You’re Not Better Than Anyone

I love the outdoor industry. I love the people, the energy and the genuine love for anything outside. But more and more, I’m noticing a trend that I don’t love: outdoor snobbery.

I was scrolling through my social media feeds the other day and the glaring elitism was blinding. One friend hashtagged a photo #MyLifeIsBetterThanYourVacation while another argued on Twitter that the proverbial “we” shouldn’t encourage newcomers to the outdoors because they were going to screw it up. The logic? If you want it bad enough, you’ll figure it out on your own….just like “we” did.

outdoor elitism

PC: All photos by Will Rochfort

And don’t even get me started on how many emails and comments I get from various people, accusing me of “ruining” places by writing about them. Because, of course you should be allowed in these places, but no one else?

Y’all, I get it. Getting outside does seem a bit like the latest trend du jour. Hipsters and mountain men alike are finding their way to the trails and the industry is noticing: there is a huge push in the gear world to scale products towards car camping. After all, entry-level enthusiasts are likely going to be interested in car camping before they dive headfirst into ultralight backpacking, yanno?

outdoor elitism

But what is with the snobbery? When did we become a group of holier-than-thou individuals who think that our prized wilderness delights are only for a select few? The type of people that specifically hashtag photos in an effort to make others feel worse about themselves?

outdoor elitism

My friend Katie speaks the truth.

Yes, trails are more crowded. And sometimes, these uneducated crowds of newcomers do stupid things like graffiti on canyon walls or topple ancient natural wonders. And absolutely, this sucks. But assuming all newcomers to be careless individuals is an arrogant and dangerous assumption. Think back to your early-outdoors self: you probably dressed in cotton, maybe wore a pair of jeans on your first hike, and carried a water bottle in your hand. You still learned what you were doing; you evolved. Why can’t we assume the same for everyone?

Why do we have the right to act as gatekeepers to the outdoors? Do we now get to determine individuals’  worth and deservedness to be outside?

outdoor elitism

No. Because not a single one of us is better than anyone else. Not a single one of us is more deserving that another.  There are 7 billion people on this planet and we have to get along. We have to share our love for the outdoors rather than isolate those of us with less experience.

The outdoor industry has always been a place to share knowledge and experiences, focusing on the core love of Mother Nature. Don’t change that. Don’t scare people away with condescending attitudes and assumptions that your life is better than those out of the know.

outdoor elitism

Let’s keep it a place where everyone belongs.



  • Reply Anne at

    …is it wrong to wear jeans on a hike? If so I’ve been breaking the outdoor rules LOL.

    • Reply Jason Cleghorn at

      Only if YOU think it is. Or lets go with no… 🙂

    • Reply Kitty at

      The trail doesn’t care what you wear. Neither do I.

      • Reply Anne at

        Thanks! I guess if I was going for a multi day hike I’d invest in something waterproof or fancier, but for cold weather walks, jeans seem sturdy and make sense! I can also run miles and miles on a trail in tights or shorts and a sports bra so I figure if I can run in it, I can also day hike in running tights. But I would wear a shirt, because bugs.

  • Reply Whitney Vestal at

    Great blog post! Sometimes it’s hard, having only child syndrome, to share with others. But I think your friend hit the nail on the head, the outdoors is for everyone..who treat it with respect. I think the complaints are mostly from people witnessing ill treatment of the outdoors and they want to be only children and scream, “MINE.” I think a huge push, and blogs like this help, should be for more signing, info, etc to outdoor newbies on how to treat the great, lovely outdoors.

  • Reply Paula Johnson at

    Love this! Whenever I’m in a crowded outdoor place, I always try to just think how cool it is that all these people chose to spend their day or their vacation outdoors. I mean they could be at a mall or DisneyWorld and choosing to spend outdoors is rad! 🙌🏻 #perspective

    • Reply Lesley at

      I think the exact same thing too, especially when they have their children. Better a hiking trail than lines at Disneyland.

  • Reply Suzanne at

    This post is great. I’m pretty sure I’m not in the “real outdoors” category according to the outdoor snob segment, but like you said, I’ve evolved a lot, even if it’s just from “total dumb-dumb” to “mildly knowledgeable on a couple things”. I purpose to use my voice to encourage other women to get out and enjoy nature. Sure, for some of us, that might look like a dayhike in head-to-toe lululemon instead of a 3-day backpacking trip in “real” gear from REI, but I’m not even a little bit sorry! I think there’s a misconception among many women that you have to be a certain type of woman to enjoy the outdoors, and some women simply find that unappealing. I think that’s a shame, so I’m happy to see that the idea of who’s a “real” outdoorswoman is slowly falling away, and I’m happy to be part of that movement.

    • Reply Laura Cardon at

      Such a great point Suzanne! Being girly and/or not looking a certain way shouldn’t discourage women from getting outdoors and considering themselves the real deal.

  • Reply winehiker at

    Heather, your post here is a refreshing read; I’ve certainly witnessed the attitudes you and Katie speak of. For such a long time now, I’ve thought that those of us who truly celebrate the outdoors will always take the pains to share our experiences and lessons learned with others, whether good or bad, to simply pay our learnings forward. This is good for all of us; indeed it’s often been said that to teach is the best way to truly learn. And so it’s my feeling that elitists can’t really call themselves outdoorists (or even use the #outdoorist hashtag sincerely) if, during their outdoor experiences, they haven’t first chosen to educate others and, in turn, educate themselves.

  • Reply Derek (100 Peaks) at

    My whole goal is to get people outside in a way that is safe for them and respects the land they visit. There is room enough for all to enjoy. I will, however, keep a few places to myself. 🙂

  • Reply cass estes at

    Thank you for writing about this! We are all here to enjoy our beautiful planet : )

  • Reply Ryan at

    Being a snob or condescending is easy, educating and ensuring that everyone enjoys the outdoors safely and comfortably is hard. People too easily forget that they were once feeling their way around and making mistakes themselves, and take the easy way out when they encounter the same.

  • Reply Darren at

    I totally agree. Being from Colorado, I am sure you have spent time in places like Wyoming and Montana where people recreate in the outdoors in other ways besides climbing and backpacking (think hunting, fishing and off-roading). Do you also extend your philosophies these people? If so I would say you are on the right path.

    • Reply heather at

      Absolutely. I’m not a hunter myself but I have quite a few friends that are BIG into the sport. As long as they are responsibly hunting, I totally apply the same philosophies. Same applies to fishing and the rest of the “hook and bullet” crowd 🙂 I will admit that I’m torn on the off-roading (or motorized anything like snowmobiles or hell, even heli skiing): while they’re definitely outdoorsmen and I love that they are getting outside, I do wonder about the environmental ramifications.

  • Reply Gauax at

    Very good article, and I agree with the sentiment. But: you’re guilty of it, too! On several occasions people have asked you where certain locations are that are depicted in your Instagram photos and you’ve replied akin to, “I want to keep it off the radar.”

    • Reply heather at

      Ha touche! But to be fair, “several occasions” is a very dramatic exaggeration. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that one time in the entire 11-year history of my blog/2,130 photos on IG, and that was on a photo last week on Instagram (which I’m guessing you’re referencing) 🙂

      But this does bring up a question that I’d love to hear your thoughts on: my response to that woman on IG (maybe it’s you?) was *also* to say that I will be sure to continue to include the trail names of the majority of my trails in the location section on IG. So, my question is this: if someone shares 98% of the information with others but keeps the remaining 2% to his/herself, is that considered snobbery? I would say no, but I’d love to her your (or anyone else’s!) thoughts.

  • Reply Laura at

    This is why I started my blog – I felt totally overwhelmed and like there was nothing catering to other beginners. It’s been exciting that (some) people have started to think more like this though.

    At work, I still run into a lot of “they’ll ruin it” and “don’t share that trail,” particularly in Colorado where the population is booming and trails get more crowded. It’s important to share the outdoors with everyone though, not only to let everyone get the benefits of nature but also to make sure nature sticks around. The core group of super users isn’t enough to steward our outdoor spaces in generations to come- you have to help new people understand the value of it as well. If they don’t feel welcome, they won’t appreciate it, they won’t value it, and they won’t vote to conserve it and prioritize the outdoors in the future.

  • Reply Jason Cleghorn at

    OMG Heather. You absolutely crushed it. I’ve hiked ~860 miles in the past 1.25 years and I’ve even had to guard against feeling inferior/unincluded. I am 40, have a family, a good job, etc. I don’t have an awesome ‘outdoor’ vehicle, I have a VW Tiguan 2WD. And at times, I’ve felt that even though I’ve enjoyed my outdoor experiences that I somehow wasn’t good enough or part of the group, because of the above.

    But what I’ve come to understand that all that really matters is what I do have. A genuine and unwaivering love of the outdoors, a desire to show that amazeballsness to others, and to inspire other ‘old’ uncool (I’m talking in theory, LOL) people that you know what, you CAN get up off the couch, turn off the TV and get outside. On National Trails Day, I encouraged all my FB friends to get out and walk at least 1 mile, even if it was just around the block a few times. My friends range from current HS to I think maybe an octogenarian. SEVERAL people told me how good it felt to get outside and just walk.

    I sincerely thank you for saying these things and to let you know that this post was much needed to hear.

  • Reply Jill, Head Geargal at

    Girl, I dunno. Who really gives a fuck about one’s “future in the industry” (like what the shit does that even mean)? Yes a fuckton of people on trails irritates me a lot. No I don’t care what you wear on your hike. Yes I think it SUPER sucks that people are inviting the hordes to formerly unknown spots via social media just to promote themselves and their nonsense “brand.” No I do not think that the people focusing their lives on social media are true outdoorspeople. No I do not think going to a music festival or going car camping counts as being an actual outdoorsperson. That nonsense is completely bastardizing the ethos behind mountain sense, woodscraft, and connection with the natural world which is what originally, and unfortunately, launched the consumerist juggernaut that is now the “outdoors industry.” Backpacker magazine was originally intended to not be distributed to anyone outside of backpacking because they didn’t want to grow the activity. They’ve changed their tune, but I wish they hadn’t.

    It’s worth mentioning that of course the outdoors industry is NOT “inclusive.” When was the last time you saw a person of color on a climbing rope or on skis? A woman on the cover of Outside magazine? A minority represented as a sponsored athlete or even employed by a brand? A First Nations citizen as a member of one of those god-awful hashtag blogger corps (of which you and the Twitterer you quote are both members)? Hell, even women’s gear up in front of a catalog? Do you ever see anyone dressed remotely differently from the tens of thousands of other people at the trade shows? Hell no, you do not. The “industry” is vanilla, privileged, conformist, EXclusive, profit-oriented. This has nothing to do with the outdoors or a nature experience as something valuable in itself. This is all about selling the newest line of products, of perpetuating consumerist culture and the new normal of narcissistic self-promotion.

    I struggle with this on Geargals. I hate myself sometimes for having a web site basically about products. The mission was, and is, to promote and support women in the outdoors (the REAL outdoors, not a goddamn music festival for fuck’s sake) by demanding quality gear and lambasting sexist advertising and product lines. It’s been a somewhat successful mission but I cringe to think that I’m participating in the “sell more stuff” ethos. So far I think what we’re doing at Geargals is still valuable. And I would never and will never, ever, spout off about unspoiled spots on that site and I’ll fire the hell out of any writer that does so. I don’t even post trip reports for that and other reasons (the biggest of which is that it’s super douchey to breathlessly chronicle your every move on the damn internet to promote yourself and/or your brand). Is this elitist? If you think so, fine. It’s no skin off my back. But I look around at my day to day life and it IS better than most people’s vacations. The places I go and the things I see every day are things that people consider to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It’s tourist season right now and it’s sorta funny to see people losing their minds over stuff I’ve seen so often I barely notice it; I mean it, it’s cute. And I won’t feel bad or apologize for it; to live the life is a sacrifice and a series of compromises. If those people wanted to make those sacrifices and do those compromises, they could live here too. But they don’t, so – my life is their vacation. What can ya do?

    There was a time in which a person had to undergo a sort of apprenticeship to earn the knowledge it took to get way out into the backcountry. I find that to be a respectable way to come about knowledge. Getting it from some bro magazine and bumbling one’s way through purposefully audacious endeavors to look cool on the internet? Not so respectable. And that’s what this new culture is earning us. And, bah, humbug, curmudgeon curmudgeon, I think it sucks. it’s trampling the shit out of some really nice and formerly pristine places just for the sake of attention seeking and it’s ruining a whole bunch of stuff.

    • Reply crumudgeon at

      100%!….Earn it and shut up about it!!!….fellow curmudgeon here. 🙂

    • Reply Dee at

      “It’s tourist season right now and it’s sorta funny to see people losing their minds over stuff I’ve seen so often I barely notice it; I mean it, it’s cute.” … wow, you could use some humanity and empathy for others who aren’t as fortunate as yourself to be able to spend every day as if it was one big vacation. I get it, you sacrifice, but so does everyone else and they still don’t get to experience the incredible great outdoors. Let them have their excitement without your judgment, then they may actually feel confident enough to get out there, experience the wild, and actually feel invested in protecting it for all of us to enjoy.

  • Reply Jason Cleghorn at


    Is it weird that I agree with alot of what you posted AND alot/most of what Heather posted. IMO, the worst part of the current outdoor industry are the gear companies themselves. It may be personal weakness, but they’ve pretty much managed to sometimes convince me that I’m inferior as an outdoorsman, just because I don’t have their gear. Or this model, or this version. Fact is, I have a cheap Ozark Trails tent. It keeps the (theoretical, I live in AZ) rain off my head. I buy my shoes/boots only when I have a coupon or they go on clearance.

    Having said that, while I don’t know Heather IRL, I can only go by what I see and while she’s certainly a grown woman and doesn’t need some old dude to defend her, she seems to have a balanced life, does cool adventures, works hard in a family business and genuinely seems like a ‘real’ person. BTW, I hate that term.

    Just because someone uses hashtags, it doesn’t make them a bad person. (duh)

  • Reply BT79 at

    I think the phrase goes, “Hike your own hike.” 🙂

  • Reply Laura at

    This land was made for you and me, y’all…

  • Reply Adam Buchanan at

    Nice write up. I agree on the comment about IG where you don’t share ALL your hot spots. As a hunter, if I find a really good spot to find game, I’ll probably reserve the right to not blast it out on the internet. But I’ll probably share it with some friends who are getting into hunting and go share a trip with them.

    Let’s include others.

    Think of the family who has a small interest in the outdoors. They gear up at Wal Mart with a coleman tent and some value hiking boots. They spend as much as one Mountain Hardwear high altitude snow suit would cost to get their family outdoors for one night.

    And then they get dirty looks from fellow campers because their tent and jackets aren’t cool enough. They read on the internet that because they technically were less than 30 min outside of city limits that wasn’t ‘outdoorsy’ enough. They get cold responses from Instagram outdoorsy people when they ask advice on where they should go outside next.

    So they give it up. They get a bad taste in their mouth. They return to other hobbies that welcome them with open arms.

    Really? Is that how we’re going to play this game? Thats shameful. Heather just outlined a roadmap of how industry folk should re-consider our approach on this topic. Yes, it’s for business but it’s also the right thing to do as people.

    I’m with Heather.

  • Reply Sarah at

    I found your overall point interesting, but this sentenced really turned me off your article: “Think back to your early-outdoors self: you probably dressed in cotton, maybe wore a pair of jeans on your first hike, and carried a water bottle in your hand.” To me, this sentence comes across as snobby and “holier-than-thou” – two of the attitudes you denounce in this post.

    In reality, hiking in cotton isn’t always bad. Example A: I’m a beginner doing a 2 mile loop close to town at 10AM on a cloudless, 80° day. Whether my t-shirt is a cotton Target 5-pack special or a $45 North Face moisture-wicking summer base layer doesn’t make much difference. Example B: I’m a very experienced backpacker headed out on a 3-day trip across the Sonoran Desert with a change of clothes and full rain gear for when the temperature drops in the evening. Hiking in cotton during the day may work just fine for me. Also, there’s nothing wrong with carrying a water bottle in your hand. Sure, you won’t be able to take a badass pro-athlete-look-alike Instagram picture in your Camelbak ultra-running vest, but is it still carrying water for you? Yes. Are you still prepared? At least in the water department, yes.

    Like I said, I found your point of view interesting (though I think I agree more with Jill above), and I love reading your blog! However, I feel some of your own words in this post come off as having the exact same attitudes you’re against…

  • Reply Kristen at

    Thank you, thank you, thank you… THANK YOU! I want so bad to learn more about enjoying the great outdoors, but having never had parents super into backpacking or other more “outdoorsy” activities, I feel quite behind. I’m grateful that they took me car camping as a kid, and now I’m eager to become more advanced, but the intimidation factor of people who seem to know everything is so real. As frustrating as it is when places are crowded, can’t we all just be glad that people are actually appreciating our natural wonders? I’m thrilled that more families ARE getting outside! This is such an important message. Thank you for sharing it!

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  • Reply Jeremy (Trip-Logger OUTDOORS) at

    I enjoyed the article and the comments. I’m not sure how much the industry really influences this subject. I suppose they play some role, but just not sure it’s integral. I feel that just because someone was “here first” doesn’t mean the place belongs to them. At the same time, new comers need to learn how to respect nature. It’s also good to learn the ethos of a particular sport, but the effort is worthwhile. If you find my favorite spots, I won’t glare and resent you for it. There are times when the outdoors is a great way to connect with others. There are other times when I want solitude outdoors. In those times, I just hike out further into the back country and the crowds usually disappear.

    I think the key is for new comers to learn how to enjoy nature. I recently posted an article on “finding your own formal for outdoor fun”. I was inspired by your article, actually, so thanks for that Heather! I’ll admit I have felt hesitant in the past to jump into a new sport or area because I wasn’t sure if I was welcome, or if I was good enough, intense enough, had the right gear, etc. However, if you focus more on finding your own formula for making YOUR experience what you want it to be, you will find outdoors sports and adventures more fulfilling.

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  • Reply Cynthia M at

    Just discovered this blog… and I can see this both ways. When I’m strolling (I’m older with multiple knee injuries, so that’s my personal pace) down a trail in one of Colorado’s beautiful parks, listening to the birds sing and the breeze through the pines… I would love to have it all to myself. But at the same time, I truly appreciate information and instruction, such as that I received last week during my first attempt at trout fishing. Hopefully in the future I can share what I’ve learned with someone else, so that they may also enjoy what’s out there. And as for now, I car camp. Since I’m a single woman, at least I feel a little more secure when I can lock myself in somewhere. And because bears. And I wear jeans, for now. I know there are better options, and I’m learning. And there are those who WANT to share – there was a gal at the COS REI that spent quite a bit of time with me explaining the pros and cons of various fabrics and features of XC ski wear, so I’m learning. Always learning, always evolving. Anyway, there are snobs and exclusionists in every walk of life, every hobby, every profession. It starts in (or even before) kindergarten, and will go on til the end. There will always be the ones, as Dr. Seuss described, with “stars on thars.” But if we can be citizens with a teaching/teachable spirit, and if we offer that knowledge to others with grace, then maybe we can promote responsible use of our precious outdoors. And make some friends along the way.

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