What if instead of using the digital world to escape reality, you could use it to learn, plan and experience aspects of the real world?


Technology is commonly seen as an enemy of the outside world. Humanity’s ambition to constantly create new tech at the expense of the planet is inherently a bit problematic at times. But for every piece of technology we create that harms the natural world, there are emerging technologies created every day that are helping us to better understand and experience it.

Electric cars are cutting down emissions, solar panels are creating sustainable energy, and biodegradable plastics are at least trying to play nicer with Mother Nature. Additionally, in tandem with creating tech that heals and protects our natural environment, we’re also developing products that help us better see and understand the world around us.

Now, in an ironic twist, one of the most immersive and genuine ways to better see and experience the outdoors without actually stepping outside is to strap a screen to your face.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Mountain View

New technology can give you views like this from the comfort of your lounge room

What even is VR and why should I care?

Virtual Reality, or VR, isn’t a new concept. People have been toying with the idea of creating virtual worlds and experiences for decades now, with varying degrees of success. But the problem with this concept has always been accessibility and price. It was only after the 2010s that believable consumer friendly VR headsets became readily available.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Sci-Fi VR

Is this the future of ‘outdoor’ adventures?

So what is virtual reality and what’s it for? The name is pretty self explanatory, it’s the process of creating virtual worlds and placing viewers within them to give the illusion that they’re actually there. VR headsets essentially place a 3D screen in front of your face that blocks out the real world. Additionally, the images that VR headsets produce use special visual techniques designed to trick your brain into thinking what you are seeing is real.

Basically, even though VR can’t create super realistic graphics right now, it’s close enough that your brain fills in the gaps to make it appear real. Most headsets also make use of 3D Positional Audio to imitate how we hear sounds in the real world to increase the immersion. Depending on what headset you use, you may even use controllers.

VR is incredibly popular for video game experiences right now, letting players drive virtual race cars, survive zombie apocalypses and partake in medieval sword fights. As someone who’s dabbled in these experiences before, I’m telling you now, with a little imagination and suspension of disbelief, they can be a tonne of fun and really pull you in. Sometimes almost too much…



But perhaps the more exciting avenue that virtual reality is exploring right now is giving viewers the ability to experience real life locations and experiences reconstructed in a virtual world. Giving users the freedom to look around as if they were really there.

How does Virtual Reality help me Understand Reality?

Exploring the world through VR relies on the same concept as Google Maps Street View. 360 degree cameras capture a real world environment and transfer it into a format where viewers can freely look around an environment without any restriction to their viewing angle.

Of course instead of viewing these 360 degree environments on a flat computer screen, virtual reality provides an entirely immersive experience by placing the viewer in a virtual environment with no restricted viewing perspective with realistic depth and composition to the images they are seeing, essentially giving the viewer the ability to freely look around a 3D environment that looks damn close to the real thing.

Google Earth even has a VR app now, meaning that you can experience every inch of the globe that Google has mapped in an immersive experience that actually gives you the illusion that you are there.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Google Street View

You can now roam the streets of Brazil without fear of thieving monkeys

Exploring the world through VR isn’t limited to viewing static landscapes and buildings in Google Maps however. There are an unlimited number of video experiences to be experienced in virtual reality as well that put you bang centre in the middle of the action.

You can experience recorded virtual concerts and even attend live-streamed concerts in VR, a perfect option for music fans who can’t always travel to attend gigs. You can go cage diving with sharks, an amazing opportunity to get a closer look at these amazing creatures without fear of losing a limb. If someone records it with a 360 degree camera and makes it available to VR users, then you can experience it as if you were actually there.

If you’re looking for something truly immersive, and have a capable headset, then you can experience some really crazy stuff. The Everest VR experience lets you engage in a virtual climb up Mount Everest. And before you ask, no it’s not the entire trip because your battery won’t last the two month climb.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Everest VR

Hillary and Norgay eat your hearts out

While it’s not as interactive as a fully fledged video game, it’s still a brilliant example of VR being used to provide people with experiences that at least give the illusion that they are doing stuff like climbing Mount Everest. I’d also recommend cranking your AC as cold as possible to really get immersed in this one.

VR is actually proving itself to be an extremely useful travelling tool as well. It gives people the chance to have a sneak peak at locations they’re planning to travel to one day and help them decide if they’re worth experiencing in person. Additionally, some Hotels are now offering VR Hotel Tours so you can make informed decisions about accommodation and even peep the views you can get from the balcony.

While none of these experiences are one to one with reality, it’s impressive that VR is immersive enough that our brain actually tricks us into believing what we are seeing and hearing in these headsets is real. As a bonus, you tend to save a lot of money on plane tickets when you can virtually travel to the Mediterranean from the comfort of your bedroom.

Should I use VR instead of actually travelling?

I’m not trying to say that virtual reality is here to replace travelling or exploring, because quite frankly, nothing can ever replace globe trotting or going on a hike. Sure you can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the world through virtual reality, but you can’t feel it or fully experience it. Instead we should look at virtual reality as a method to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ places we want to visit one day, like a taste test of sorts.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - VR Bike

Not like that!

There are also some places that we can’t physically reach, and there are some people with challenges that prevent them from travelling in general. If someone has the bravery or ingenuity to record and document these locations, then VR really begins to open up new ways to experience the world.

VR isn’t here to replace travelling and experiencing the natural world, it’s here to help remind us of the natural world at times when we can’t experience it ourselves.

How can I get started with VR and what do I need?

Virtual reality is more accessible now than ever. That being said, not every method of experiencing it is equal. If you are curious about it, but aren’t willing to spend serious cash on the experience, there are some super cheap options to start out with.

If you have a smartphone you can buy cheap rigs that turn your phone into a VR headset. This is how I started with VR, and if you haven’t had any experience with higher end headsets, then even these cheap options can be mind-blowing for a first time user. There are a million versions of these cheap headsets, but generally the best places to start looking for one that suits your device now are Ebay and Amazon.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Surprised VR

The cheaper headsets can serve as a basic introduction to VR

It’s important to keep in mind that these mobile phone headsets are nothing compared to dedicated VR headsets, so keep your expectations in check. The cheap options have extremely limited interactivity and the best you can really do with a smartphone VR headset is view 360 degree videos and VR experiences with no interactivity.

But, if your experience with a smartphone headset is enough to entice you towards VR, then I wouldn’t mess with any other halfway options and instead invest in a fully immersive and functional VR headset. Meta’s Meta Quest 2 headset is an all in one VR headset that’s capable of playing just about every VR experience and game out there. If you want to see everything VR has to offer, then this is the best way to do it without spending ridiculous amounts of money.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Meta Quest 2

The Meta Quest 2 VR Headset

The cheapest version of the Meta Quest 2 still costs about $600, which is a harder price to justify just for real world emulations alone, but if you’re interested in seeing what the virtual world can offer, then the price is more than worth the immersive experience.

VR Can Only Get Better

Virtual reality is still a relatively young technology, but despite its youth it’s becoming very impressive and giving us the ability to see the world in new ways. I mean if VR as it exists now is about 10 years old, and you look at how far digital entertainment has come in the almost 50 years since Pong, it’s almost scary to think about the fact that maybe one day visiting the top of Mount Everest in virtual reality will be indistinguishable from the real thing.


Outside Inside: Exploring the Outdoors in VR - Ky Crethar - Blue Light VR

Who wouldn’t want to look like this?

I’m not trying to champion VR replacing reality, because if I’m being totally honest, I can’t imagine a worse world. Instead, VR offers an interesting and immersive substitute for travelling and experiencing the world at times when we can’t do it for real.

Oh and once you’re done exploring the Pyramids of Giza from the comfort of your lounge room, you should give Beat Saber a try, it’s a pretty sick game.

Read more: The Best Outdoor Video Games for Lockdown, Injury, or Rainy Days