Redefining “Outdoorsy”

My colleague Travis and I recently returned from the annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) in Salt Lake City. A fantastic annual conference hosted by the renowned National Outdoor Leadership School, WRMC brings together leaders and innovators to discuss issues and best practices facing the outdoor industry. Travis and I were there to conduct a media training workshop for attendees – Media Masters: Crisis Training for the Spotlight.

Although I attend WRMC every year, work with many outdoor organizations and collaborate regularly with some of the nicest, most welcoming leaders I’ve ever met –  ironically, I still feel like an “outsider” among this group of hardcore mountaineers, heli-skiers and wilderness experts.

It’s not because I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I love snowboarding, diving, stand-up paddleboarding and take every opportunity to go on outdoor adventures when I travel.  But I do not identify as an “outdoorsy” person. And neither do most people in my demographic. Statistics show that most Asian American millennials like myself feel like a fish out of water in the Great Outdoors.

In the October issue of National Geographic, Timothy Egan points to a “passion deficit” for the outdoors among millennials. The director of the National Park Service is quoted saying millennials “are more separated from the natural world than perhaps any generation before them.” A 2016 report by the Outdoor Foundation found that only seven percent of Asian Americans participate in outdoor outings, the lowest among all minority groups surveyed. Only three percent of National Parks visitors are Asian.

Upon further self-reflection, research and discussions with my peers, I realized that the definition society has of an outdoorsy person is actually quite narrow and isn’t something we aspire to. The common refrain was “I enjoy the outdoors but I’m not outdoorsy.”

But as the country becomes a minority-majority nation and as millennials outpace older generations in population and buying power, the outdoor industry is challenged with converting new audiences to the lifestyle. To do this, outdoor organizations need to make the Great Outdoors more relatable. Some suggestions:

  • Update the perception of an outdoorsy person from this:

To this:

The traditional image of an “outdoorsy” person is often that of an older person seeking solitude in nature. This isn’t the image millennials have of themselves, and isn’t an experience that we crave. We want to share experiences with our loved ones. We are not necessarily looking to commune with nature. We want to commune with our friends while enjoying nature’s bounties.

  • I truly believe that the Great Outdoors has something for everyone. Update “outdoorsy” vocabulary to emphasize values that resonate most with millennials.
Instead of: Say this:
o   “Getting away from it all” o   Focus on new experiences
o   Exclusivity and remoteness o   Accessibility
o   Solitude o   Share adventures with friends and family
o   Unplugging o   Leverage tech innovations to enhance the outdoor experience
  • Be present in pop culture. Seek out opportunities to engage with people on their own turf and on their own terms. Take for example this Buzzfeed list about camping hacks. Most millennials, especially urbanites, don’t know how to build a fire and would shy away from even trying. Show that you can start a fire with a handful of Doritos and the task becomes much less intimidating and a lot more fun.

As for me, I’m going to embrace a broader definition of “outdoorsy.” I am outdoorsy, I enjoy the Great Outdoors my way (and with pics to prove it).

Feeling small but not feeling alone at the Grand Canyon.

One response to “Redefining “Outdoorsy””

  1. I see segments of outdoorsy seekers ranging from the ‘feeling’ of silence, the ‘taste’ of fresh to ‘earth as theme park’. It’s great to share and experience all.

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