Erik (45) is a ‘nakedist’. He uses every available opportunity to get into nature, get rid of his clothes, and hike like the Mother Nature intended! This freelance writer, part-time actor and keen adventurer originally grew up in rural Australia before moving to the city to study law. Although based in Melbourne, he travels often, both for work and pleasure, to faraway continents or nearby national parks. Always with naked hiking in the plan!
“Seeing new environments and meeting new people, as well as taking time out to enjoy the peace of nature are the things that inspire me”, he explains. With the rise of social media influence, freehiking becomes a widely popularized activity, often documented on Instagram profiles, with several big ones reposting the images of those who dared to get into nature butt naked. Erik is not an exception – his profile @the.free.ranger has reached a significant following in the first year of existence, with 5.000 people peeping into his naked adventures.
Video games fanatics know that the Free Ranger is one of the Skylanders, a storm chicken that, just like you, prefers outdoor to indoor. There is one important difference – he is chasing storms, while you seem to prefer nice weather. Or is that true? Have you ever gone naked hiking during the thunderstorm?
I love thunderstorms, but they’re not the safest to go hiking in because of potential lightning strikes. I don’t mind hiking in the rain and actually prefer taking photos when there is cloud in the sky. What I don’t like is the wind as that can be really dangerous for hikers.
Naked hiking essentials
How does your average naked hiking excursion look like? When do you lose your clothes, just before taking the photos? Or do you walk through the nature nude?
It depends really on the weather, the location and who I’m hiking with. Generally, though, not a lot of the hike is naked – however, I have once done a four-hour naked trek with a hiking buddy. It’s funny because after a couple of minutes you forget you’re wearing nothing but hiking boots and a backpack.
When selecting a hike, I work out beforehand where I’m likely to be able to get naked. Usually, I start off clothed (though if the sun is out, I rarely keep my shirt on for long). Then when I get to a river, lake or interesting and secluded spot (maybe with unusual rock formations or beautiful views), I’ll strip off and go exploring, swimming or just sit and kind of meditate to take in the serenity. I might have a snack or lunch, then, if it’s secluded set off naked, or get dressed again till I find another cool spot.
How do your pictures come to life when you are obviously far away from the camera, and not in the simplest pose? Do you use camera’s timer, a friend’s hand?
Again it depends. The first few photos were friends or the iPhone timer. Then I bought a Bluetooth remote shutter and a small tripod. The shutter has a 100m range and is really good, but it does mean I need to go back and check the photos to make sure I haven’t just taken a photo of the dirt. Lately, my best friend and hiking buddy has taken an interest in photography, and another hiking mate is a budding photographer – and luckily they’re happy to practice their skills on me. I’ve also discovered how handy the camera widget is on my Apple Watch.
Being in nature as nature intended
Interestingly enough, your first picture ever published on Instagram, a year ago, is your selfie, and you seem to be wearing shorts. You have experienced the freedom of being naked outdoors just last year. How did the transformation happen so quickly, as nowadays your Instagram followers cannot even imagine you with clothes on?
The Instagram account was set up before I became a ‘nakedist’. The freedom came after a friend of mine wanted to go to a nude beach. I didn’t even realize my state had them. I went on Google and found that we actually have three official nude beaches and one unofficial nude riverbank. The weekend came around, and he had to work, but I decided to go anyway and found that the nude beach I’d chosen was beautiful and that I loved being naked there, with other naked people. I’d been to a couple of nude beaches in Croatia (which I enjoyed) but never on home soil.
I saw a snake once. But it saw my ‘snake’ too, so I guess we were evenErik
The following week I went to the river and took the first naked photo. The next week another mate came with me, and he has a keen photographic eye. He took an amazing photo of me naked on a log which I posted, and it took off from there. As did my love of being in nature as nature intended.
Walking with no clothes through the woods makes you more exposed to nature, which includes animal life. Have you ever had an unpleasant encounter while naked hiking?
I saw a snake once (but it saw my ‘snake’ too, so I guess we were even). I’ve had a small leech on my butt which didn’t really fuss me – they’re harmless, just annoying. Prickly bushes and rough undergrowth are more of an issue.
Caught in the act
How do the encounters with people look like?
I’m always conscious of people possibly being around. Especially since ‘public nudity’ is prohibited here. Though I think most Australians are pretty laid back and wouldn’t really care.
Two anecdotes come to mind. The first was a pair of young hikers who almost caught me naked, though I’d wriggled into my shorts by the time they went past. It was only then that I saw them properly and since they were two young guys, I figured they probably would not have been too fussed seeing me naked, and probably would have had a laugh.
The second was the opposite. I’d been swimming naked in a river but got dressed to hike back. I turned a corner, and there was a very startled guy, completely nude crossing the track to the river. I did everything I could to reassure him that it was all cool and that I too liked getting naked in nature, but I think he was pretty shy. If I didn’t need to get back to the city, I probably would have joined him for another naked swim.
What are your favorite things to do when you go bush?
I grew up in a location that has no waterways (other than the sea) so nowadays I love splashing around in rivers and lakes and springs. I also love exploring, so often I’ll hike to an interesting spot, get naked and go discovering. Getting up high is also a favorite, and, as I’ve mentioned a few times in my Instagram, when I am naked, any fear of heights simply disappears. Often I’ll find a cliff or high boulder and just sit and contemplate the beauty of my surroundings, listen to the breeze or the birds and soak up the moment. That is when I am truly at my happiest.
Culture of body freedom
What are your top three naked hiking dream destinations?
I’d love to hike in New Zealand – not only is it beautiful, but they have very progressive public nudity laws. For the same reason, Spain would also be good. Remote areas of Australia and the US would be equal third because although the laws are more strict, the sparseness of the outback and deserts means you’d probably not see another soul, and still enjoy some of the most breathtaking scenery around.
Do you see the differences between the acceptance of nudity in Australia and Europe?
Australia is pretty laid back, and while there are laws against public nudity, I think as long as you’re not causing offense, most people would not care… They’d probably even be a bit envious. I think most Australians have gone skinny dipping at least once in their life. Europe is very varied. There is a wonderfully healthy culture of body freedom in many places (Spain, Germany, Holland, Croatia, etc.) while other people are much more reserved, so it depends, I guess.
Naked group adventure
You even went for a naked sailing in a group! How was that experience and do you prefer solo or group adventures?
The sailing trip was possibly the most relaxing holiday I have ever been on. After the first few minutes of everyone being naked, you just forget that everyone is naked. The trip was marketed as naked sailing, but with no pressure to be naked the whole time if you didn’t want to (some guys wanted to keep a hint of their tan lines). Because everyone was naked though there was no dashing from the showers to get changed, no struggling with putting on bathers under a towel, no fear of being caught naked unawares – it was great.
I sleep naked, and it was so easy in the morning… I’d wake up, jump in the sea, climb out, shower off, make some coffee and chill out on deck with the other guys all without having to worry about finding bathers or underwear or shorts. Obviously, when we were going into the harbor we put our shorts on, but other than that, it was be-as-you-please.
Naked hiking is not a new phenomenon. However, it seems that the internet and social networks gave it a radical public boost. It is so much more visible today than it was before! Do you feel this social shift has helped you to free yourself as well?
It’s certainly encouraged me. It was from seeing the adventures of a guy on Instagram @thaddesign that initially inspired me to go exploring, and spend time naked outdoors. I think social media is spreading the word that being naked is not only popular, but it’s healthy too. In Australia, a local newspaper recently ran a very positive article about @getnakedaustralia and how accounts such as that help people beat body dysmorphia, low self-confidence, and body shape negativity. I’m certainly encouraged by social media to explore the naked world and connect with fellow nakedists.
Nakedist’s coming out
However, it took some time to come out as a nudist on Facebook. It seems social constrictions are holding us down even in the virtual reality. What is your personal philosophy on this matter, and do you maintain “different” public personas through different social channels?
I’ve only really been discovering naked life for about a year now. But in that time I have slowly told friends. The Facebook post on New Year’s Day was a big step, and one that was so wonderfully embraced by my friends that now I have no hang ups. I’m still cautious about who I reveal my Instagram account to, but that’s not because I’m worried about people’s attitude to my nakedness, but I don’t want people to think I’m being narcissistic.
Do you consider yourself a narcissist?
Haha… I am probably a bit narcissistic. I care about how I look, and I care about how others perceive me. If I’ve taken lots of photos on a hike, I’ll often discard pics I think are unflattering. It’s probably a hang-over from days when I was definitely not proud of my body. But at the same time, I also try to choose photos that are less about me and more about me in nature or a particular setting. It’s a fine line between body confidence and narcissism.
When traveling by plane, do you check-in your baggage or go with hand luggage only?
My ideal holiday would certainly be one where I only needed to take hand luggage – though I’m a terrible over-packer so even if I was flying somewhere only to spend time on a naked beach, I’d probably still take a full suitcase.