find stress melting away. Things that normally trouble me on a daily basis, such as financial worries, stop popping into my head on unwanted occasions. I look up at a mountain and reflect that it’s been there for millions of years and will remain there for millions of years, regardless of what people do. (Unless it’s in West Virginia, in which case all bets are off.) Then, when I return to civilization, everything that people are yapping about on TV and the internet seems trivial compared to the mountains and rivers and forest. So, in summary, I’d say that trips to the wilderness help me maintain perspective.

Being able to go out into the natural world/wilderness is what I live for. There’s something about having a trail, or a beach, or a mountaintop to myself…it gives me a feeling (a sense of peace, I suppose?) I can’t experience anywhere else. It doesn’t have to come at the end of a multi-day trek; it’s sometimes enough to park at a scenic vista early in the morning or in the middle of the week when the tourists aren’t around. Just to have a little bit of the world for my own for a while, not having to share it with anyone else, is one of the greatest joys in my life.

I find it strangely reassuring to be in a place that is truly dangerous - no safety engineer has certified this gravel to not dump you into that ravine and send a boulder down onto you - and it is all wonderfully indifferent to my survival.

I like being by myself and observing nature. No cars, no people, just the wind in the trees’s and an occasional bird. It’s a great way to clear my head and just take in the sights.

Sitting alone on the summit of a mountain is a very humbling experience. Looking down on all the trees and being the only person up there. In fall the colors are like a tapestry and breathtaking.

I feel closer to my creator. Even as a kid I liked hiking alone or swimming alone. It may be that by being alone I can totally take everything in without distractions.

It reminds me of where I grew up.

Being way off alone with nature is restorative for me, the outer din/stimulation of daily life in an urban environment is gone and my inner self responds to the quiet.

I adore being off in the wild natural world, it’s so raw and stunningly beautiful. Something wild inside me seems to respond.

I’ve been so lost in the woods that someone had to come and find me. It was scary but not as scary as being lost in the city, at least for me.( Of course, I was confident my friends would realize and come looking for me, in a few hours, so that helped me stay calm.)

You know that cough drop commercial where the guy is overlooking an Alpine Valley and hollers an echoing “Reee Coollaaa”.

I feel the same way out in the boonies, except its “Nooo Asssshoollleeess”.

Well, yeah, they are still out there somewhere, but the mean free path between encounters is greatly increased.

When I was a small child, we lived next to a huge meadow, with a mountain and a pond. (Actually, it was a big empty double lot, with a big hill, and a mud puddle about a foot deep, lol, but to us kids it was The Wilderness). We spent hours and hours outside, picking wildflowers, playing ball and King of the Mountain, climbing the apple tree, and peering into the mysterious depths of the ‘pond’, hoping to see a frog or fish. We were out there in winter in our snowsuits, building snowmen, making snow caves, ‘camping out’. All this is a roundabout way of explaining how deeply the natural world touched our lives. I remember that time so well and to this day on a vacation I would rather go camping, hiking, or just walking in the woods or by a body of water than any man-made ‘fun’. The Adirondacks is nearby and it’s really special to go up there for a day, walk deep into the forest (on a well marked trail, of course!), spotting wild flowers (don’t pick them now!), ferns, deer, birds, and breathing in the wonderful scent of the pines.

I like the peace and the quiet. Looking at some remote scenery, can’t help but think “this must be what it looked like centuries ago before the white man arrived.”

I feel an extreme sense of peace when I’m alone in the wilderness with not a human around for miles. I actually have a hobby of using Google Maps to find very uninhabited parts of the world, then fantasize what it would be like to be stranded there.

The psychology behind it? Well, I’m no psychologist, but I imagine that in our fast-paced society where daily multiple intrusions are a fact of life (television, radio, email, cell phones, etc.), the Great Outdoors is the only place left where true privacy can be obtained. There’s also something kinda sexy about the feeling of being the Omega Man (for me, anyway).

I’m not religious. Nor do I even consider myself “spiritual,” whatever that means. However, the wilderness is always a profoundly moving experience for me. Isolation is a part of it, but mainly it’s the incredible humbleness that comes from being alone with Nature. It isn’t a feeling that I experience anywhere else.

My older boy once asked me why we don’t go to church and I replied that “But we do go to church, we just call it hiking.” I think that the community/fellowship feeling that church people get from going to service or mass is what I get from being out in the wilderness.

I can’t imagine someone not liking remote, vast landscapes. A few months ago I spent some time camping in the desert in Sudan. There were four of us, but the next nearest human may well have been 20 or 30 miles away.

A few months before that, I was in Monument Valley at sunrise (on the Utah end of it) and there were three of us, alone in an amazing landscape. What could be more peaceful, awe-inspiring and elemental than that?