How to Start Working in the Outdoor Industry
If you’re like me, navigating your way to a meaningful career in the outdoor industry is an opportunity to merge work and play healthily. It’s also a way to lend your unique skills and expertise – in my case, graphic design and branding – to a community you feel connected to and invested in.
Integrating my work as an independent graphic designer with my passion for outdoor recreation and hunting means work and play overlap. Creativity flows whether I’m at my desk or trekking through the woods. It’s a win, win for me. But getting here took time, resilience, and a few wrong turns.
Discover the Outdoors Person Within You
My dad would take my brother and me on multi-day canoe trips on the nearby Conestoga River. The trips became a tradition for nearly a decade of my childhood. Dad would teach us to fish for trout and bass, and bowfish for catfish and carp. My brother and I were sponges – learning as much as possible from him, not realizing what the future held for us in the outdoor industry.
Honing in on what drives your passion for the outdoors is essential to longevity in the space. Long-range planning is one of those tasks that challenge my ADHD. But, connect planning to a hunting, fishing, or hiking adventure, and I can wade through the minutia to create a well-thought-out day. The throughline to keeping me engaged in anything I do is how it serves the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation space.
Finding your trailhead, so to speak, isn’t about narrowing your focus to only one area of the outdoors. Instead, a trailhead provides a logical starting point by which to explore. The outdoors is a large place, and the outdoor industry takes up just as much space in our economy. Even if you’ve found the corner of the industry you love, keep yourself open to intersectional opportunities. To quote Henry Ford, “anyone who stops learning is old.” Don’t let yourself stagnate – keep learning and growing.
Spark Your Community’s Flame
Though my first outdoor education came through hiking and camping outings with my parents, my outdoor educator network has grown since then. Finding incredible and passionate people in the outdoor industry is easy – folks love discussing their adventures and mishaps. But, more than that, it’s an essential part of learning, growing, and finding where your skills can best fit and serve the community.
When I set out for a graphic design and branding career, I had yet to learn how it would intersect with the outdoor, hunting, and fishing industries. But, when my brother got me interested in archery hunting and whitetail tracking, my perspective shifted. I began to see the influence nature had on my creative process. Then, a 2019 vacation to Estes Park, Colorado, sealed the deal and kick-started my journey to creating a nature-focused graphic design and branding studio.
Since refocusing my business on outdoor and nature-based brands, I’ve connected with many incredible individuals and companies serving the outdoor community. For example, I attended the 2023 Backcountry Hunters & Anglers North American Rendezvous in Missoula, Montana. This event was a great reminder of how the hunting, fishing, and outdoor industry can lead you to some incredible places, literally and figuratively.
Bring Your Best Gear to the Table
Once you find your community of like-minded enthusiasts, it can be easy to see how your skills and experiences fit into the outdoor industry. Professionally, I bring my clients years of experience as a visual communicator and designer. I have the skills to bring their vision to life on paper, across digital platforms, and in must-have swag.
Perhaps more importantly, I bring my personal experiences to the table. I understand their customer because, often, I am a customer. I bring my experience as a hunter and fisher and can leverage my adventures in camping and hiking, to thoughtfully integrate the brand into a compelling design that isn’t just beautiful but tells a story.
As a kid, I’d travel to Maine with my mom. It’s one of her favorite places, and over time, it also came to hold a special place in my heart. Acadia National Park merges bucolic ocean views with rugged mountain landscapes in perfect juxtaposition. When I need design inspiration, I might pull one of the many treks up Cadillac Mountain from my memory. I immerse myself in an experience – hunting, fishing, hiking, or otherwise – and bring the feeling of exploration and nature to every design.
Embark on Your Epic Adventure
I won’t gloss over the truth and tell you that getting started in the outdoor industry is easy. Of course, finding your way to anything meaningful is never easy, but putting in the work to get there is worth it.
If you already know how to plan a hunting outing, a fishing trip, or a day-long hiking adventure, you know how to plan a profitable career in the outdoor industry. Planning, patience, and persistence are the fundamental instructions for both. And you might be surprised when you take stock of your network of supporters who wants to help you find your way to a purposeful career in the industry. Like your first mentors in whitetail hunting or trout fishing, a community of folks want people like you and me to find success in sharing our gift with the industry. Find them; then, become them.
The answer is simple when you become unsure of your path (yes, when, not if, because following your passion will challenge you as often as it rewards you). Return to nature for a time. Immerse yourself in the places and landscapes that brought you to this industry. It’s hard to summarize it better than John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Job Seeker Resources:
Folks who are ready to parlay their existing career into a new direction with the outdoor industry, opportunities in sales, marketing, photography, guide services, conservation, non-profit, product design, administration, self-employment, etc. are great places to look.
If you are young and looking to get your feet wet, dabbling in personal content creation, retail, shipping and receiving, internships, and product assembly would be great places to start.
Unique Guide opportunities are available for women from Uncharted Outdoorswomen.