4 Ways Nature Restores Your Manly Vigor

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 3, 2008 · 31 comments

in Health & Sports


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul. Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.~ John Muir

To care for their health and well-being, many men carefully watch their diet, take supplements, exercise, and go for regular check-ups at the dentist and the doctor. Some even supplement this routine with visits to a masseuse or a therapist. But many men are skipping out on something essential to their manly vigor-spending time in the great outdoors.

Great men from Theodore Roosevelt to Ralph Waldo Emerson loved to tear out into nature. Yet today men see activities like hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping as hobbies to be enjoyed by some and not by others. They’ve become just another recreational opportunity: you can take it or leave it.

But spending time in the outdoors is essential for every man. It will strip off the stale, sissified patina that civilization has covered you in and renew your soul in 5 crucial ways:

1. Nature gives you a chance for unstructured exploration

Surely all God’s people, however serious or savage, great or small, like to play. ~ John Muir

Most men’s lives are tightly scheduled and routine. Wake up, shower, commute, work, home, sleep. Each day you drive the same route, sit in the same cubicle, and sleep in the same bed. Yet within each man is a strong urge to set out and explore, to start out a day with only the faintest outline of an agenda, and to discover things never seen before. Scrambling over rocks, hiking up mountains, and fording streams will make you feel like a kid again.

2. Nature gets you in touch with the basic elements and your primal self

In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware. ~ John Muir

The modern man is subject to all sorts of rules, expectations, and constraints. Buttoned up and buried in paper work, he must act polite, follow the traffic laws, and refrain from throttling the a-hole who prolongs the company meeting with asinine questions. His spirit his constantly hemmed in. And everything modern man touches, lives in, and uses has been modified from its original form: sanded, molded, and packaged for consumption. Almost every sound he hears, from the car engine to the ringing cell phone, originates from an artificial source. It’s enough to render every man with a mild form of insanity.

Here at AoM, we encourage men to have manners, but the primal side of man should not be completely suffocated. Men must periodically tear themselves away from civilization and interact with things in their natural state. Touch real dirt, sit by a real fire, sharpen real wood, and listen to the pure sounds of running streams and the wind in the trees. Surround yourself with matter that doesn’t exist solely for human consumption. Experience things that just are.

3. Nature gives you space to think and puts your problems in perspective

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. ~ John Muir

In the cities and suburbs, it is easy to lose what is truly important. The world begins to seem as if it really does revolve around your tiny world. And there are few truly quiet moments in this madcap life. In the car you are listening to music or talk radio, at work you’re focused on the task at hand, and when you get home you turn on the TV and zone out. Getting lost in nature allows quiet, unstructured space in which to sort out your problems, think through what’s been going on in your life, and plan goals for the future. Under the stars and beneath the trees, it is easier to see what really matters. Mountain peaks, rolling rivers, and radiant sunsets will make you and your problems seem properly small.

4. Invigorates your body

I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found. ~ John Muir

Every now and again men must tear themselves away from the clogged air of the streets and the recycled air of corporate buildings. Your lungs yearn to breathe the fresh air in the forests and mountains. Hiking will invigorate your body. While all exercise is beneficial in alleviating depression, outdoor exercise is particularly useful. The sunlight, physical activity, and inspiring scenery will combine to rejuvenate your spirit and leave you ready to once more take on the world.

Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God’s blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. ~ John Muir

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 amy April 3, 2008 at 8:02 pm

hey guys- thanks for another great article. i have been toying with the idea of trying to make a ‘real’ blog and am coming to realize how much work and talent it takes. congratulations on the fine job you do. i think you’re just great.

2 Tyler @ Building Camelot April 3, 2008 at 8:47 pm

It should be a requirement that all men spend time outdoors with other men. Not only do you experience the points you mention here, but you also get the much need and often overlooked male bonding time.

I think your second point is the best – we men seem to lose our natural manliness when we don’t spend time one-on-one with mother nature. Modern times can easily zap us of our testosterone.

And I agree with Amy – you guys run a great site. You guys have some GREAT articles and I always look forward to new articles.


3 Bernard April 3, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Honestly…are you inside my brain? Seems there’s always an article about whatever is on my mind at the moment. I feel this just solidifies the plans I’ve been making of a summer journey experiencing the country.

4 Cameron Schaefer April 4, 2008 at 4:48 am

For my senior trip in high school, while the rest of my friends were off in Mexico getting drunk and sunburned, 2 guys and myself went on a 2 week long backpacking trip to Alaska. We had a bush pilot drop us off 80 miles into the Wrangell-St Elias wilderness and we spent the next several days experiencing the awesomeness of the wild.

This trip more than any other in my life made an incredible impression on me of the importance of spending time in nature. I think the reason why nature is so good for man is it’s uncontrollable. Every other area of a man’s life may be under control, but nature has a savage way of reminding us that we can’t control everything. It’s a huge revelation.


5 Elizabeth April 4, 2008 at 5:54 am

Excellent article. I just wish that the AoM had specified that real manly men experience nature without the aid of 4×4′s or other motorized vehicles. Men who don backbacks and hiking boots and commune with nature are manly men. Men who tear up the earth with loud, belching vehicles or those who can’t go anywhere with a generator to power their audio and visual toys are NOT manly men.

6 betsbillabong April 4, 2008 at 7:12 am

Um, I think this is a requirement for humans, not just men…

7 Brett April 4, 2008 at 7:19 am

@ bestbillabong um, this is a site focused on men, so we write about how it can help men…

8 iamsofaking April 4, 2008 at 7:41 am

I recently got into dirtbiking and it is a great way to get yourself out in nature. I am not so much ‘roughing it’ most of the time, but it feels good to get some dirt on me and sleep someplace where I can see the stars. I’ve gotten to see a lot of bits of forest and desert that I otherwise wouldn’t and I have had to think and to grunt my way out of some pretty sketchy breakdown situations.
It probably isn’t the Bill Bryson-type great outdoors that you had in mind, but I highly recommend it.

9 Eric April 4, 2008 at 7:56 am

When I think of getting out of doors and relaxing, recharging and renewing myself I don’t think of the Bill Bryson-type great outdoor experience. If I remember “A Walk In The Woods” correctly he ended up driving most of the AT.
Anyway, thanks for a great article that reminds me that now that it’s spring I need to get my ass outside again…

10 linuxpunk81 April 4, 2008 at 12:51 pm

I enjoyed reading your article but I disagree with just about all of it. Of course this is just because of my personal preferences. Most men like the outdoors getting dirty fishing making things etc which is cool for some but would bore me to tears. I’d rather be inside in the A/C with various computer parts laying around, my laptop on some random tech site and my other computer compiling code all while a battlestar galatica marathon is running in the background on my 50in tv. I’m the part of the other set of men, the nerds, the geeks, the pale. We find the outdoos confusing wide open and buggy. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be “a man’s man” but the world needs nerds to keep the word running while you’re out shooting bambi.

11 Kells Hogan April 4, 2008 at 4:27 pm

I started DEEP WOODS CAMP FOR BOYS in 1970. Back in those dark ages before electronic gadgets captured the hearts and minds of the young, it was easy to attract young boys to a summer of hiking and backpacking, whitewater canoeing and rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing. This program continues today, heading for our 39th summer, but we are in no danger of losing our claim to being the smallest camp in the known universe. All camps across the country are experiencing declining enrollment – all, that is, except the “fat camps”. Young people are drawn now to the indoors, to gadgets that plug in or devour batteries. Lessons learned in the outdoors are no longer part of growing up. These have been replaced, by and large, by what has become known as “the professionalization of childhood”. A child’s early years are now spent learning how to be a successful (read: wealthy) adult. No time for the outdoors. What free time that might be squeezed into a tightly scheduled day is spent with the iPod in the ear, the cell phone in the other ear, the keyboard at hand, the video game in progress, and the monitor as the only window into the real world. In fact there is very little interest in developing or restoring “manly vigor.” We in the outdoors are hoping there might be a return to sanity. But we are not holding our collective breath.

12 crowmagnumman April 4, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Getting outdoors is important, but you guys have an overly rosy view of nature. It’s not going to make all your problems go away. In fact, sometimes being in nature just makes your problems worse. The wilderness is as beautiful as it is dangerous. I believe that man has cut himself off from the wild too much, but we can’t expect to solve our problems and commune with nature whenever we go hiking. You guys are romanticizing something that is inherently harsh and unforgiving. Mankind has gone way too far in separating ourselves from the real world and has destroyed far too much of it. But nature is not as glorious and wonderful as you’re making it out to be. There is beauty in nature, and it is healthy to get fresh air and be in nature, but I just can’t stand this over-romanticizing of nature.

13 Brett McKay April 4, 2008 at 7:17 pm


You put the problem at hand very eloquently. Those are my thoughts exactly. Kids today are way overscheduled and are missing out on some of the best life has to offer. I wish you luck with keeping your camp alive; it sounds fantastic and boys need programs like yours.


Yes obviously nature is harsh-tornadoes, floods, bears, and the like are part of nature too. But I’m not talking about nature in general, simply about outdoor recreation-camping and hiking in nature. All the the things I have listed here are things I have actually experienced. Whenever I spend time in nature I feel rejuvenated, peaceful, inspired, and invigorated. If it sends romantic, that’s because it is.

14 crowmagnumman April 4, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Maybe it’s just that most of my experiences in nature have been negative. I think you are definitely headed in the right direction with the article, though. Man is barricading himself from nature too much. But we can’t ignore the dark side of nature. The houses we have built to protect us are a good thing. But staying in those houses all the time is, of course, a bad idea.

I just have a very cynical view of nature I guess. I go into nature hoping it will give me a clean perspective, but nearly freezing to death in the wilderness seems to only exacerbate any problems I’m facing in life.

15 Aidan April 4, 2008 at 7:49 pm

@Elizabeth: good point, and I agree that off highway recreation vehicles get a very bad rap due to many people who abuse their vehicles and the surroundings that they ride them in. However, as a dirt biker I want to take a stab at representing the better side of the OHV community. There are many riders who are active environmentalists and seek to preserve and protect the lands they ride on. These are the people who gladly pay their yearly sticker fees to have the privilege of riding in state parks, and carefully tune their bikes and ATVs to fall below the specified decibel range. Then there are the people you commonly see, making noise, tearing up roads that aren’t designated riding areas, littering and acting like hicks. This is not to say that you are wrong because you are not – I am just trying to let the world know that there are some good riders still out there. Done right, an afternoon taken with the guys to rev up our motorcycles, rip up hills that are too steep, take a sharp turn without any idea what lies ahead, and invariably kiss dirt is incredible. It sort of turns down the volume on the rest of our lives so that our problems seem manageable again.

16 cory huff April 5, 2008 at 7:10 am

I just discovered your blog via Alltop.com. As someone who also writes about manliness – albeit from the perspective of how to be a better husband – I am really excited about your blog.

I’m also surprised at the reactions of those who are reading. I like the outdoors. I don’t spend much time there, but I always find it refreshing, even though I am also one of the indoor types (I spend a great deal of time inside dark theatres since I’m an actor).

Great work Brett. Looking forward to reading more.

17 Timothy Siew April 5, 2008 at 8:37 am

Another good thing about the outdoors: man can pass on their skills to their children as they bring them along, or just experience something together.

There can be outdoor nerds as well. The guy who looks into every detail concerning plant life. Knowing every type of wildlife in the area, and knowing how to evade dangerous ones. How to capture certain kinds of prey. How to set up a campsite properly and safely in the best possible location at the best altitude and wind conditions. Knowing which is the best camping gear to use etc.

All these are useful skills, just that with modern luxuries all good skills are either put to waste or used too much in a gadget-like purpose. I’m sure MacGyver can survive both a technical problem and a nature problem.

I seem to be going off a tangent. Just one last thought. If all the technology in the world fails due to war or some J2K-esque epidemic, knowing his way around nature keeps a man alive.

18 Gary Slaughter April 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

I love my creature comforts, but in the past few years I’ve been teaching myself to do without them when possible. One great fear I have is being stranded in wilderness (plane goes down, cruise ship sinks, weather washes out the road) and not having gadgets to help me. It’s another reason I carry a pocket knife (see other column).

I think as a whole our American culture has gotten soft and flabby. I went on a weekend backpacking trip some years ago and hated it, but later I realized I’d grown too dependent on technology and the notion of just coasting through life without challenging myself. Now that I’m a bit wiser about it I think I’d enjoy it more. Maybe I’ll see if I can hook up with the guys I went with before.

19 iamsofaking April 11, 2008 at 5:42 am

Be careful not to focus too much on ‘this is my kind of thing and that is not’, as you may risk turning into a caricature of yourself and missing out on a lot of opportunities to grow as a person. You really should try to get over yourself now and then and try something a little outside of your comfort zone. Some things you will regret, but overall you will come out ahead; I promise.

20 Frank April 18, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Go into the wilderness, but not because it is an escape from pressure and drudgery, but because it will take you away from too much civilization – from becoming too thinking, too feeling, too tolerant of weakness, too much against the need to do as life demands.

That a-hole in the next cubicle is not to be ignored; choking back the urge to contest unreasonable authority is what makes a man. It is the one who stands up to such treatment who ultimately becomes sissified; he is paving the way to a world where nothing ever gets done.

21 Dale Muscle April 26, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Ummm…I can almost smell the fresh air coming out of this web page.

What better way to chill out than to get outside away from the TV and PC and just wonder at the beauty of nature.

Like a famous poet once said…

What is life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare.

Message to me. Get off the PC more.

22 Paddy April 28, 2008 at 9:11 pm

You guys rock my world! Keep up the awesome work, I love being a subscriber to the Manliest webzine out there.

23 mydiabetesnotes May 7, 2009 at 6:03 pm

thank you for sharing useful information, good advice

24 Ib March 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

So true. When I need to get back to my manliness, I like to take a camping trip.

25 Ilya March 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm

What a perfectly timed article! It finally stopped raining and being miserable outside in NJ and i am just itching to get outside. Sadly for most of today i am stuck inside working on a term paper, but at least the windows let me see outside.
I’ll definitely be eating lunch outside today.

26 J. James March 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm

At least once a week I take a long trip to the woods. My family’s home where I grew up backed up against a park and I spent just about every waking moment outside while I was growing up. I think it’s definitely stuck with me into my mid/late 20′s. Whenever I want to take a break, I head to a local park which happens to encompass a couple hundred acres of paths for jogging, hiking or whatever. I always come back refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

I also highly recommend mountain biking, which is different than dirtbiking, yes.

27 Terry November 12, 2012 at 9:03 pm

As a therapist, and a veteran, I can tell that finding positive activities to engage yourself in is crucial in keeping depression at bay. I remember when I got into counseling asking my grandfather if he noticed people having depression when he grew up. He said that they were too busy putting food on the table and wood in the stove to be depressed. He said they worked six days a week and often a half day on Sunday’s. He also told me that everyone was poor so you never knew you were poor or wished that had what your neighbor had. Sadly it seems that a society with more leisure seems to generate more depression as that leisure time is spent on unfulfilling things. Men, find something worth doing and do it!

28 Alex November 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm

It isn’t even outdoors really. Some of the best time I spent in my life was at the real big quad races, like Loretta Lynn’s, or Ironman. We’d all pile into Jason’s crewcab pickup, setup a campsite, party all night, and hike through the woods watching quads in the daytime. It was muddy, the races were hard, and it was fun as all hell.

29 Sheri February 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I take my grandpa who has dementia, my son, and my sister out to feed the ducks at a nature park. We love the energy of the park and it makes us feel alive, rejuvenated, and all those positive feelings. Get out there in nature! It is natural medicine for your health and well being!

30 Austin October 24, 2013 at 7:28 am

@ Frank
I am not sure if I really understand what the purpose of your comment was. The meaning of unreasonable authority is that it exceeds a reasonable level of power. How is it in any way manly to ignore that and choke down your urge to stop that. If the authority is truly unreasonable, I think it is a man’s duty to put a stop to it.
If I have completely missed the point of your comment, please respond.

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