If you’re involved in the outdoor industry, whether for work or pleasure, odds are you have experienced or witnessed toxic outdoor culture. Toxic outdoor culture often expresses itself in how we present ourselves. Many people enter the outdoor industry intimidated, thinking that they must look a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way in order to be accepted into the outdoors. This is a toxic and problematic mindset. The outdoors are for ALL individuals and our body shape, socio-economic status, gender identity, or sexuality does not determine whether or not we belong.
I often talk a lot about how to make the outdoor industry more sustainable. One of the biggest ways to do this begins with the gear/clothing that we choose to buy and wear. And while buying used gear is an incredible option, it is often not accessible to all groups of individuals. Ethical and sustainable gear, from companies like from Patagonia, is a great option but comes with a price tag that few can afford. Whether or not people are aware of it, it is common to look down upon those who have cheaper gear. Somewhere along the lines we equated fancy gear to a sense of belonging. Cheap gear is viewed as less than, thus we associate those individuals as less than. The same toxic thoughts occur based off of how someone looks. If we see someone who doesn’t look like an athletic heterosexual white cis-gendered male or female we often do a double take. Afterall a majority of ads put out by major brands use models that fit this description. And while companies are finally starting to showcase diversity in their ads, the cultural shift to acceptance will not change overnight. If an individual feels like they don’t belong because of how they look or if they receive social cues that affirm this belief, they are less likely to get involved in the outdoors.
These elitist views affect all groups of oppressed individuals. It has only been in the past few decades that major brands create gear specific for womxn. I am thrilled when I come across an ultramarathon that ensures that womxn will have a place at the starting line and prize money equivalent to the men’s side. But should we get excited about the bare minimum or should we continue to demand further equality? I am not here to down play the progress that has been made when it comes to making the outdoors more inclusive and accessible. However, it is naïve to believe that the industry is free from all forms of oppression, discrimination, and judgement. So, what can we do to help dismantle the toxicity that lives within the outdoors? Have conversations with friends and family: The only way these toxic beliefs will change is if we first acknowledge them. Take some time to reflect on how you may have contributed to these stereotypes in the past and what you can do to correct these actions. Talk with friends and family about this topic to gain more perspective on the issues. Brainstorm with each other how you can move forward to make the outdoors truly for all individuals. Support organizations that are uplifting underserved groups: There are already incredibly companies and community groups focused on making the outdoors more accessible by providing a safe space for underserved groups of individuals. Volunteer, donate, and amplify the voices of these groups whether they are organizing hikes, leading discussions, or working to provide affordable gear to get more people involved. Do what you can and invite others to join with you. Lead by example: Support brands and companies that uplift others rather than perpetuate toxic culture. If you witness toxic gear culture or negative views towards others, speak up. Stand up for others and work on being part of the solution rather than the problem. The outdoors are for all individuals and it’s time we take action to ensure that is truly the case.