The Disturbing Bro-ification of Outdoor Recreation

Like gentrification, the elitism of outdoor sports is pushing out the common participant.


Time and again I run into this word in the work I do as an advocate for open space in Duluth, Minnesota: gentrification.

Nearly every time I’ve heard it, it’s been used to describe the revitalization and restoration of communities and how such restoration is pushing out the lower and middle income folks to the benefit of those with more money. Increasingly, though, this same term can be applied to the outdoor culture.

In our case, maybe it should be called “bro-ification.”

Bro-ification describes the disconnect between how outdoor recreation activities are marketed and portrayed in the media–particularly sports like skiing, climbing, and off-road cycling–and the reality of who actually does those sports, and where.

I’ve observed how the outdoor industry and the media have portrayed getting outside for nearly my entire life, and what used to be a very “volkssport,” inclusive, hippy-like identity has transformed into a super-elitist and entitled one. The destinations presented in the media are generally so unattainable by most people that they might as well be on the moon–and don’t even bother going if you’re not wearing expensive, high-tech apparel and using modern, high-priced gear. Exotic and expensive are the norm.

Meanwhile, nearly everywhere here in the United States, we have incredible public lands that can deliver experiences on par with those in far-away locations that cost a fortune to get to. And you can walk out your door and have those experiences every day.

I have been a party to this bro-ification in the jobs I’ve held, the images I have created, and in promoting the places I worked. But I have to admit that even though I am a lifelong off-road cyclist, nordic skier, and backcountry wanderer, even I am intimidated by some of the people, images, places, and marketing campaigns thrust upon us today.

We are finally at the extreme edge of the bro-ification of outdoor recreation. The public images of the outdoor enthusiast, our playgrounds, and our experiences are those the entitled and elite. And that sense that outdoor adventure belongs to the wealthy and well-connected is pushing aside the common participant.

Who cares, right? The answer is, we all should. We need everyone to keep our outdoor playgrounds safe and accessible–people of diversity, at-risk youth, urbanites. When even the most mundane piece of equipment is marketed through expensive-to-get-to environments with a smiling, suffering-to-live-the-dream Caucasian person, the message is that these pursuits are not for everyone. Finding adventure outdoors is only for the jetset–for the young, white and rich. The places you need to go are beyond your reach.

Okay, I’m a white guy, born and bred into these activities. But even as part of the establishment, I can see this is a problem. My bet is that the young Latino, black, or native American kid hears this messaging even louder.

The more I dig into the access work I’m doing here in Duluth, Minnesota, the less I can deny the impact of this messaging on my ability to get things done. Bro-ification is cited as a reason for cities to not get involved in access projects that would pull more people across the community into outdoor recreation. These sports, I’m told, are not for the diverse populations we have in Duluth; rather, they offer value only to an elite, wealthy segment of the population. Meanwhile, on the ground, we are actually getting more millennials interested in the outdoors and in the quality of life it brings, and the demographics of that generation tend to be more diverse, more family-oriented, and include more female participation. These are the folks of the future and the people that communities like Duluth need to survive.

Outdoor recreation has traditionally been about being accessible and simple–about getting outside to enjoy nature. Sports like skiing and cycling were created because of a need for transportation and were enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people regardless of economic status. Climbing and camping started out as simple ways for folks to enjoy the outdoors, to commune with nature out the backdoor. Simple pleasures.

These activities could be a strong tool to help cities that are down on their knees economically to stand up and take advantage of long neglected open and natural spaces, to make the lives of their citizens healthier and happier.

Equity is the new buzz word on the leadership circuit. I believe in this concept and I believe that it will drive how future leaders work in their communities going forward. If we as outdoor advocates are positioned as elitist, our work will not be seen as creating equity at all; it will be seen as the opposite, as creating divides. I have to push back constantly on what my staff sees in the media and takes for granted as how users will act or look on the trails or outdoors.

I remember a lot of jeans and flannel shirts when I was nordic skiing as a kid, and I remember the sports I grew up with had both horrible athletes and amazing ones. The primary reason for doing them was literally to just have fun. It’s been an interesting arc to witness: outdoor sports apparel went from tattered, overly loved clothing used in passionate pursuit of a simple adventure to high-tech, high-priced modernity that–if you were to believe magazines and catalogs–are best paired with billion dollar ranches and restored wooden yachts and kitted-out Mercedes Sprinter vans in Jackson Hole or Aspen or other places that are unaffordable for the majority of the population.

We have arrived at this point not only in our industry but also in some of our conservation and advocacy groups. I recently sat through a presentation given by the group called Shift. I generally agree with the conversation Shift is trying to pursue, and support the main idea of their group. However the way it was presented and the space it addresses offers very little for the grass-roots outdoor advocate in the trenches. I found myself cringing not only at the language used in the presentation but also at the imagery and the lack of actual direct action Shift was taking on its own vision. I saw nothing but privileged people living the dream and talking a good game about changing society through base jumping in Yosemite. If I were to have made a similar case in a city council meeting here in Duluth, I would have been laughed out of the room. Unfortunately, Shift is not the only group making this mistake.

It’s time that the industry and the media to pull back from the current marketing trends and begin spreading a message of inclusion and finding unmitigated fun in our own backyards–not near-death experiences in remote locations and exotic resort towns. Otherwise, we risk alienating the very people we need to grow our numbers and keep our natural playground open–regardless whether they’re wilderness areas or a more urban-oriented park.

For outdoor brands, think of the opportunity. The industry has stepped so far beyond what’s real, the brand that embraces inclusion is going to differentiate itself. The question is, in an arms race that rewards helicopters and ends-of-the-earth travel, can anyone even remember what “real” is?

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Hansi Johnson is the director of recreational lands at the Minnesota Land Trust. Read more of his writing at Universal Klister.
Showing 65 comments
  • Krista
    Reply

    Yeah Hansi! Thanks for writing this. I think the outdoor aesthetic depends so much on where you live, too. I was in Vermont and Alaska before coming to Colorado, and in both of those places, it was cool to wear thrift-shop wool sweaters and patched-up Carharrts. In Colorado, it’s all about name brands and shiny puffys.

    • Cindy Mack
      Reply

      Oh my thank you! Finally. I have been stating this for over ten years now and cancelled an outdoors magazine subscription because many of the articles were about promoting expensive gear, apparel, locations that were only for the elite-which I am not. As a single mom and lover of the outdoors, I dream all year about the two camping trips a that I am able to afford, and usually settle for day hikes. High dollar anything is out of question! It’s all about the love of being active outside.

      • Art
        Reply

        Just because you can afford expensive gear does not make you elite. What makes you elite is using the resources around you to be able to camp with what you can afford. So Cindy you are an elite.

    • Lauren
      Reply

      When you say at-risk youth, what exactly are they at-risk of? Maybe marginalized is a better fit, or even being more specific. Like, young people who struggle with reading and mathematics who are at-risk of dropping out of high school, or youth who are victims of domestic violence and who are at-risk of hurting themselves physically. To say at-risk is far too generalized and does intersectionality an injustice.

      • Dizzle7
        Reply

        At-risk youth is a term-of-art: An at-risk youth is a child who is less likely to transition successfully into adulthood. Success can include academic success and job readiness, as well as the ability to be financially independent. It also can refer to the ability to become a positive member of society by avoiding a life of crime.

        It is all encompassing and drives across race and socioeconomic boundaries. I.e. intersectionality.

  • Sirenofshred
    Reply

    Many props to the Adventure Journal for posting your thoughts Hansi. I have been following your conversation. More props to AJ for its well rounded reporting on the National parks service. Very encouraging encouraging to finally see an outdoor publication crack the door of the the white, male, heteronormative privilege that has been corrosive in the outdoor space.

    The self-segregation justified by ” am not a racist I am just doing what I love” is getting a little a little old as well.

    Marta Dowing

  • Katherine
    Reply

    Thank you, Hansi, for this thoughtful piece. I agree wholeheartedly and have mulled this over a lot. I still have no idea what to do.

    I have worked in the outdoor industry for nearly 7 years. In that time I have heard “but it’s only the wealthy that can support advocacy” on the nonprofit side and I have heard “but it’s only the wealthy who will support media and the companies who support media” on the publication side. The pie is so small that everyone is focused on who has the money to keep things going at a high level by donating, reading and purchasing.

    I think the current lionization of people who quit their jobs and lives and take off on extended adventures isn’t helping, either. I certainly look at those stories and wistfully daydream about doing it, too, but the reality is that a lot of people have families they love and care for, and jobs/educations they don’t want to squander, and just two weeks of vacation a year plus inflexible work schedules.

    Those f*ck-it-buy-a-van stories are cool, but a tone of “they are doing it right and you are not” has started to creep into those stories and that’s where I think the narrative becomes destructive. Tales of outdoor adventure shouldn’t be criticizing the rest of us who can’t do exactly the same thing because we “aren’t willing to” or “aren’t ballsy enough.”

    The idea of “legitimate” outdoor recreation is creeping farther and farther away from home. Every once in a while, a story that’s an homage to someone’s local, “backyard trails” will pop up and everyone thinks it’s boring. As an outdoor industry hack, I often feel lesser-than because I am not super-hardcore-rad-badass all the time. I, too, often feel intimidated in my own space, even though I know better than to do anything other than go out and have FUN.

    That says to me that a dramatic re-thinking is required. A shift in creativity. But one magazine or one organization can’t do it alone. If one tried to turn the tide without broader support, it would probably get crushed. We should all be talking about this now and well into the future.

    • Nick
      Reply

      Katherine, this is a great start to re-think where what the outdoors means and our place in it. Acknowledging that this magazine is about adventure and wild places and vans, this conversation opens up the possibility in letting people define the outdoors for themselves. Many cultures across the world have rich outdoor experiences that may not take them on a meadow or mountain ridge; agrarian histories give people a place in the outdoors as well. A lot of immigrant and refugee communities, living in strange and exotic lands (like Colorado, Oregon and Vermont), find the same healing/thriving that climbers, skiers and hikers seek but in the intimately local venue of a patio garden or yard. More than a discussion on the look and doing it for the ‘gram, how can we celebrate the seeking of those experiences across a broader definition of outdoors?

  • Linh
    Reply

    <3 you adventure journal.

  • Jakob Boman
    Reply

    I fully support your massage. It is like with everything else, we don’t know normal anymore. All images we are exposed to are photoshopped in one way or another. The perfect and yet unreal portrait of the world is our normal today. That is scary.

    But then again; the top image just looks amazing. It is outstanding and I must admit that I love it. Yet, I’m perfectly aware that it is unreal and almost impossible to shoot for a normal person.

    In reality I’m divided.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      There’s nothing unreal about that photo.

      • Jakob Boman
        Reply

        You are right.
        You can see the foot steps in the snow from the photografer. I was too focused at how the mountain and the skies interacts. It almost look like the mountain continues into the skies. That is so beautiful!
        I intuitively thought it was shoot from a helicopter. Sorry:-)

  • Dave
    Reply

    I’m having a difficult time following the author’s intended argument.

    Isn’t participation in outdoor recreation more a function of one’s place on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs scale? Most of us here are fortunate enough to be able to meet our basic physical needs AND participate in some form of self-actualization, namely outdoor recreation. THIS makes all of us, in a sense, “elite.”

    But it’s the “entitled” part that I have a problem with.

    The “bro-ification” of outdoor recreation, I feel, occurs as a result of the incessant self-promotion via the use of social media. Heading outdoors is no longer about the personal and spiritual growth experience, but rather promoting one’s accomplishments for others (and #gearmanufacturers) to see. We keep having to push the bar higher and higher in order to get noticed, often at the exploitation of some very special places (Corona Arch rope swing comes to mind).

    To me, this is more a reflection of who we’ve become as a society. But is it solely the fault of industry and media, as the author suggests?

    • Jonah
      Reply

      “The “bro-ification” of outdoor recreation, I feel, occurs as a result of the incessant self-promotion via the use of social media.”
      I don’t think that the author’s essay and your point are mutually exclusive, i think that they work hand in hand to create the situation we are in right now.

  • John
    Reply

    Agree – but have a question.

    In the late 80s and through the 90s (when I was growing up) the North Face was aggressively marketed by just the things you note in this piece. That was, what, 20+ years ago?

    Another example: during the same period (80s/90s) road cycling seemed to take the path described here. You had to have your Cannondale or Lightspeed (or at least pine for one) and have at least a few pieces of “specialized” gear in order to look the part.

    So, is this bro-ification something new or simply something that’s become greatly magnified through the medium like our friend the Internet?

    • Keith
      Reply

      ^^^^^ This. The Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs angle is spot on. Take someone who is struggling to survive and make sense of their world in upheaval: a rock climb or mountaineering excursion looks like lunacy to them!

      That said, I found this article through wrestling with why I have grown sick of the nihilistic extreme adventurists. While bad-assed for sure, they seem to permeate the catalogs I receive (Patagonia esp.) and online video marketing campaigns. Can we just see the gear in real-life outdoor adventure contexts for real folks or is it just too profitable to prey on peoples (frankly) unrealistic dreams? My stoke-tank is running low and is feeling oversaturated these days.

      Specifically speaking from a fly fishing angle, wisdom and restraint are needed when posting photos of your excursions to small special streams. There’s already enough Outside Magazine “adventure writers” out there working to expose the spots you’ve worked hard to discover on your own.

      • Ken
        Reply

        For what it’s worth, Maslow developed his concept of self-actualization through fieldwork with the Siksika band of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The “outdoor” part of “outdoor recreation” was integrated into everything they did in the hierarchy, from top-to-bottom.

  • Miles Standish
    Reply

    What exactly are “people of diversity”? Does not the very word “diverse” implicate variety? Do we not all therefore contribute to that variety- that diversity- whether it be diversity of thought, attitude, ability, education, intelligence, politics, ability, income, or that most superficial and shallow metric of all, pigmentation?

    Can we just please stop with the divisions and pigeon-holing of each other finally?

    “white male hetronormative privelege”… oh please STFU.

    • Justin
      Reply

      Miles Standish-Couldn’t agree more. This is self loathing, white guilt at it’s finest.

      • Sirenofshred
        Reply

        Miles-I appreciate the response. I think you might want to read up a bit on privilege, and institutional racism so you have a context from which to read Hansi’s article. You could also look into the concept White Fragility which you may be suffering from as I still do at times. White Fragility is very different from self-loathing and is a great entry point to address guilt when it comes to discussing inclusion and who has benefitted from privilege. Also when you tell someone to STFU it is important to put your real name down so as many people as possible can take you seriously. I do take you seriously and agree it is really taxing to get into the nitty gritty of offering choices for diversity fairly but for me it is always worth the effort.

        Marta

    • Hansi Johnson
      Reply

      Hey Miles and Justin, So while I will take the STFU to heart, and I really will, I will at least define what I meant by the words in quote. By that quote I was actually taking a fumbling stab at most of your early thought.

      The word diversity for me is far more than color and for sure it is about the variety of people in my own community, a midwestern iron ore and past steel factory town. Many of the folks in my community are not of color but they cover a wide amount of disparity. So to me that quote does indeed cover a whole heck of a lot more than just pigment.

      Also realize that the main point of this blog post, regardless of its re-posting here, was about the fact that in my town, a place that even 10 years ago was depopulating, we are starting to see serious positive change because of our investment in the outdoors. Yet despite those gains we are taking more and more negativity from various political quarters as to seeing those investments as for only the elite. So while you may be pigeon-holing me and my essay, you entirely missed the point of it and most likely did not even read it.

  • Jason
    Reply

    This is one of the reasons I’ve let my subscriptions to Outside, and at one point Nat Geo Adventure, expire without renewal. Articles about “weekend escapes” starting at $2000, or watches for adventure with base prices of $600 up to a $4000 Omega. Thanks but no.

  • Wyatt
    Reply

    But bro, the marketing for outdoor sports is no different than any other marketing, its tailored to those who are consuming that product or activity. Patagonia didn’t just magically decide that white males were a good group to market to. And seriously bro, even if you’re skiing in jeans, a lift ticket is still pretty expensive. I’m just saying bro, maybe the issues run a little deeper than what comes out of Red Bull Media House.

    • Swerve
      Reply

      As an avid outdoorsman, I am so bored by these magazine articles about over-the-top,hi-priced gear, vans, adventures.

      And yes, I still devour the photos in Patagonia catalogs, because they are one of the most environmentally progressive, authentic companies in the outdoor biz…..and yes, I’m a white guy and love my Patagucci!

    • Hansi Johnson
      Reply

      Bro! That is exactly my point

    • Anna
      Reply

      You really think wealthy white dudes are the only people who participate in outdoor recreation?

  • Chris Damien
    Reply

    Hansi Johnson you’ve started a great discussion here and I thank you and AJ for facilitating it. Furthermore, “bro-ification” as a label for this phenomenon is hilarious. I’ve long been fascinated by the two cultures of the outdoors that I think of as the XTREME camp (many of whom fall under your Bro-ification umbrella) and the environmentalist camp. One tells you you don’t have the right gear or just aren’t going BIG enough. The other watches you like a hawk while you “experience” nature constantly reminding you to be neither seen nor heard. I respect one’s relationship to the wild, so I’ve always been tolerant of those in both camps. However, I’ve long held a lurking, ominous sense that there isn’t a lot of room for “other types” in this ecosystem of outdoor recreation.

    Having a front row seat to gentrification in a major California metropolis and getting drafted out of college into the class war that was the Great Recession of 2009, the last couple of years have seemed to exacerbate this issue. That being said, I’ve found that it is important to be a positive presence in these places. Help people explore on their own terms and adventure in their own ways. Give people an opportunity to ask questions when they’re confused. Humble up and seek advice when you need it. Have NO FEAR of telling bullies they’re ruining it for everybody else. As social mobility stagnates and income inequality becomes more extreme, we must ensure that the great outdoors never has a dress code or cost too high for all who are willing to enter. No fancy shirt, no hyper-technical shoes, NO EFFING PROBLEM!!

    For example, my most recent rebellion has been to take up fly fishing without ever buying a new piece of gear (apart from my Tenkara rod, but they’re too new where I live to have been sold second hand just yet). I love buying decent second hand gear off of guys who bought the wrong rig for a fly fishing business trip they had a terrible time on. And ever since my backpack got stolen out of my van with all my camping gear in it, I’ve resolved to replace all of it with the once or twice used detritus of the gear junkies I live around. Get punk! Hack the gear industry! Show people how to get outside for little to no cost of attendance! And invite ALL your friends along no matter what they look like. (And oh ya, if all you’re friends look the same, maybe make some new friends : )

    Thanks again for initiating this important convo AJ!

  • Michelle
    Reply

    There’s the industry, and then there’s the people actually out there on the trail. I’m actually sometimes surprised that there are so many articles about the lack of diversity in outdoor sports. Maybe the level is not optimal, but on my hikes in Southern California (especially on the coastal trails), I see people of all races and genders. Often, I hear many different languages spoken. People of Asian heritage, including myself, are often left out of the diversity count, but I assure you, they’re out there! I think many residents here want to get exercise and fresh air in the outdoors, and a lot of these people couldn’t be bothered to read an outdoors magazine or catalog. Sports like skiing and snowboarding remain expensive. Getting to remote locations is also expensive. Focusing on these things is conspicuous consumption. I guess maybe the question should be if the outdoor industry is losing major business by marketing to only a subset of the people who actually use the outdoors. I recently visited Japan, and I was rather amazed that the models used in advertising for overseas brands still reflect the population of…Europe or America. (Very little representation of Asian-Americans in American advertising.) These practices just seem tone deaf and stupid. I would like to remind the author that I see people hiking in yoga pants. I use my running tops for hiking. Maybe it’s not so bad that people are finding economical ways to use the outdoors – even if that means not supporting your industry. I post nicely-composed photos of local open space on Instagram, and I think people are happy that I’m sharing the natural beauty that is right around them.

    • Chris Damien
      Reply

      Michelle, I live in, back pack, and fish throughout Northern California. I’ve lived in the Boston area for a couple years and had opportunities to back pack in the Adirondacks, Maine, and Vermont. However my wild sense was born in the arid mountains of Southern California. I camped in Baja for weeks with my dad as a kid. Explored up and down the Colorado River near my grandparent’s house in the desert. And cut my teeth backpacking on some of the big peaks of the coast range. I wanted to give you a digital hi five for shouting out the diversity of people who break out of So Cal’s burbs and get on the trail down there. Simply because I was one of them : ). I’ve seen it increasing quite a bit on my trips home over the last couple years. And I’m encouraging my brother in law’s family, second gen hispanic immigrants, to get on the trail and fish with me whenever they can. I even got him out to Anza Borrego to hike out to an oasis a little while back.

      Point is, I guess, the heterogeneity of a park’s visitors will logically reflect the demographics of the communities that are within reasonable driving distance of the park. So this issue then becomes quite regional. Stoked that you’re also observing a pretty democratic use of your local haunts and it’s likely a result of the areas nearby becoming more diverse. And, most importantly, I think you’re right that the gear industry is missing a HUGE opportunity by not providing for these new “markets.” But as you’ve identified, you’re getting out all the same. So who cares, right? Haha, they’re doing just fine making money off the rich dudes.

      • Michelle
        Reply

        Thanks for the digital hi five, Chris! I think it’s a little funny when people comment about how little diversity they’re seeing in their local wilderness when they live in places with such homogeneous populations. I grew up in SoCal and went on summer camping vacations in Yosemite as a kid. I spent a few years in western NY, but I didn’t make it to the ‘Dacks (and many other places) due to lack of a car and the cold weather most of the year. I live by the beach, and the few times I visit the public piers and docks, I see all sorts of people fishing off of them. There’s people who fish right from the sand! I haven’t been to Mountain High, but I hear it attracts a diverse crowd due to location and affordability. Behind JPL, there are trails, and you’ll see employees with their ID tags hiking there right after work. Some people (most people) choose to save money for such things as homes, college educations, retirements, and families rather than blow it all on flying to who knows where for a luxury ski or island vacation that they can proudly document in detail on social media. I say this after spending months traveling abroad in the last year after losing my job (I saved up the money, and I didn’t practice travel snobbery). I live in a place of conspicuous consumption, however – Orange County. Young professionals all seem to dress in the same expensive clothing despite some people making far less than others. Cars are leased. The blonde hair is fake, etc. Let’s be honest – such snobbery is seen in different pockets of every region. And, as mentioned, there are bros in the wild. We have surfers fighting with body surfers over waves while jet skiers slide in unannounced, hitting the jetty and getting rescued by the lifeguards (true story). But you ignore the snobs and go your own way. I think the bro – actually “gang” – culture at some of our local beaches needs fixing, though.

  • Simon Thomas
    Reply

    A good article. People don’t need the latest gear to get outside and enjoy themselves – they just need to take that first step. Often that can be the hardest (what do I need to take, where should I go, what if x happens) and information to make that easier is whats needed – not reinforcing that you need the best gear, or to go to the coolest places.

    I’m fortunate to be living in New Zealand, where hiking is called tramping, and its fairly easy to walk 2-3 hours from a road-end (no matter where you live) and stay in a cheap ($5-$15) or free hut. People, especially family groups, tend to take the stuff they normally have (sleeping bags, clothes, rain jackets, sneakers) rather than feeling they have to splash out on new stuff.

    For a refreshing perspective on what you really need to get outside and enjoy yourself (which isn’t much), I’d suggest reading some Alastair Humphreys (who invented and promotes the micro adventure concept).
    http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/category/blog/microadventures/

  • Susan
    Reply

    This isn’t a new phenomenon. As a 53 year old female I’ve been ignoring outdoor writing and marketing for years – super easy to do when you aren’t, and never have been the audience. The magazines speak to me and my experience about as much as tabloids.

  • Chris Perkins
    Reply

    Hi Hansi-

    Really appreciate your thoughts. Many of the ideas you articulated are ideas we seek to address at SHIFT every year, and we’re discouraged to hear that a session you attended missed the mark.

    We’d love to hear more from you as we seek to nail down our programming at SHIFT 2016. I can be reached at chris@shiftjh.org.

    In addition, I’m passing along a link to this year’s SHIFT Summit outline, as well as outcomes from the 2015 Festival that inspire us to do what we do.

    Outline: http://shiftjh.org/shift-2016-outdoor-rec-our-public-lands-2/
    2015 Outcomes: http://shiftjh.org/outcomes-from-the-2015-shift-festival/

    Thank you, Hansi! We’d love to have you join us in Jackson this October.

    Chris Perkins
    Logistical Director | SHIFT
    (206) 303-7315
    The Center for Jackson Hole
    PO Box 350
    110 N. Millward St.
    Jackson, WY 83001

    • Hansi Johnson
      Reply

      Hey Chris!

      Thanks a lot for the comment and for the invite. I would be super interested in your summit and am even meeting with Christian to talk about SHIFT at OR as well.

      The Summit sounds amazing but the true conundrum is drumming up the funding to go to Jackson, WY maybe someday the summit will be held in a nice midwestern town where a whole bunch of folks could drive to it?

  • Jeff Potter
    Reply

    Great subject! It’s a personal fave. …Adventure isn’t rare or about mountains or danger. By diversity we mean at least 3 things: people, places and style. There’s tons of adventure in the mellow midwest (and everywhere else). I created my OutYourBackdoor zine in 1990 to serve the huge reality of global adventure and fun that I knew that had nothing to do with the embarrassing stereotypes of mountains or danger. I’m still on the same mission. I haven’t had much luck but diversity is still the fun and the future. Our local gearshop is certainly crushing my efforts but their promotion of ice-axes, rock-climbing and expedition-gear when we’re 1000 miles away from all that — and their ignoring of the awesome outdoor action 5 minutes from their shop — makes them hilarious and wrong for reality if not for retail. Locally, some of us know how to keep the dial at 11 and this has nothing to do with today’s — or yesterday’s — outdoor marketing. We try to spread the word, but what can ya do. Disconnect is opportunity. Some biz is indeed figuring out and it seems to be working. The more who figure it out the better off we’ll all be. Bro’s will always be around, but you know a scene is onto something when girls, minorities and poor folk respond to it. …When it’s about creativity over cash. When it’s part of everyday life in some way. At least a few people always know and live this. But I guess “big air” is the easiest cash — it still works *well enough*. …Notwithstanding that our sports are aging-out, our youth misses so much, and our state is obese. Sure, not everyone is adventurous but there’s a kind of leading and pushing that the public can relate to, and a kind they can’t.

  • G.
    Reply

    The author of this article has started a good discussion. I’ve been doing different types of skiing, biking, climbing, hiking/running, and backpacking for some time now. Something that I’ve noticed in recent years is that the outdoor industry is beginning to alienate people due to A) prohibitively high prices for gear and B) the “bro-ification” that the author describes. Outdoor recreation is beginning to feel too much like an elitist club for people who can afford to buy the newest, shiniest gear and use it in the most extreme ways. While some of this is simply human nature, the industry also plays a role with the products they produce and the way in which they market them. It’s not a good strategy for building a long-term customer base, or a long-term base of people who are willing to support public lands and conservation.

  • G.
    Reply

    More random thoughts… I lived for a long time in Boulder, CO., probably the World Mecca of Bro-ification. There is a huge emphasis on having the latest-and-greatest gear and going out and doing the most extreme things possible with it in terms of endurance, danger, or cutting-edge factor. The material consumption is staggering, especially coming from people who think of themselves as environmentalists. I can’t tell you how often my friends replaced perfectly usable gear simply because something blingier came on the market, or how much stuff they bought that many of them didn’t truly need. The industry has done a really good job of convincing people that one needs an entire garage of super high-tech, very expensive toys in order to properly enjoy the outdoors. It’s also done a good job of pushing a “go big or go home” message — that if you are not doing something extreme, somehow you are not living deeply or truly experiencing your life.

    Like one of the posters above, I stopped reading Outside magazine when they started limiting their audience to the 1%. When I glance at it now, I roll my eyes. I also largely stopped purchasing from certain outdoor clothing companies whose catalogs have great eye candy but whose marketing copy sort of made me gag, as if buying a particular pair of pants would give me entry into some sort of idealized mountain lifestyle club.

    There is nothing wrong with doing “extreme” things in far off, spectacular places — in fact, I do precisely that as often as I reasonably can. What I object to is the industry trying to tell me that I need a $55 polyester t-shirt every time I step out the door, or that my 26″ mountain bike tires are thoroughly insufficient and should be immediately replaced, or that I’m failing at life because I haven’t quit my job and moved into a van, or that I need to run or bike until I collapse from exhaustion in order to justify myself.

    I guess that I’m a grouchy old bro. But seriously, I think that the industry’s approach is short-sighted and alienates potential customers, who are in turn supporters of public lands and conservation. It’s all tied together.

    • Chris Damien
      Reply

      Grouchy old bro or not, I hear you. Preach it!

  • Paul
    Reply

    Some good points made in this article and in the comments that follow. I’ve felt this way for years on the subject. I called it the ‘outside magazine syndrome’ where everyone has to be cooler and more epic than the other guy. They drop a lot of coin on the pursuit. The youtube/gopro scene hasn’t helped either when everyone tries to make video proof of their epic-ness!
    What if you went out by yourself and did something epic and didn’t tell anyone about it or didn’t take any selfies? Would it not be cooler?
    I prefer understated and old school, I guess some would say I’m a purist.

  • Will
    Reply

    I’ve thought a lot about this issue recently (it seems that it is a popular topic in recent years) and at the risk of sounding racist or elitist or whateverist I will take a crack at explaining my thoughts… The race and class segregation in the outdoors is real, that’s not debatable. I live in Colorado’s front range and when I climb or ski or simply hike it is rare to see anyone but white folks. And yes, many of said white folks are wearing very expensive gear that they probably bought at that little “co-op” REI. But my question is and has always been, who is being hurt by this? Well the answer could be three options as I see it: Outdoor brands, under-represented urban (mostly non-white) communities, and the rest of us white, gear-loving, spandex clad, powder hound, send bros. So let’s take a look at each of those groups.

    Outdoor brands: They are missing out on a huge segment of the population that they could be making money on. But for most of them, as per Hansi’s article, it doesn’t seem to be an issue as they continue to market their products to wealthy white people. Ok, so they might be hurting their business but business seems good for them regardless.

    Under-represented urban (mostly non-white) communities: There have been many studies done about how spending time in nature is healthy for the body and mind. This is troubling when you look at the limited access to open spaces and green spaces and parks that urban communities have. But it is not the responsibility of gear manufacturers to be concerned about this. Local government is the culprit if there must be one, or institutional racism perhaps, or gentrification, but not Patagonia. If Hansi is suggesting that a photo of Alex Honnold deepwater soloing in Malaysia is causing some kid’s park to be torn down for a hotel I think he’s wrong. So yes, there is an issue here, which is urban non-white communities not having access to natural areas. But I would argue that “bro-ification” is not to be blamed. I also have no great suggestions for how to fix the problem so take my rambling with a grain of salt.

    The rest of us white, gear-loving, spandex clad, powder hound, send bros: In many facets of life segregation hurts that particular facet. In academia segregation causes a loss in ideas for everyone, for example. But it is hard for me to see that in the outdoors. When I’m climbing or skiing or whatever I’m just doing my thing with my friends or by myself. If there was a black dude climbing next to me it would have no different effect on my climbing day than if it was an asian, latino, or white guy. So in relation to the activities that we’re doing out there, I don’t see a huge difference in who the other people around me are. Where there would be an impact is just the chance to interact with a different segment of the population than I normally do. But that has nothing to do with the outdoors. I could write an article about how more wealthy white folks living in Vail need to spend time in urban Denver communities and it would achieve the same thing. So I don’t think the rest of us are really being hurt by the gentrification of the outdoors.

    Anyway, I can’t remember where I was going with any of this anymore but if you want to ski in jeans go ahead. There are skis at the thrift store down the street for $20. And if you want to tone down the “bro-ification” subscribe to my new outdoor magazine. Its called “5.9+” and it will feature only photos of me falling on easy sport climbs, forgetting how my beacon works, and applying a lot of sunscreen, all set in the cornfields of Nebraska! Its guaranteed to be a hit.

    • Sue
      Reply

      Thanks for the article and bringing up the conversation, Hansi! And Will, I really appreciate you putting your experience and questions out there. There’s definitely an argument to be made that companies should stick to the markets that meet their interests.

      For what it’s worth though, some of us do experience a negative impact when the industry kind of “forgets” about you. One example is women’s gear. Things have gotten immensely better in recent years, but it really is only recently that women have been able to get gear that fits properly. Of course when it comes to my favorite flannel, that’s a matter of preference or vanity. However when it comes to a PFD, proper fit is a matter of safety.

      The message when you’re just left out of the conversation by manufacturers and by marketers is: this isn’t a space for you; only a certain type of person fits in the outdoor recreation sphere. Occasionally, you actually see this attitude play out on the trails, and while there are a lot of factors going into this, the industry has a role to play to change it. Again, things are so much better than they were when I was growing up (shoutout to She Jumps, THINX, Sounds of the Trail and other companies and organizations making it easier for women to get out there). I’m also not one to let anyone tell me that something I’m stoked about isn’t for me, but that’s not the point. You shouldn’t have to wonder if outdoor recreation, the parks and wild spaces where they take place, etc, are places where you’ll be welcome, and Hansi raises a good point in that we all have an interest in promoting more diversity in outdoor recreation. The more people who get out there (and feel like they are welcome), the more likely we will be able to preserve access for all of us.

      • Will
        Reply

        Sue,
        As a mid-20’s White male it is easy for me to forget the perspective that you give in your comment. Sorry about that, I completely understand your point of view and can appreciate how frustrating that would be. Thanks for replying, its good to have someone remind me that there are a lot more people out there than me and my friends. Cheers.

  • MK
    Reply

    This is silly. Good luck inspiring future astronauts when all you show them is the moon. Having far fetched destinations in the media ignites the imagination and inspires people of what could be possible, it’s good to have goals and dreams. As far as bro-ification and complaints about expensive gear, the media shows it all, but let’s face it, it get’s people outside. I’ve never seen someone not go out or quit because they didn’t have an Arc’teryx jacket. Ironically the author just comes off as holier-than-though elitist

  • JM
    Reply

    What’s sad and horribly one-sided about this article is that I would venture to say that Hansi, (nor most of the other “holier than thou elitist” commenters on this thread) have any experience in being so passionate about the outdoors that they put everything on the line to start their own outdoor business, come to market with their own innovations, and struggle to make a business that pays for itself. This “bro-ification” you speak of spits in the face of the third largest economic driver in the USA. Outdoor industries are built on the backs of passionate people who forego “working for the money” to work in an industry and create products and communications that inspire people to connect with the natural world. We are all struggling in our own ways, for our pursuits and our lifestyles. Why should any class of person now feel guilty about THIS, too? Leave the politics back in the cities! The wealthy and the middle-class have more access, and they are the ones who buy the wares of this industry. Does that make them evil? Should we all feel guilty and rush out to the cities to save people who have no connection to the outdoors? Should we stop living because there are people starving in Africa? Do we really want the outdoors to be more congested? I grew up in Colorado and it doesn’t matter how far off the beaten path I go now days… There are always people there. I took my family to a National Forest area this last weekend, to an area I have been finding solitude for 35 years. And guess what I found? Diversity! And several “diverse” groups who had no respect for the place, or the people who came to this place for a peaceful experience. It’s a catch 22. Yes we need to be inclusive, but at what cost? There is a natural order here and your liberal ideas might just destroy what you think you hold sacred.

  • Noah
    Reply

    Interesting take on things. While I tend to agree with the majority of them I do take exception to the use of the term “bro” in this context. In my experience the bros tended to be the locals of whatever sport that tended to be more core and less about the shiny new piece. It seems to me Yup-ification is more accurate. This phenomenon coincides with slopes/waves/trails and everything else being overcrowded on Tuesday mornings. When I moved to Oregon in 90’s I could get untracked turns or find empty trails most weekdays I could ditch work. Those days are long gone and with them came the rise of the uber-expensive private resorts catering to the same wealthy people buying the $800 Arc’teryx pro shell. The dream of those places is losing the crowd, something that is easy to do on the cheap if you know how. While I agree with the benefits of getting more people of diversity into outdoor recreation I can’t help lament the fact that they are going to be crowding the lineup and dropping in on people without giving it a second thought.

  • CK
    Reply

    Meanwhile, Mr. Muir subsisted on tea, bread, and mountain air while experiencing the great outdoors in his hobnailed boots.

    Today’s mantra for many (and I, sadly, include myself), the mountains are calling and I must go buy something new in case I ever heed that call.

    Time to simply go outside and play and invite others along!

  • Tristan
    Reply

    There are many young brands and media outlets coming up in the outdoor space that openly acknowledge and promote that enjoying all the great things nature has to offer can and being a participant in the outdoor industry can be based on the simple act of stepping outside. Not summiting peaks, not chasing records, not maxing your credit card out on gear, but simply enjoying the outdoors in whatever way that you are able to based on whatever your economic, geographic or financial situation happens to be. Most of the elitist attitude you describe comes from the titans of our industry. The little guys are rebelling against it. There’s hope in the future even if these smaller brands aren’t yet able to match the product quality or sustainability measures that the big dogs can. That’s my 2 cents at least 😉

  • Jim
    Reply

    I think many of us in the outdoor community are disturbed by the trend, and yes, it is def. magnified by IG, FB and other social channels. However, it can be ignored and often is, we know who we are. I often arrive at the trailhead on my older rigid fatbike, strewn with bits and bobs from my adventures, and often comments like “that won’t work here” or “are you serious?” Whatever, I roll on. Same thing during snow season. My 16yr old van carries 8 people and their 8 bikes. When was the last time you say a sprinter doing that? I ride in cotton and torn shirts, no camelback, and gasp, flats. I refuse to believe I need a fancy truck, $8k bike or the latest dorky gadget to have fun. I see more and more people in the NW driving older retrofitted vehicles, equipment covered in gorilla tape and the like. There is an underbelly of adventurers who’ve said fuck it and want to have fun any way they can. However, racial diversity on the trails is still a myth, to me at least…

  • Jeff Potter
    Reply

    What’s needed is the Normalization of outdoor sport. Biking is getting this now. All outdoors needs it. Everybody needs to get outside everyday everywhere starting w what gear they have, adding as they like or as stuff breaks. Suburbs etc all need this. This will boom the economy and public health. It won’t mean more pressure on fetishized sweet places. Everywhere is sweet.

  • Jeff Potter
    Reply

    Yeah, anyone is free to gamble on the marketing opportunity of going mellower or localer. We can also volunteer as we please. …And we can put it on elected officials.

    A big part of growing beyond Bro-ification into Normalization is helping outdoor rec transition from a decline in hook’n’bullet type rec over to the whatever you call it, other types. Silent Sports? We don’t even have a good term for it. Michigan has a big, powerful, rich DNR dedicated to the declining older sports, but there’s no Dept of Outdoor Rec. I don’t know about your state, but we used to have Outdoor Centers for schoolkids. ALL kids got shown what outdoor fun is about. Those OC’s all closed in recent years. Kids are now sick and obese if they’re not doing ballsport (and those kids get knee injuries). It’s no coincidence that more kids played outside back when we had OC’s. So the OC’s all need to be re-opened, expanded, programmed to include adults. That’s gov’t work toward access. It’s not anti-Bro. Bro’s are sweet. But we gotta roll this scene bigger.

    We have huge numbers of awesome parks in Michigan. And we have decent park awareness but our reps could be doing better. We do have a Tourism Dept, but I’m not a regular tourist so I don’t follow what they promote. Casinos? A lot of Michiganders ski elsewhere. And they consider “skiing” to be fancy lift-served class-oriented rec. Yet Michigan is a worldclass XC / BC region — a lot like Scandinavia. But it’s not sold. Our tiny lift-served areas get some selling, but our XC is mostly ignored. I suppose good marketing is hard to find, maybe especially in govt work.

    You have crowded parks? We don’t. We have a 20-mile by 80-mile glaciated arc of parks ringing the metro region of SE MI that might as well be one vast, gorgeous, glaciated park. How does that compare to the nationally famous parks? Maybe there’s a “get outside” pitch hiding in there. I do know that it’s sure not sold to anyone. Sure, quite a few people do get out there, but 3X as many could w/o anyone much noticing.

  • Bob D
    Reply

    This is something that needed to be said. We fight for public land, but we have to make sure that what we’re fighting for is accessible to the public. I’ve been in this fight for a bit now, and I can tell you we make a lot more progress when people believe they have something at stake. I love the wild adventures in exotic places — or at least reading about them. But most of us live in the world of every day adventures. So many people do, but don’t realize what’s available to them.

  • Education Help
    Reply

    I really like your blog, keep bloging like this.

  • Tien
    Reply

    How about this for a start: ban the use of the word “epic” when describing outdoor activity.

  • Trevor
    Reply

    LOVED IT. I saw nothing but privileged people living the dream and talking a good game about changing society through base jumping in Yosemite.

  • Edie
    Reply

    Very well written and thought-provoking. There is a counter-movement to the “bro-ification” though – mostly small startup companies and businesses online that want to reach and empower everyday people to get outside and make their own adventure, wherever they are.

    The little startup outdoor gear company I work for cares tremendously about empowering everyone, no matter where they are or where they’re from, or what age/gender/race. The outdoors is free and accessible to everyone, and we want to actively promote that.

    I’m going to share your article with director of the company – and any further ideas/thoughts of how small businesses can support greater diversity in outdoor activities would be awesomely appreciated.

  • Josh
    Reply

    Unless I am missing something, this article heavily plagiarizes from this article, posted months earlier.

    http://universalklister.blogspot.com/

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      You are missing something. The piece is written by the same author and is adapted–with permission–for use on AJ.

  • Steve Stepp
    Reply

    I disagree with the majority of whats written in this article. I’m actually surprised that a outdoor aficionado/expert used advertising and marketing as the single factor for the reduction in diversity and participation in these activities. I would argue its the only thing keeping these activities alive. This argument is akin to women who protest brands like Victorias Secret for using extremely attractive women to sell their lingerie while the majority of their consumers don’t look like the models. Victorias secret uses woman like this to make the consumers want to feel as pretty as the models look. And theres nothing wrong with that, its marketing and its obviously working. The argument here is exactly the same. You can’t reasonably argue that brands and media showcasing remote areas or extreme athletes are implicitly marginalizing the common consumer. They are selling the dream and inspiration to become these athletes or to reach these remote places. Why should Patagonia show athletes in ‘their own backyard’ when their brand name is literally one of the most remote places on earth? The common consumer wants to see these things, it adds value to the products they are buying and using. Marketing teams understand this very well.
    One part of your article i cannot sympathize with is applying this logic to something like skiing or cycling. No amount of biased marketing will lower a price of skis from $600. It wont make a season pass more affordable. Skiing has never been affordable to the masses and many other activities are the same. Its just the truth. Marketing wont change the general monetary barrier to entry that many of these activities you are complaining about all harbor. Should i write an article about the gentrification of wakeboarding because i cant afford a $20,000 wake boat?
    There are two other huge factors that weren’t addressed and are likely more salient reasons: monetary barriers-to-entry and overall socio-economic factors in the country. The companies that produce the gear have an obligation to keep their costs low enough to allow newcomers to enter into a specific activity. Prices rise from year to year which eventually cuts out people with lower incomes. The cycle continues and the companies will produce more expensive stuff to keep the wealthy participants happy and engaged, all the while lower income participants drop out, and eventually the door closes to potential new participants. Its probably not the brands themselves who are fully in control of this, obviously publicly traded companies have to appeal to stockholders or markets will shift, but ultimately prices rise and participation goes down. In this way, marketing really has nothing to do with it.
    The other main reason is the current economic climate in the US. I’m actually surprised you ignored this fact. Its not just outdoor recreation thats suffering a loss of participants and diversity. The NFL, movie ticket sales, and entertainment as a whole has also been losing money, purely because of the lack of disposable income in the US.

    I think its unfair for you to toss in the diversity card on a trivial issue like this, and exclusively blaming marketing and advertising. Its a sad fact but diverse families are typically the ones with less disposable income. If anything, you should be complaining about the high cost of entry and our current economic state. Also citing a few sources would have aided your argument, but its clear that article was written as a passion-piece with no evidence at all.

  • Jay Long
    Reply

    Great post. Very enticing and thought provoking. Have never really wanted to “fit in” so it’s enjoyable to be out on the trails with my broke-down, second-hand stuff. Love the conversation.

  • Simon FILDES
    Reply

    I wrote my masters dissertation partly about this topic in 2011. We need inclusive leadership in the mountains to make diversity happen and sustainability work.

  • Ethan Jewett
    Reply

    I have really struggled with this, even after exiting a decade of working in the industry…I mainly miss the Red Iguana mole I’d indulge in at every OR show. There’s nothing wrong with the facade so many brands perpetuate and basically prop up, but it isn’t sustainable, and it comes at a price I don’t want to pay. The reason to include everyone in the outdoors is far broader than recreation, it is about our wider world being something of tangible value to as much of our society as possible. With climate scientists busy copying their data onto independent servers, lest it be erased, the potential costs of failing to invite everyone to the campfire are clearer than they’ve ever been.

    I can offer one small solution vector…Join us at the Baden Powell Service Association as we endeavor to reboot the largest (I am told) movement in human history outside of religion; Scouting. Everyone is invited this time. Check it out.

  • Veronica
    Reply

    this article contradicts itself so many times. it says that outdoor recreation is for the “elite and wealthy”, but then it suggests that if economically burdened communities took advantage of natural spaces, their citizens would live happy and healthier lives; happier and healthier in the sense that they are OUTDOORS, not because they are participating in these certain, expensive activities. This idea suggests, (indirectly but accurately) that you DO NOT need money to enjoy outdoor recreations. I may never be able to enjoy a ritual hobby like rock climbing or snowboarding. Because they ARE expensive.That’s life. Not everyone can afford to do everything. However, I can still take advantage of my health and my youth. I can still enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, skipping rocks, running and ice skating. We need to stop thinking that we are entitled to everything. we are not. I would hate to see the US follow Europe, which now says that it is a HUMAN RIGHT to travel abroad on a vacation. This is what we are becoming. and there is no dignity in that.

  • Danny
    Reply

    Dumb blog post, I wonder if you get all fired up when you see models used to advertise underwear? Does that also make you feel like wearing underwear is unobtainable because you can’t wear the 10 million dollar VS bra How about basketball shoes since you are not Michael Jordan did that make you feel like you can’t play basketball? Unfortunately taking time off work, and having nothing more than paying your basic needs is not a problem being created by marketing company’s and is not why socioeconomically challenged minorities are not into outdoor activities. IMHO if a community needs to choose between build walking trails or fund social assistance programs I hope most cities would choose help those in need.

  • Rad Monika
    Reply

    Hi Hansi, Thank you for this article. Here in Australia, I have encountered a similar trend in the road cycling scene. Instead of the pure enjoyment of the sport, it has become a status symbol where the price tag of bike and clothes matter over the passion, adventure and community that cycling can give. It has bothered me so much that I had to write about it as well: http://www.radmonika.com/keep-the-golf-out-of-cycling

  • Mike
    Reply

    The point of general bro-ification in the outdoor industry is pretty much accurate. The reason why it’s so prevalent is because most of the people that work in the industry and write about it are self important tools that need to feel like they’re way cooler than everybody else. These self absorbed people thrive on this stuff. They have to out fish you, ski a better hill, climb a more exotic mountain or go to some sort of extreme to one up everyone else to feel good about themselves. Then they will try to be “humble” about it and modest by plastering photos of their latest conquest all over social media outlets. cue the image of a trout bum sleeping in a micro bus streamside drinking a $500 bottle of Chateau Lynch Bages while eating their pork and beans meal from a can opened by with a $100 multi tool and cooked over the campfire. Get over yourselves. Nobody cares. The outdoor experience was meant to be enjoyed by those who appreciate nature and the environment. not as a “look what I can do” opportunity
    Nobody does any business at the OR show anymore, and hasn’t for years. It’s just an excuse for the outdoor industry people get together to help them feel relevant, and an opportunity to say Hi Bro to someone that they don’t really know, and to pat each other on the back for no reason. They can then feel fulfilled and tell everyone back home how awesome the OR show was this year. You know what would be really rad? to not have to listen to you all wax on about your outdoor conquests and how horrible everyone else is because they don’t hold your same opinion or wear a puff ball jacket with a duct tape patch over the fake hole and a yeti trucker cap.

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