7 Ways to Get Started in the Outdoor Industry

I work in the adventure travel and outdoor education field, and I love it. I’m a trip leader, trip advisor, logistics lady, van driver, gear packer, photo taker, activity facilitator, meeting planner, and stuff maker upper. It’s not the easiest job ever, but I get paid to camp in gorgeous places and travel the world. Not bad!

There are many hats to wear in this industry, literally and figuratively. It requires a lot of flexibility.

But it’s also a job that allows you to be active, be challenged and make a massive difference in another human being’s life. Super!

I often get questions about how to get a foot in the door doing this type of thing.

So, how do you start?

Yep. If you don’t already (wait, why?), do outdoor stuff in your free time. Go hiking. Biking. Canoeing. Join a climbing gym. Try as many outdoor activities as possible. Yes, people want to hire folks who actually like and do this stuff!

NOLS offers awesome programs and is widely respected throughout the industry with courses for every level and interest. Outward Bound is another great organization running action and information-packed outdoor courses. A Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification is required in many outdoor jobs and will make you an appealing candidate. Wilderness Medical Associates, SOLO and NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute all offer great training. I’ve never seen a candidate with too many certifications. Scuba, skydiving, level 500 basket weaving… whatever it is, go for it.

Oh just doing some fashionable WFR scenarios

Dundundunnnnn. Working in a bike shop, climbing gym, or in outdoor retail will help you build familiarity and credibility with the gear needed for outdoor & travel pursuits. Customer service experience will also help you tremendously!

Tutoring, babysitting, coaching. A lot of trip leading involves teens! If you don’t like working with kids, you reeeally might want to re-consider this whole thing. They drive a lot of the industry! (Yes, there are absolutely adult trips and programs out there, but be aware that this is a specific type of work.)

kids: love them or love them.

Nature centers, aquariums, zoos, state parks, Fish & Wildlife, Audubon Society, and local outdoor centers are just a few places that offer volunteer opportunities. Anything that gets you outside interacting with your community is going to be awesome experience for your future as a hero guide.

By volunteering on a trail crew, you’ll gain experience working in a team outdoors, something employers will look for on your resume. Plus, you’ll meet like-minded people in a beautiful setting, while doing something good for The Nature.

So many people that I know in this industry got their start by working at a summer camp, including myself. If you’re in college, this is wicked easy to do and super fun. There are tons of camps looking for counselors in large numbers, and often these jobs don’t require a ton of experience (babysitting will do).

Working in outdoor education and adventure travel is a demanding and rewarding job. If you’re determined, flexible and outgoing, you already have a lot of what you need to succeed in this industry.

It’s a wild ride. Enjoy it!

“weeee! I have no time off!”

Was this helpful? Want more? Tell me in the comments!

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  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    you are brilliant. this is fantastic advice!

    • Erin
      January 17, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks so much Julia!

  • Reply
    Gillian Cavoto
    February 1, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Hey. Erin. This is sort of what we were talking about yesterday! Ah I love it, you’re my role model!

    • Erin
      February 2, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Sooo happy to hear that Gillian!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sam Stone
    April 13, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    This is something I could love to do with my life and I’m happy I came across your blog. I found all of this to be really helpful advice, i already fall into many of the categories…My question is how did you end up in the job you have and what sort of places did you apply to before you found your current position?

    • Erin
      April 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      Hi Sam! Awesome, super glad you found it helpful! My current job is a director position at a company I started working for seasonally. In this industry you totally just build your experiences– eventually you are ready for a full time position and have the background to get one! Most folks I know lead trips for a few years and eventually move on to a director or programming position. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    December 10, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Hi Erin,
    I found your blog in the funniest way. I love to travel and I’m always looking for good footwear. I got turned on to Cotopaxi through another blog and you were the model for the Alpa I was interested in. I totally fell in love with your boots in that ad and spent a bit of time hunting them down. Blundstone! Love them! I certainly hope they have you as a brand ambassador because you are the only reason I even knew about them. I’ve only worn them twice and already a friend wants a pair.

    Anyway, from that I started watching your youtube videos. I totally love your philosophy and perspective . I’m twice your age but get so much out of your posts. One thing I heard you say on a youtube video was that you paid $1 for your domain name. How did you do that? I’m seeing the domain names I’d like with a price tag in the thousands. Any tips on the $1 domain name?

    Keep posting, you are an inspiration.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      December 10, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Hi Laurie! Awesome, happy you are here. If everywhere you look has a high price tag on the domain name you want, it could be because it is considered a “premium” domain name. This happens for simpler domain names, or names that are deemed higher value because of domain history, keywords, or just demand. That is my best guess for what is happening! Unfortunately you might have to pick a longer or quirkier name to get around this. I would look at GoDaddy, 1and1, and Bluehost to name a few in terms of hosting. I know GoDaddy has a $1/month deal for the first year right now. Unfortunately I’m not sure how to get around a bigger price tag for the name you want, if indeed it is considered premium by the web gods!

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