If you’ve been listening for a while I do need to give you a little heads up that today’s episode is going to be a little bit different, just a little bit offbeat but not too far off.
I want to share more of what my experience has been like developing and growing and working in the outdoor industry.
So if you have zero interest in what that’s like and you’re just here for hiking tips and how-tos, I love you, I’ll miss you, and I’ll see you in next week’s episode when we get back to hiking and backpacking tips.
This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
But if you are even a little bit interested or just nosy about what some of my past outdoor jobs have been like then stick around, this is for you.
Listen to Episode 12: An Inside Look At Some Jobs In The Outdoor Industry
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Let me start with a little background, when I started college, I loved science and math, so chose a physics major, math minor, and thought I wanted to do research and experiments and become a professor one day the whole nine yards.
But I was also working the summers as a camp counselor at a summer camp – which I learned after a few summers that that was what I really loooooved. And I also discovered I could change my major relatively easily over to Recreation Park and Tourism Management with a focus in Outdoor Recreation so that’s what I did and what I have my degree in today.
While a degree in outdoor recreation is not required for all or probably even most outdoor jobs, it did come with some huge perks like pretty much automatic experience volunteering at an interpretive nature center, helping create and run outdoor programs for middle schoolers, and a massive discount on a Wilderness First Responder certification (which spoiler alert, that certification is required for a lot of outdoor jobs.)
While I was still in school I continued to work at that same camp, but moved over and up as the years went on, I started out as a regular old camp counselor in their educational farm program, then switched into their adventure camp department which much more focused on off-site, backcountry trips, and wilderness skills. I spent some summers guiding trips for teens which were amazing, and then eventually moved up to be the assistant to the director – so I got to work a lot more behind the scenes planning and organizing the trips, coordinating with outfitters, making sure our guides had everything they needed before they went out into the field – which was also something I really enjoyed.
I mention this job in particular because this was a job, a seasonal job, but a real job none the less that they needed to fill every year, they paid me to do, while I didn’t get benefits because it was seasonal, I did get all meals and housing provided, I got sweet pro deals on gear, all in all, a win for me.
But I went to my school and said hey, would the duties of this job fulfill the requirements of my internship? – I needed to complete an internship to graduate – and they said yes! I say that to explain, that I definitely didn’t feel like some lowly intern, I just had a regular job in my field that also happened to count toward my internship credit and I graduated after that summer.
This is actually the inspiration behind this whole episode I had an interaction with someone on Facebook, a well-meaning young adult, who was still in school, asked how to break into the outdoor industry. I recommended getting an internship and some other troll was like “well, we can’t all afford to take unpaid internships” – to me!
And I’m just like ok… that’s cool… me neither. So I just wanted to clarify for you guys in my community – you never have to work for free if you don’t want to, that’s just silly.
And I recommended an internship to that girl because my internship did lead to a full-time year-round job, with awesome health benefits and all meals and housing and utilities and everything provided, at that same company – right out of college.
So even if you’re not in college or not looking for an internship per se, I still do think seasonal jobs are usually your best foot in the door and if you’re willing to stick it out for a season or a few seasons then you have a much better leg to stand on in that company or even at other year-round jobs outside that company, it’s just a great way to get experience.
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So my first full-time year-round job in the outdoor industry was teaching environmental education to mostly middle schoolers. We did have some high schoolers sometimes and sometimes some tiny kids as well, but it was mostly middle school.
And while I loved loved loved that job – everyone else was also obsessed with their jobs at that particular place, so it was very difficult to ever move up into a supervisory role because people just never left, they just stayed there forever until they retired, which is probably the only downside of working for a truly awesome, values-based company.
So I got itchy feet and accepted a new position elsewhere, running an outdoor recreation program at a residential high school. This outdoor rec program actually counted as the high school students’ gym class pretty much, so instead of traditional gym class, I would take them road biking or snowshoeing or cross country skiing instead – which was great.
Part of that role was also working as a dorm parent, so I lived at the school and was in charge of one of the girl’s wings in the dorms so also got to host more community-building activities with them as well running my outdoor classes during the day.
This was actually the highest paying job I’ve ever had in the outdoor industry, it also had health insurance, and like I said I lived there, so all housing was covered I could eat in the cafeteria there if I wanted, it was a pretty sweet set up.
But again, I got itchy feet so that was actually when I ended up quitting to attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike – which is a whole story for another day! But I did spend several months on the trail.
When I got off the trail I was scrounging for work but ending working for a small vineyard, actually helping harvest the grapes and then also sold wine at farmers markets – so while not exactly an outdoor industry job – that was definitely not your typical 9-5 desk job either – which to this day is pretty much my only requirement for any position I take – can’t be a 9-5 desk job.
I got real itchy feet again living on the east coast and in the midwest – did not agree with me so much, so my husband and I moved to Colorado to work logistics for Outward Bound. Again this was more of that behind the scenes type work, supporting the trip leaders and guides, doing a lot of packing food and fixing gear and driving to and from trailheads – but that was also a great experience!
I’ve also taught outdoor education seasonally at a place out here in Colorado. The jobs I’ve had have allowed me to live in beautiful places that I never would have gone to or been able to afford to live in otherwise, I’ve lived in the mountains in upstate new york, I’ve lived in the most northern tip of Maine, I’ve lived at the base of the collegiate peaks in CO now I live just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
My husband and I have also had other alternative jobs not necessarily outdoor-related but that provide all housing and utilities which is a huge life-changer.
All that to say though, outdoor rec jobs do typically pay significantly less than your corporate 9-5 jobs, but for me, all those other perks – living somewhere I love, doing the things I love, with some of the most amazing people, outdoorsy people are quite a unique a bunch, I wouldn’t trade that for any amount of money.
If you’re kinda starting to realize the same thing – the outdoor industry might be calling your name my friend. And those are my tips to get started – start applying to outdoor internships or seasonal positions, try to get your wilderness first responder certification if you’ll be doing any sort of guiding or backcountry trips.
If you have a college degree, in any field, and at least some work experience like working with other humans – chances are that you’ll be able to get an entry-level job in the outdoor industry.
Just. keep. Applying.
I only shared the few jobs that I have personal experience with here today, but there are so many more like working in national parks, or ski resorts, or wilderness therapy, there are so many opportunities.
Here are some of my go-to places to search for outdoor jobs, and I wish you all the best!
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Thank you so much again for listening, or reading this, until next time, happy hiking!