How to Be a Great, All-Seasons, Outdoor Friend Mom
Pro tips on preparing a lot, annoying your friends a little, and really shining as the caretaker of all
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As I packed to go swimming with some friends last weekend, I realized I was running through the same checklist for them as I was for my five-month-old. Milk for Beckett? Check. Snacks for my friends? Got ’em. My cooler was stuffed with bubbly waters and beers to share—and a sippy cup for my kid. I saw a couple of spare trucker hats on our coat rack when I grabbed the infant-sized sun shade and stuffed them all into my bag, “just in case.” Noticing the sunscreen in my truck was almost gone, I reached for a backup so I had enough to go around.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the Friend Mom of my group, the one who brings food in case anyone gets hungry and a couple backup sweatshirts should someone get cold, and I’m always just a little too happy to map out a trip plan. But becoming a stepmom to my partner’s 11-year-old daughter and giving birth to my son has escalated my role to a whole different level. Here’s how to embrace your inner Friend Mom, too. (Editor’s note: the Friend Mom role knows no gender, and is widely embraced by men, women, and nonbinary friends alike.)
Pack as Many Snacks as Possible
Every Friend Mom knows hanger is fun’s worst enemy. So, when shopping for a camping trip, buy as much chips, trail mix, baby carrots, and string cheese as you need for yourself; then multiply by the number of friends coming, plus two (what if someone brings a friend!). On your way out to camp, text your crew, “Stopping by Tia Sophia’s to get some breakfast burritos. Want anything?” No response? Better buy one for everyone. You can always heat any leftovers over the campfire later for dinner.
Bonus Points for Homemade
If you love to bake but know it’s unreasonable to have four-dozen cupcakes sitting around your pantry, you’ve discovered the perfect Friend Mom opportunity. Make your friends your guinea pigs and have them sample that new sea salt butterscotch cookie recipe you’ve been wanting to try on your next group hike.
Volunteer to Crew Unorganized Adventures
Sure, it’s great to work an aid station at your friend’s race, but when your pal really needs you is after an ill-advised solo ride of the 63-mile Alpine Loop in a rainstorm. Be there to dog sit her good boys while she pedals up a mountain and have hot spaghetti waiting for her when she rolls into camp two hours later than expected, covered in mud.
Bring Extra Gear
The key here is anticipating the worst case scenario for a wide range of conditions. June in the mountains? Grab an extra puffy in case it snows. A hike around a lake? Pack enough bug spray for everyone; that’s mosquito territory. Stuff your first-aid kit with enough bandages, Neosporin, and Superglue to patch up an army. Better yet: keep it all tucked away in your car, so you’re prepared at all times.
Create a Spreadsheet on the Down Low
There’s no such thing as prepping too much for an adventure. Go ahead and lean into your urge to over-plan and over-organize. Create that spreadsheet! But just like actual moms, Friend Moms can annoy as much as they help. So resist sharing your well-documented plans with the rest of the group unless specifically asked. “Oh, I think I read about a cool waterfall hike a couple miles south,” you’ll casually say at basecamp, mentally pointing to cell 21-D on your Google Sheet.
Designate Yourself Group Photographer
Whether you’re on a climbing trip or a bikepacking expedition, most people are too busy having fun to remember to take many photos. As Friend Mom, follow your instincts: snap the action pic of your pal reaching for that final jug or zipping down the trail, capture plenty of candid campsite photos, and insist on everyone posing for at least one group shot. (Do not take no for an answer. Stand tough!) Combine all of your photos into a shareable digital album, so everyone else can add theirs, too.
Turn Any Campfire into a Therapy Session
Did someone in your group start a new job, go through a recent break up, or move in with a different roommate? This is your chance to get to the bottom of how they feel about the recent change. Stay cool until everyone’s had a couple beers—or a couple s’mores—before you start asking the tough questions and offering unsolicited advice.
Clean Up Basecamp Before You Go to Bed
Your slobby friends may feel fine zipping into their tents with the stove still out and beer cans lining the fire ring, but you know everyone will feel more refreshed if they wake up to a clean camp. Plus, bears! As everyone’s unrolling their sleeping pads and brushing their teeth, take a few minutes to pick up any lingering food, bear-proof the trash, and pour an extra cup of water onto the fire pit for good measure.
Make Sure Everyone Gets Home Safely
If you’re traveling a rough road, insist on following anyone without 4WD. Always have jumper cables, a tire repair kit, and a recovery strap on hand. And when it’s finally time to part ways, as any mom or Friend Mom knows, there’s only one proper farewell to those you love: “Text me when you arrive, so I know you made it OK!”