Are you dreaming of leaving your cubicle for a life of adventure? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to work in the outdoor industry? If so, today’s post is for you! My outdoor blogging BFF Meg from Adventures of Fox in the Forest is a full-time freelance photographer, writer, and content specialist for the outdoor industry. In today’s post, she shares her take on outdoor jobs for women, the ups and downs of working outside, and the not-so-sexy side of gear testing. Enjoy!
Photos courtesy of Meg
Another windy, cold evening in the desert and my legs feel like popsicles. I’m sitting by the fire, trying to absorb the warmth amongst the windswept night, cursing myself for being such an idiot. How could I let this happen…again? Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time you were here? All I wanted were my softshell pants, something I didn’t deem necessary while testing hiking pants for a week away. Instead, I sat half miserable by the fire, trying to get warm.
I’m a full-time freelance writer and digital content specialist. I create content primarily for the outdoor industry (I have corporate and small business clients too).
For most people, this job conjures up images of a Pinterest-perfect van and a day filled with photo shoots of me with some epic backdrop, hair blowing effortlessly in the wind.
HA! That’s certainly far from the truth. I’m too sloppy to be a Pinterest model. I spend more time than you would think behind a desk, in a house, in a city, with real bills to pay and work to accomplish. I hustle harder than a kid trying to snag a division one scholarship, get rejected often, and never really get a real vacation (combining your passions and hobbies with your life’s work creates this really awkward grey area). Oh, and I don’t own a van.
However, occasionally really badass opportunities scamper across my desk and I quickly gobble them up. Which is how I ended up spending the past several months testing seven women’s backpacking packs and eight pairs of hiking pants. I thought it genius to take the eight pairs of pants with me into the desert. Unfortunately, this meant that I had little room for actual useful clothing items — such as my soft shell and wind pants, something I missed dearly on this cold desert evening.
So what have I really learned from being a professional gear tester and outdoor writer? Aside from the fact that you should never bring eight pairs of pants into the desert without bringing your wind layer, quite a bit. I’ve become an expert at adventuring and getting paid to do it. Although I’m not going to go into full details about the latter part of that statement, since this post is geared more towards becoming an outdoor badass and not a contract negotiations specialist (snooze), it is important to remember that being outside, although fun, is work. But it’s that kind of Type II fun that keeps us coming back to those brutal, post-hole-filled approaches, the long miles of bushwhacking, and scraped up climbing hands. So here is what I’ve learned from being a full-time adventurer.
Adventure Takes Planning, But Nothing Actually Goes to Plan
The first step towards crafting your dream adventure is figuring out what in the heck you actually want to do. For me, that’s never been a single objective. I jack-knife wildly in the adventure sphere, searching for what makes me smile. Does the mountain sound fun? Climb it! Who cares what elevation it is or how iconic it is. At the moment, that’s technical alpine climbing and trad climbing, but there was a time when I wanted to be a thru-hiker.
For example, I thought I would climb Mt Rainier or even Denali, until I learned I hate the cold. I never thought I’d get into rock climbing, then I got a knee condition where crag time was the only thing that didn’t put me in a frenzied pain for several days.
The point is, you need to have the know-how to plan and execute an epic adventure, but be flexible enough to understand that the real adventure happens when your plan falls apart.
Then why plan? Great question, being in the outdoors is all about risk assessment. How much risk are you willing to endure? What are the conditions and how do they affect my safety? What is your tolerance for things like crappy weather, exposure, long miles, and rough terrain? Planning for your big adventure helps you to understand what you’re actually getting into, an enables you to make safe decisions when the plan inevitably comes crashing down on you.
Invest in Mountain Ed
Look, I get that everyone doesn’t have thousands of dollars sitting around to hire guides and take every outdoor skills class under the sun. I’ve invested a lot in my mountain ed, and sometimes that’s going out with a private guide or taking a class at my local climbing gym, but other times that’s getting out there and doing things completely wrong.
The Lady Dirtbag’s Guide to Freedom is designed to give you the skill base you need to tackle a thru-hike, climb to the top of the Grand Teton, or simply go on a tough backpacking weekend. No, it isn’t going to teach you anchor building or make you an FKT hiker, but it will give you the confidence and skills you need to get started on your big wilderness goal. You’ll learn how to use a compass, poop in the woods, eat well, and endure the crazy suffering that is Type II fun in the outdoors. You may need to invest in a crevasse rescue course (or find a trustworthy mentor), but being a Lady Dirtbag means knowing how to handle your shit, and we will certainly cover everything you need to know to create a system and mental grit to reach your summit.
You’re Going to Ask “What the Hell am I Doing Here?”
When people talk to me about the mountains, they often have this romantic notion that the hills are littered with Insta-worthy backdrops and herds of unicorns. I have yet to spot a herd of majestic unicorns, but to reach those incredible viewpoints, you’re going to have to wade your way through the bullshit, and lots of it. Nothing in this life that’s worth doing is easy. Period. The outdoors is no exception.
Expect to put in the time to make your dreams a reality. Lots of time. I like to tell the people that go doe-eyed at my job that yes, it’s fantastic. I have had the privilege to see and do some incredible things, but for every adventure you see, there is countless hours prepping, planning, winning the work, and needing to meet deadlines after being utterly exhausted. But you know what? The journey and those grit-your-teeth moments are what make the time spent in the epic alpenglow so worth it.
For every mountain you summit, there will be two you didn’t if you’re lucky. So go ahead and get after it. Don’t be afraid to fail and learn to enjoy the journey.
Being Brave Means Being Afraid
One thing I hear again and again is, “Wow, you’re such a badass.” And although I appreciate the compliments, I never really understood where that comment came from. On the surface, I was doing what anyone else could do if they set their mind to it. I spent a good amount of time being scared as I tackled tough hikes, exposed scrambles, and all sorts of other obstacles. Then it occurred to me, what made me truly “badass” was being vulnerable.
When you go into the outdoors on an epic adventure, you’re putting yourself at risk. You’re making yourself vulnerable to the elements, and most people are pretty averse to subjecting themselves to that kind of vulnerability. Being a “badass” isn’t a product of what we are doing, it’s the mindset we subject ourselves to when doing it. Was I scared free soloing the Second Flatiron? You better believe it. I had to squash several thoughts of my plummeting hundreds of feet to my death, bouncing off of slabby granite. But you know what? I put myself out there and did it.
On the other side of fear is strength, and believe me, it’s okay to be scared out there. So don’t go thinking you need to have nerves of steel to get out there and climb a mountain. You certainly are allowed to freak out, cry, suffer, be scared, and feel all of the emotions. It’s your ability to see through it that sets you apart.
Never Underestimate the Value of a Puffy Layer
Alright, so back to freezing my ass off in the desert. If I didn’t have my almighty puffy layer, it would have been one brutal weekend. I brought too much homework along on my desert foray, and not enough clothing that I actually needed. Always bring that extra layer, even if the temps look sunny and delightfully warm. Never be stingy about things like water, food, and shelter (or in this case clothing). No, you don’t need eight pairs of pants for 96 hours, but you do need enough layers to stay warm at night.
- Related post: Learn to layer clothes for cold weather
Your Fellow Lady Dirtbags are Like Family
About three years ago I looked around and realized I was surrounded by sausage. For a long time, I convinced myself that I “just got along with men better.” This was mainly due to having a series of shitty friendships with women. But once I started getting outdoors, I wanted to find more women to enjoy it with. There is something extraordinarily powerful about getting outside with a fem-focused crew. I spent years being that awkward person on the internet, seeking friendship from badass women that were happier being dirty than done up.
I meant some incredible souls through the internet, these people transformed my outdoor experience and we’ve created lasting relationships both on and off the trail. It takes time, and again, you’ve gotta be a little vulnerable, but in the end, you’ll find a gang of gal-pals to laugh, smile, and suffer with.
- Related post: How to meet new hiking friends
Embrace the Mellow
Last year, after climbing the Grand Teton, I came home with a ruined set of knees. I couldn’t walk more than a few blocks before I was in unbelievable pain. I had always been the type of person to one-up myself. I climbed the Grand Teton, it was now time to organize and lead my own alpine climb. A tall order when you can’t walk.
I had this big trip planned (work-related, of course) and here I was, injured. Instead of pouting and canceling the trip, I toned down my big mileage days. I took a friend who had just moved to the country on an epic journey to see the most sunrises and sunsets we could possibly stomach. We took short hikes, explored scenic vistas, and even managed to squeeze a night sleeping on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I learned so many things on that trip, but the biggest one was the mellow can be just as excited as the epic. I’ll cherish watching the sunrise on the highest point of the Grand Canyon for forever, even though it only required me to walk 100 yards from my vehicle.
The Outdoors is All About Simplicity
For a space that’s layered in history, struggle, politics, access, and everything else you could possibly think of, it might be easy to think that the outdoors is a complicated place. In many ways, that’s extremely true, but when it comes to your activities, gear, and safety, simple is always best.
Take rock climbing for example. Someone might look at a multi-pitch trad climber, weighed down with gear, sitting at an anchor with ropes and cords going in every direction and think, “Wow, that’s so complicated I can never do that.” I’ve got a shocking secret for you: high-risk sports in the outdoors are designed with simple safety systems. Yes, there are rules you should know, yes there can be a seemingly endless way to do things, but at the end of the day, systems in extreme outdoor sports are designed to be streamlined and efficient. It isn’t rocket science, and with practice, proactive learning, and more practice, you can learn it too. The Lady Dirtbag’s Guide to Freedom is a great first step in your outdoor sports career.
At the end of the day, it’s all about getting out there, being vulnerable while being responsible and learning to embrace all sides of fun. Even if that means making the mistake of packing too much clothing for not the right climate.
Check out the book
Meg is a full-time freelance writer and content maven for the outdoor space. She’s been published with REI, Backpacker Magazine, and more. She hails from Colorado and enjoys mountaineering, climbing, and adventuring about with her fiancé and dog. You can learn more about Meg on her blog, Fox in the Forest. She’d rather be dirty than done up.
Originally published July 2, 2019.