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10 Reasons: Get A Career In ‘Wilderness Industry’

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[leadin]Choose a career and you might get countless hours under florescent bulbs, or days outside under the stars and sun. You know which way we lean.[/leadin]

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The author at work

Snow is falling in fat flakes. It’s 25 degrees and going down. I can barely feel my toes. Welcome to my “office.”

It’s December, in the middle of an eight-day shift, and I won’t feel the warmth of a heater for another few days. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

In my job for a wilderness-therapy program, I backpacked through the Southwest deserts with groups of young adults struggling with addiction, behavioral, and psychological issues. They learned practical wilderness skills, but more importantly they grew emotionally and relationally through the power of wilderness.

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My ‘office’

Whether it’s for a trail crew, a national park, guiding outfitter, or other outdoors job, here are 10 reasons why the wilderness should be your next office.

1) Live Outdoors: A given, you will spend the vast majority of your year outside. Spending 200 nights a year under the stars — which was my scenario — is a year well spent. There’s no such thing as the quiet hum of florescent lights. Nobody gets to adjust the thermostat. And it’s glorious.

A guide at the Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina; photo by Rafael Peñaloza
A guide at the Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina; photo by Rafael Peñaloza, some rights reserved

2) Like-Minded Friends: Your community of co-workers will instantly be your best friends. These types of jobs, from raft guides to ski resort workers, often attract good-natured, like-minded people. It is easy to love the people with whom you work.

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A kayak guide at work in Norway

3) Live Cheap: A low cost of living makes it easy to exist on a modest salary and even save money. Wilderness jobs rarely pay well. But the cost of living while working is very low, with cheap rent and meals covered by your company a possibility with many gigs. A bonus: It can be a great way to pay off debt or save for a big trip.

4) Six-Day Weekends: The work schedule is completely unique. Some people work every other week, for example, in jobs like mountain guiding and wilderness therapy. This allows for significantly more freedom than a traditional job. The “six-day weekends,” which I had a couple times a month, mean you can be very active and adventurous during the time off. I certainly took advantage of it during my year working in the wilds.


5) The Scenery: The places these jobs exist are usually in outdoor lover’s playgrounds. Jobs on trails — maintenance, guiding, or law enforcement — fill work days with amazing vistas. Days off can be taken over with climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding … all sorts of activities that are waiting on the doorstep.

6) Become A Badass: Learn skills that are more than just party tricks — survival skills such as starting a fire with sticks and how to build natural shelters, or making useful things with leather. In some jobs it’s like learning how to be Daniel Boone.

7) Learn To Lead: Guides learn leadership skills bringing groups into unfamiliar environments or situations that are outside of clients’ skill sets. They are experts in a given wilderness environment, and leaders who keep people safe in perilous places. This kind of job will mold you for the rest of your life.

Guide at the Columbia Icefield, Alberta, Canada; photo cc https://www.flickr.com/photos/iwona_kellie/
Guide at the Columbia Icefield, Alberta, Canada; photo cc iwona_kellie, some rights reserved.

8) Gear Up: Puffy jacket? Check. Ridiculously warm sleeping bag? Check. Get pro deals (and a legitimate excuse) to buy all the best gear you’ve been ogling all these years… yep. Most outdoors workers are serious gear junkies. Hey, you have an excuse: It’s your job! (Also, did we mention tax write-offs? Be sure to check with an accountant about writing off your equipment used on the job site.)

Some of the author’s coworkers

9) Get Fit: The physical activity and the time outside involved with wilderness jobs makes for a healthy, vibrant lifestyle. On the job, and off the clock, enjoy a unique and fun work-life balance. Working in the wilderness is conducive to physical and mental health.

10) Get In Touch: Enjoy a work environment that is conducive to thinking and processing your life. Find inspiration in the landscape and delve into your inner artist. You cannot get this kind of connection in an office. Appreciate every moment out there, no matter the hard work and frozen toes.

–Eric Hanson spent more than two years as a field instructor for a wilderness-therapy program in Utah. He is a landscape and adventure photographer, filmmaker and host of Backpacking TV currently trekking the Andes … indefinitely. Follow him on Instagram via @ericrhanson.

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