Are You An Outdoor Cliché?

twinzies-brah 660I told my friend Dan I was getting tired of having long hair, that I often fantasized about trimming all of it off and leaving just a quarter-inch, fantasized about 90-second showers, no messing with ponytails under helmets, knots, conditioner, paying for haircuts.

Dan, a curly-haired man himself who has more than once used the word “inspire” when describing Rob Machado’s bro-fro, said, “You should dread it.”

I said Nah, I’m already a long-haired, sandal-wearing vegetarian rock climber. With Colorado license plates. On my van. That I live in. Shouldn’t we all have a limit on the number of cultural stereotype check boxes?

You ever feel like you might not be so unique, that maybe you’re just wearing the uniform of a specific subculture? Ever walked up to a station wagon with a rack on top of it in the parking lot of a ski hill or trailhead, and then realized it was someone else’s station wagon with a rack on top? Whoops.

Sometime I catch myself (1) buying granola and organic yogurt in (2) Whole Foods, sporting a (3) ponytail and (4) Chacos and carrying my groceries out in a backpack instead of a plastic bag (5), and in that backpack is a (6) reusable water bottle and (7) coffee mug, and I get in my van with a (8) rocket box and (9) mountain bike on top of it, and the shuffle on my ipod picks a song from a (10) Bob Marley box set to play — well, I gotta scratch my chin and wonder: Am I myself, or am I exactly like Every Other Dude Who Wants To Be A Mountain Dude?

I used to help lead backpacking trips for inner-city kids, and on one of the trips, we all hopped out of the van at the trailhead in the Wallowa Mountains, and we discussed the food. One of the other adult volunteers said something about a vegetarian in the group, and one of the teenagers, Miguel, said, Who’s a vegetarian, and I said I am. He looked at my sandals and said,

Do you drive a Subaru?

I laughed and said yes, I do. Pegged.

I volunteered with another group in California, and the other trip leader, Darin, and I, both flew out from Denver to pick up the kids in the Bay Area and head out for a week in the backcountry. Darin and I had met for the first time only days before and got along well. On the third day of the trip, Darin and I realized we were wearing almost the exact same outfit, down to the same brand of headlamp. The two white guys from Colorado, unintentionally perpetuating Colorado (ahem, Colo-rad-bro) stereotypes. See above photo.

My friend Jarrett asked me one time what I thought about a guy who was walking past us sporting a foot-high mohawk and full punk regalia, and I said I think it’s great that he’s doing his own thing. Jarrett said, Is he really doing his own thing, or is he wearing a uniform of people who love punk? I think about that sometimes. Then I think about how much I love wearing my smelly, beat-up black soft shell everywhere including restaurants with cloth napkins, and how much more I love to talk to people about rock climbing and national park trails than who’s dating who or reality TV or whatever.

Fellow dirt-lover: Put on your (1) puffy jacket with the duct-tape patches and get in your (2) all-wheel-drive station wagon/pickup with a topper, and we can fist bump at the (3) non-corporate coffee shop/Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour stop/crag/trailhead sometime, and (4) use the word “gnar” as a noun. I will be pleased to meet your (5) dog named Kaya and perhaps later buy you a (6) microbrew so we can exchange more (7) beta. Please be advised that I (8) do not shower that often.

Read more stories about the outdoors exactly like this at Semi-Rad.

{ 28 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Craig Rowe

    On the money.

    This is the reason I stopped hating cyclists for their spandex and local bike shop unis. I was just being hypocritical.

    I was at a friend’s wedding a couple of years ago and a buddy asked me, “Do those pants drain water?” Yep, and the UPF is around 50, I think.

  • KatieSue

    Pegged. As a side note, wearing the outdoor uniform will help us outdoor girls spot you right away for easy dating elimination. It’s as easy as a biner on your keys telling me you might climb and a ring on your finger saying unavailable.

  • Bjorn

    Funny, but true and for so many groups.

    As a fisherman, when I see the khaki technical shirts and the “Sage” hat, I know I am among my people.

    People who strive to be individuals all tend to look like the kind of people who strive to be individuals.

    It is just ingrained social behavior. If you try to break away from it, you’ll only end up looking like someone who is trying to break away from it… you’ll probably still wear the same shoes.

  • Luke

    This just made me laugh. It’s that we all try to be so different but end up all being the same…how the heck does that work out?

  • coloradbro

    Spot on.

    I started shaving cause I’m so sick of the beards and every follicle capable chump thinking it gives them the mountain man library card. Posers always try to look the part.

  • david

    The world would be a better place if more dudes wore sandals to work and bought organic groceries to put in their own bags and coffee to put in their own cups. Who gives a shit if somebody else smirks at your ‘uniform’? We’re all wearing uniforms, all the time. Fortunately, I get to wear the clothes that work best where I live. You do too? Awesome.

  • Ace

    In my local coffee shop in certain unnamed little trailhead town we call it: recreational profiling. Tourists come in asking questions about local trails, crags, canyons etc. With one glance at their ‘uniform’ and maybe a second glance out at their rig we know instantly how much ‘beta’ we can give them. Even better if they have a good dog.

  • Kristal

    Lets place a big part of the blame on the lame design options for outdoor clothing. Patagonia’s non technical gear looks like it was designed by butch lesbians.

    But, c’mon..the uniform of the bro thing is the worst..I did some time in JH and so many dudes looked the same. Its not necessary..is everybody trying to fit in and scared to be an individual? I think it also has do with the kind of people into nature,outdoor sports. They aren’t artists or creative types in general..they are technical, sport/jock types and fashion is far from their mind. They are utilitarians and fashion is the last thing on their mind. In a ski town with a 10-1 ratio dudes to chicks, it was the ones that didn’t subscribe to dressing like that got any action.

  • Paige

    Pegging the outdoor guy is the first step. If you want to take it to the next level, try pegging the phd candidate field biologist some other subtle variation of outdoor cliche guy. This is one of my favorite airport past times.

  • Maria

    The “uniform” is okay with me if it means spotting a fellow outdoorsy person that much easier. Plus, some of the objects that complete the uniform are part of that uniform simply because they are functional for the sport the uniform belongs to. Granola is an absolutely great, high-energy snack for climbing or hiking and a soft shell is nearly essential.

  • Sergio

    Over many decades it still baffles me why anyone (it does not matter whether you are at the top of your outdoor game or not nor whether you are wearing a suit as a uniform) that you would possibly think that smelling like a week (or more) of B.O. (pits, crack and feet) is something to be proud of. Is that part of the requisite to don a uniform? Do you like to sit next to anyone that smells like stale sweat mixed with dirt and semi-moldy clothing for an extended period of time, maybe in close quarters? If you think poor personal hygiene is part of your ‘uniform’, so you can fit in with everyone else, you are sorely lacking even the most basic social etiquette which applies the same to the city and to the outdoors. I’ve gone a week or more without a shower/bath, due to circumstances, but at minimum I try to take care of my personal depositories as often as possible. And if you think spotting a “uniformed” person is a turn-off, try smelling them up close and imagine a soft passionate kiss (or more) that is never going to happen. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and grab the soap and clean yourself up before putting on your ‘semi-clean uniform’, you will make more friends that way and you may even get laid.

  • willin

    We all wear uniforms of one type or another. The question is to what extent you can look through others’ uniforms to see the singular person underneath, and to what extent you see yourself inside your own uniform. If you’re feeling angst about the conspicuous outfit you are wearing, its because the outfit is wearing you. Changing outfits won’t help.

  • Craig Rowe

    Yeah, I don’t think the point of the essay is to ignite a social debate about labeling stereotypes or offer some sort of NPR-level commentary on how some group may or not be exclusive. Pretty much, it was to laugh at ourselves. And that’s healthier than addressing any of those other issues.

  • JT

    At one time, the ‘uniform’ was animal skin draped over one shoulder. Now it can be anything from the above to pin striped suit and red power tie, depending where you are. However, someone once wrote “don’t judge a book by its cover” and I think that also applies to people/clothing choices more often than not.

  • Lori

    Hey, don’t judge (a la “Ace). We are all tourist somewhere. I sometimes feel Im a tourist now in my own life now that I have kids and have moved outside the city limits for better schools and a little teensy bit more space…. but if Im a tourist… Im loving it! Love being the “typical-tourist-family-person” that the thought of once made me cringe. It’s all relative and dressing exactly like someone else whether planned or otherwise is still dufussy =0)

  • Stuart Reese

    Pegged!

    There is nothing wrong with being a part of something. Business men wears suits, athletes wear unis, and the UPS guys wear the brown gear. So if you live and love the outdoors why in the world would you wear suit. We all know there are posers, but instead of calling their bluff maybe we can encourage them to explore what they are trying to represent. It’s a win win!

    Be who you want to be and wear what you want to wear!

  • Tom

    Uniforms are easy. Camo is hard.
    One of my favorite outdoorsmen was a PhD botanist
    who would literally disappear into the woods for weeks at a time and
    always wore khaki shirt and pants when he was there.
    “Why?” I asked.
    “People mostly leave you alone if they think you might be the Ranger…”

  • Fox

    I guess I’m sort of a strange mix of stereotypes including farmer/country boy, outdoor guy, and whatever else. I mostly buy outdated outdoor clothing from thrift stores :) I’m still surprised though how common it is while out on an adventure to find someone else dressed like me.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>