Gatekeeping in the outdoor industry is getting old

Photo courtesy of Jayden Jones

Article by Jayden Jones, Opinion Editor

This summer marked my baptism into the outdoor industry. I was working for a non-profit devoted to giving young people a taste of the physically demanding, exhilarating, slightly discouraging world of environmental conservation. 

I found myself surrounded by REI worshipping thrill seekers who floated around the country picking up seasonal jobs ranging from ski instructors to firefighters. I was both enamored and intimidated by this new cultural bubble.

Quickly, I found that I didn’t quite fit in. Unlike most of my co-workers, I wasn’t an avid rock climber, I didn’t know how to properly pack a backpack, put up a bear hang, or tie a trucker’s hitch. To make matters worse, I did not get the memo where gear was concerned. Everyone was proudly wearing Patagonia jackets and a base layer from the niche, Leadville-based brand Melanzana. The fact that I didn’t have two Osprey packs, (20L and 60L respectively) a Big Agnes sleeping bag, and a Mountain Hardware tent was apparently a major faux pas

I reached my breaking point when one of my co-workers, a senior crew leader who had helped build the trails of five of Colorado’s Fourteeners, inquired if I had ever been to Wyoming. I told him no, I had not. I can still remember the incredulity of his tone: “You’re from Colorado and you’ve never been to Wyoming?”  

Photo courtesy of Jayden Jones

In hindsight, that exchange makes me angry. I’ve never been to Wyoming because I was raised in a thoroughly middle class family, and my parents both worked full time. My mother never took any vacation or sick days. 

Time for a privilege check: I am a middle class white female. Thus, it’s far easier for me to find a place in the outdoor industry than people of color. As a friend pointed out to me, a person of color might not feel safe entering a national or state park. In light of this, many organizations like Melanin Base Camp or Latino Outdoors  are formed with the goal of getting the BIPOC community outside. They are doing the hard, important work of ensuring that the outdoor industry doesn’t revolve around the gear you have or the obscure places you’ve been. It’s about humans soaking up the mystery and the beauty of the outdoors. 

Categories: Opinion, The Saint