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Wilderness Archetypes

At MHO Adventures we offer a wide range of adventures in many different areas around Ontario and Quebec. Our adventures range from 3 days in the Haliburton Frost Centre (with your family or on one of our Duke of Edinburgh journeys), to paddling the entire length of the Missinaibi River over 25 days. Due to the variety of expeditions we offer, we have the privilege of meeting people of all ages, coming from various corners of the globe with a wide range of previous experience in wilderness travel. People's reasons for choosing a guided canoe trip are all so different.

Not long ago I was introduced to the concept of Wilderness Archetypes by a co-guide. We discussed that everyone has their own reason for partaking in wilderness travel and that each person interacts with the wilderness and nature in different ways which can be connected to an archetype. An archetype is an inherited instinct, meaning long before you are even conscious of what you are doing, you are behaving in a particular way. It is what motivates your behaviour, influences your feelings, and how you interact with the world. People go into the wilderness for many different reasons and how each person interacts, behaves, and connects to these natural places is different and can be categorized by the 10 Wilderness Archetypes.


This is the person who seeks out long days that involve physical challenge and goals that can be measured quantitatively. They are content and happy at the end of the day when they have paddled 40kms into the wind or collected enough firewood to keep the fire going all night. They will ask how many miles can we do today? How many peaks can we summit on this trip? The athlete is seeking to experience the wilderness, through the power and stamina of the physical body, they are the thrill-seekers, built for endurance, and want to persevere through challenges.


This is the person that is looking to connect with others, and finds joy in having a shared experience with friends and family when out in the wilderness. You will never find this person on their own, if they are cooking they will ask someone to help them, they will look to bring the group together around the fire through conversations or an activity or game. They will be the one in the front of the canoe asking 100 questions trying to get to know you better. The Social Archetype will measure their enjoyment of a trip by the memories they have created with others.


This person is always pointing out wildlife, noticing the sunset, and encouraging you to take a pause and just breathe in and smell the fresh clean air. You will often find this person sitting and staring out from camp, listening with their eyes closed or taking photos of the most unique rocks and plant life. They connect to the wilderness through sensing, smelling, listening, watching, feeling, and tasting. The aesthetic archetype will tell you about their experience in the wilderness by sharing photos, making you try a cedar tea, or getting you to hold and feel a fossil they collected.


This person is looking to do a little bit of everything out there. They might help with cooking and learn to bake over the fire one night and the next minute they have binoculars and a bird book, engaging in some bird watching. As a weekend warrior this person would have a garage full of toys, one weekend rock climbing, the next paddling. The Recreational Archetype is not looking to become an expert in anything, they like to try a little of everything and just enjoy engaging in the activity more than learning all the ins and outs of one particular thing. If you were wondering which Archetype is out there taking selfies and “doing it for the gram,” I think they would fit in here.

Self Growth

This person is similar to the Athlete, however, focused on more than just the physical accomplishment. This person is seeking to be in the wilderness to improve themselves. Different from the Recreational Archetype, they might seek out proficiency in one thing. You’ll find the Self Growth Archetype on a leadership course or reading a self-improvement book on a trip, not to benefit their career but for themselves. They will look for coaching in their paddling technique or attempt to improve their river running ability by scouting every rapid. They will measure their enjoyment of a trip based on personal accomplishments.


This person is up at the crack of dawn fishing or on their hands and knees using a plant ID book gathering wild edibles. They know how to light a fire in the most efficient way using specific types of wood. The Utilitarian Archetype is not simply seeking out a beautiful place, they want to know how the natural world can be used to help them, looking at functionality rather than attractability.


This person could be found staring into the fire with the sun setting behind them, journal in hand, occasionally coming back to reality to write a few lines before they watch the flames again, clearly deep in thought. This is a great example of the Contemplative archetype. On long paddling days they engage in conversation about what is next in life, their past and present experiences, discussing the surrounding landscape and how it came to be. If not engaging in conversation they are often just watching the world around them with a thoughtful gaze, taking time everyday to sit somewhere on their own with their journal, staring, writing, and reflecting.


This person is often found on youth trips trying to battle everything, to prove they can do anything and often seek adventure that involves more risk. The trip where they spend most of the morning searching for a cliff that would be safe to jump from. This person will attempt to carry a barrel and a canoe on a 1.3 km portage with no breaks, possibly making it 100m.  Warriors are great because they seek out challenges and get the most out of a trip by challenging themselves and exploring new places. In telling you about their experience they will emphasize the cliff jump and tell you how high it was, but they might leave out being cold in the rain because they didn’t think they needed a rain jacket.


This person is always looking to explain or understand.  In the wilderness it might be explaining the geology, looking at clouds and predicting the weather, or discussing the beaver as a keystone species and that they have played a big part in Canada’s history. They ask curious questions to attempt to understand and constantly learn. This archetype will be the person on your trip who has researched the area before the trip and fact checks as you go.


Most people that embark on multi-day backcountry adventures have some escapist qualities. This archetype comes to the wilderness to seek distraction and find relief from unpleasant realities. When you are on a backcountry trip, day to day life is very simple and it is easy to engage in activity, with nature and with the people around you. You can live in the moment and easily forget about whatever is happening back home in the “real world”.

We encourage you to take a moment and reflect back, think about your own instincts and how you behave in the wilderness. If you are thinking about an adventure in the future, thinking about these Archetypes may give you an idea of how to make the most out of your trip in a way that is true to you.