I spent my summer hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, tubing down creeks, swimming in alpine lakes, and never shutting up about how much I loved my new home. But my Florida friends wouldn’t let me be. "Just wait until winter," they'd say. "Then see if you still love it."
- Linda McGurk, Swedish-American author and friluftliv expert.
It turns out there was some truth behind my friends’ warnings. I was not prepared for winter in Colorado—I mean, I didn't even have a coat. After the first snow of the season fell on Halloween weekend, basic features of my daily routine had to change: My outdoor runs became treadmill runs. I stopped reading my book on the balcony and, instead, retreated to my bedroom to read in bed. My after-work hikes with friends turned into indoor happy hours. Suddenly, one of the primary reasons I moved across the country—to spend more time enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors—seemed null and void for an entire season.
So when I discovered the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, I hoped it might help me find a way to embrace winter with enthusiasm—or at least less hatred. Friluftsliv is the practice of spending time in and connecting with the outdoors, no matter the weather. An important caveat of friluftsliv is that your outdoor activities should be non-motorized and non-competitive, says Linda McGurk, the Swedish-American author of The Open-Air Life: Discover the Nordic Art of Friluftsliv and Connect with Nature Every Day. “[Friluftsliv is] about being in the present moment in nature," McGurk says. "To feel joy in nature is very central to friluftsliv. You’re outside just for the sake of being outside.”
Friluftsliv is so integral to the culture of Nordic countries, including Norway, that McGurk can’t point to exactly when she learned it. The concept was never an intentional lesson, but rather a lifestyle. From climbing trees and catching bugs to picnicking and hiking, McGurk says her everyday life in Sweden often unfolds outside because, well, everyone else’s does.
“[Friluftsliv is] more a lifestyle and a philosophy than a set of activities.” —Linda McGurk, friluftsliv expert
It's been my experience that the same isn't necessarily the case in America, where indoor concepts like “bed rotting” are apt to capture national attention. So to embrace friluftsliv as someone who doesn't love winter, I worked with McGurk on auditing some of my daily habits. To ease into a friluftsliv way of life, she encourages starting small: “Really try to make it simple,” she says. “It’s more a lifestyle and a philosophy than a set of activities.”
With McGurk’s words of wisdom in mind, I sought to transform my mindset from that of a Floridian to a friluftsliv lover. Here’s what I did to make the switch, and how it went.
How to embrace winter with friluftsliv in 4 steps
1. Invest in clothing layers
There’s a saying in the Nordic region that "there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." I’m pretty sure my cropped hoodie qualified as “bad clothing” in my new winter life. So I finally invested in a few pieces to keep me warm, even in subzero temperatures.
McGurk says dressing in layers is ideal for winter weather because you can easily add or remove clothing to your comfort level. Your base layer is all about warmth and wicking. I opted for merino wool because it’s naturally odor resistant, wicks away sweat, and is unbelievably soft. Your mid-layer should insulate (think: a fleece pullover) and your outer layer is what protects you from the elements.
Oh, and don’t forget your extremities. Thick socks, mittens, and a hat are a must. After all, you won’t be able to enjoy time outside if you’re shivering, you’ve lost all feeling in your fingers, and the snow has soaked through your jacket.
2. Drink coffee outside
When the weather is warm, I basically live on my balcony. My egg chair is my favorite office space, reading nook, and even napping corner. But as soon as the temperature dipped below 50°F, I found myself spending less and less time there.
But, in the spirit McGurk’s decree for simplicity, I decided to start sipping my morning cup of coffee on the balcony, despite the chill. With a warm beverage in my hands (and wearing my heated blanket as a cape), I found that I actually didn’t think twice about the cold. I was too busy taking in the sunrise over the city skyline, the fresh blanket of snow that coated the lawn, and a few moments of quiet before my day began.
Not only has this practice been great for my mental health, but getting sunlight first thing in the morning has been shown to help circadian rhythm function, making us feel awake and alert during the day and naturally wind down at night.
3. Give up the treadmill
Caveat: If you enjoy running on a treadmill, go forth. But, truthfully, I hate the treadmill—and I thought about how much I hate the treadmill often after I ditched my outdoor run club for the gym when the Denver weather got brisk. But, why make my run less joyful just because I thought I hated the cold so much?
“I think in society today, our lives are so comfortable that we have come to think that anything out of that ordinary comfort is bad for us,” McGurk says. “But it can actually be good to feel a little bit of discomfort sometimes.” So, wondering if maybe my distaste for the treadmill exceeded my distaste for the cold, I traded in my treadmill workouts for chilly evening jogs with my outdoor run club.
I won’t mince words: The first one sucked. I didn’t wear warm enough leggings, I sweat through my cotton hoodie (cotton is a big no-no for cold-weather workouts), and every breath I took felt like I impaling my lungs with an icicle. But I kept showing up, and week after week, it became easier.
Even more rewarding than the fresh air pulsing through my body was the feeling of accomplishment I felt every time I finished a run. Sometimes practicing friluftsliv pushes us out of our comfort zone and into a fuller life. “We need to face those little challenges to feel alive,” McGurk says.
4. Play outside
Can you remember the last time you played outside? Before October 2023, I couldn’t. I always went outside with a purpose: to complete my long run, to walk my dog, to hike to the top of a mountain. But the end of our childhood doesn’t have to mean the end of playing.
Now, one of my favorite ways to practice friluftsliv is right after a big snow. My sister and I grab our sleds, walk to the neighborhood park, and spend hours flying down the hill. In fact, last time we did this, we played so hard we broke our toboggan. Did I feel a little silly and self-conscious the first time we we traipsed up the hill with a bunch of 6-year-olds? Yes. Did I deep-belly laugh when I got to the bottom? Absolutely.
Once I shed my belief that playing outside was only for kids, I realized that throwing snowballs, making snow angels, and building a snowman is a fun and ageless activity. And if someone makes fun of you, tell them to go friluftsliv themselves.
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