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The Psychological Benefits of Outdoor Summer Camp

Do you find yourself reminiscing about the days you spent tromping around the creek? Or scuffing your knees as you dropped quickly to clasp a wriggling lizard? Or the quietude of your favorite bush spot where you read and held councils for your assembled fabric confidants? 

Do you wonder what is happening to your kids and their friends as these simple, natural joys are replaced by a highly stimulating and stressful technological culture? Do you wonder what benefits a retreat into the natural world would do for today’s youth? 

From developing self-efficacy to stimulating curiosity and creativity, spending time in our natural world has proven positive effects on the human psyche. The psychological benefits of time outside could help find balance in a young mind facing a world as overwhelming as the one we currently reside in. 

“We need the tonic of wilderness. . . . We can never have enough of nature.” – Henry D. Thoreau, Walden

Stress Reduction

“Stress-reduction theory, proposed by Ulrich (1983), suggests that a positive emotional response to nature allows a person to return from a stressful state to an unstressed state.” 

At Lasting Adventures, we believe that young people need and deserve the opportunity to destress. In our summer camps, we provide a setting that challenges our participants while immersing them in a setting of soft, natural shape, organic sound, and movement, removing them from manufactured stimuli. This allows the young mind to slow down, reflect on self, connect with others, and project out with confidence. When given the opportunity to destress in a natural setting, the adolescent mind is freed from self-doubt and criticism as their rational mind becomes occupied with tangible, alive, and vast settings. Removing overstimulating digital content resets the body’s fight or flight response to accommodate real-time needs. These needs are understood through experience and capitalized on for the benefit of the self and the collective group. The physiological responses we experience when we are in touch with natural light, simple foods, deserved rest, and the curiosity of a natural setting allow for one’s mind to mend and thrive. This de-stressing of the adolescent mind via the natural world opens up opportunities for self-expression, growth of confidence, and connection with the human and natural world surrounding us. 


Studies have shown that relaxing the prefrontal cortex through natural stimulus allows for creativity to thrive as fewer distractions are removed from your analytical mind’s attention. The sense of awe that purveys the outdoor experience can stimulate “expansive thinking,” a term developed by psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt. Their work studied the expansion of one’s point of view in the presence of awe-inspiring experiences. They noted that when individuals experience natural and awe-inspiring settings, a need to assimilate the sense of vastness felt in the experience to one’s own reality inspires the creative mind to develop and grow. As we adventure with our young participants through the valleys and peaks of the outdoors, vastness surrounds us, and creativity abounds.

Nature encourages creativity.

Self Efficacy

Characterized by autonomy, creative expression, and positive self-image, self-efficacy, and its development become a natural focal point of all of our teen adventures. Within the breathtaking setting of our National Parks, our participants find parts of themselves they never knew were so strong or ever had the correct context to strengthen. Finding a reprieve from constant social pressures, societal expectations, and constant comparison, the burgeoning young mind takes the inspiration of the vastness and runs with it. At Lasting Adventures, we are constantly inspired and blown away by the individuality we see in our participants in the field. Young minds living to their fullest potential celebrate in challenge, teamwork, introspection, and leadership. They connect and grow together, emotionally and mentally. They create together, problem-solve, communicate, and struggle together. And in doing so, they find their own resiliency; they brave the wilderness and learn to trust themselves. 

Teambuilding teaches cooperation, communication, and leadership.

Our backpacking summer camps are the catalyst of many life-long friendships, discovered passions, beautiful memories, and strong leaders. We take pride in facilitating natural experiences that seek to entertain our participants and prioritize growth, stewardship, health, and creativity. When thinking about whether to send your child to outdoor summer camp, the real question should be, “Why not?”

Life-long friendships are made on backpacking trips.

Written by: Ciaran Reddy, Lasting Adventures Guide & Outdoor Educator 2021-2023.

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