Getting Out of One's Comfort Zone

Those who do a lot of hiking and backpacking naturally learn to deal with some discomfort. But why go beyond this? Why consciously decide to expand one’s comfort zone or get out of it completely? Why choose to take some risks and push some limits?

There are many reasons and motivations to get out of one’s comfort zone. They cover a wide range. Do any of the following jump out at you? 

Accepted By Peers: I value acceptance by my peers; living out of our comfort zones is the current “in” thing among my close hiking friends. We compete with each other on how far we can go.

Break With Social Conditioning: Even though comfort, safety and security is a universal human need, it has become an obsession of contemporary society. Too many are too comfortable and unwilling to take any real risks. Pushing outside one’s comfort zone is necessary to break the bonds of society. It is necessary to experience real freedom and to live fully.

Happiness Involves Struggle and Discomfort: Many hold that comfort equals happiness and discomfort, pain and adversity equal unhappiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. To feel fully alive and be truly happy we need struggle and adversity and discomfort. Dean Karnazes, accomplished ultrarunner, states this philosophy well:

I think Western culture has things backwards. We equate comfort with   happiness, and now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our life, no sense of adventure. I’ve found that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain and I’m struggling for high achievement. In than struggle, I think there’s a magic.
(Outside, January 2007)

Evolving Personal Comfort Levels: Taking some risks is essential to the learning process. In this context, learning to deal with some discomfort in the backcountry can lead to greater comfort in the long run, especially emotional comfort. Jim Nelson, owner of Pro Mountain Sports in Seattle, expresses this philosophy relative to climbing light and fast: 

Every climber goes through a learning process in deciding what is too much and what is not enough. My advice is to experiment—leave a few things out, consider every single item, dare to be a little cold (you may  surprise yourself  …  and learn some new tricks). The rewards of packing light are greater comfort and safety.

Even though it initially sounds contradictory, we can learn to be comfortable with increasing levels of discomfort.

Skill Development: A similar reason to kick it up a notch, to take comfort and discomfort to the next level, emphasizes greater skill development and creativity. An unknown source says it this way:

My philosophy is to carry no more than I need and usually a little less than I think I will need. Dealing with some adversity will challenge my backpacking skill, knowledge and creativity and push it to higher levels. This is a good thing.

Sadistic Pleasure From Pain: Quite a different reason to push well out of one’s comfort zone is given by the Marquis de Sade (French aristocrat, revolutionary and novelist): “There is no more lively sensation than that of pain; its impressions are certain and dependable, they never deceive. . . .

The Contradiction of Backcountry Comfort: To some, being comfortable in the backcountry contradicts why people go there in the first place. It is somewhat like purchasing a large, motorized and fully equipped camper unit and then camping in it on the edge of the wilderness. Ian Baker, Buddhist scholar and expedition leader puts it thus: “The more our camping style depends on the paraphernalia ofthe world we are leaving behind, the more we dwell in contradictions.” (Outside, April 2000)


 Assuming you are at least open to experimenting outside your comfort zone when hiking and backpacking, consider circling the reason(s) above that are strongest for you. If you are not at all in tune with this philosophy, write out one or two primary reasons opposing it.​