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Outdoor Afro Inc. to Co-Lead Trips With REI Adventures

Outdoor Afro helped design three new trips with REI Adventures, infusing itineraries with Black history, culture, and local businesses.

outdoor afro rei tripsA hiker on the Shenandoah Hike & Camp trip from REI and Outdoor Afro; (photo/REI)
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REI Co-op unveiled a new approach Tuesday for improving diversity in the outdoors: nature trips designed and led by Black Americans.

The retailer has long offered multiday excursions to many of the country’s most popular parks, and regularly adds new destinations. But, this is the first time that REI has partnered with another organization to curate specific trips — especially with the intention of attracting more minority participants.

The three trips, which include activities in Shenandoah National Park, New River Gorge, and Washington, D.C., were informed by Outdoor Afro Inc. The company is the profit-making offshoot of Outdoor Afro, a not-for-profit organization focused on reconnecting Black folks with nature. Rue Mapp, who founded both organizations, told GearJunkie that the itineraries include research and insights from the Outdoor Afro community.

“Each trip will be professionally led by REI and Outdoor Afro Inc. guides, providing paid opportunities for the Black outdoor enthusiast,” Mapp said in an email. “The itineraries were carefully curated to infuse Black American history and culture (past and present) and feature local Black-owned businesses.”

A hiking group on the New River Gorge trip from REI and Outdoor Afro; (photo/REI)

Outdoor Afro Inc. has been partnering with REI for 14 years on product collaborations, like this hiking collection from 2022. But these trips represent something new. In fact, Mapp said she’s not aware of a similar program elsewhere.

“Our goal is to make this collaboration and the experiences one of a kind, but we do hope to inspire others!” she said.

Addressing the Outdoor Diversity Gap

In the last few years, the lack of diversity in America’s national parks has become a frequent topic in the outdoors industry.

Black Americans in particular remain significantly underrepresented in nature-based activities, according to a 2023 report from the Outdoor Industry Association. A combination of segregation, racial violence, and economic inequality have continued to create a “diversity gap” in the outdoors, the National Health Foundation said.

Many minority-led groups have tried to address the issue by creating community events around a specific outdoor sport. Textured Waves and Color The Water do it for surfing. Black Girls Boulder does it for rock climbing. The BLK Hiking Club organizes hikes with huge numbers of Black participants.

outdoor afro rei trips
Several hikers on the Shenandoah Hike and Camp trip; (photo/REI)

Convincing companies like REI to get on board with such initiatives is a great idea, said Lizelle Jackson, an outdoor educator and co-founder of Color The Water. Jackson worked for 10 years as a travel guide, and said remembers how the vast majority of both guides and clients were white.

“When you’re out there surrounded by Confederate flags on a biking trip, you don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “When it comes to being in the outdoors, it’s historically not safe or comfortable for people who look like me. It’s important for more people to understand that. The way people of color move through this world is different.”

That’s why it can make a big difference when a person of color is in a planning position, she added.

REI, Outdoor Afro Adventures

The trips created by REI and Outdoor Afro Inc. range from “easy active” to “moderate” experience levels. They will include activities and education meant to “highlight Black joy and amplify belonging, togetherness, and connection with nature,” the press release said.

New adventures include:

  • Shenandoah Hike and Camp Adventure: This 4-day “moderately active” trip includes kayaking and hiking in Shenandoah National Park and a trip to a local vineyard. It costs $2,800.
  • New River Gorge Epic Family Camping Getaway: This 4-day “easy active” family-friendly camping getaway aims for families with children 8 years and older. It includes hiking, rafting and canopy courses at New River Gorge in W.V. It costs $2,500.
  • Shenandoah and D.C. Hike and Kayak – Lodge-Based: In this 4-day “easy active” trip priced at $1,800, travelers will also kayak and hike in Shenandoah National Park. Guests will learn about Black history and culture, hearing from a local speaker on the region’s divided history and enjoying a tour and tasting at a Black-owned vineyard. The trip begins and ends in Washington, D.C.

REI’s hope is that this approach can help increase outdoor participation among Black Americans across the country. But it’s also an opportunity for others to learn about African-American history.

“We are so excited to offer these experiences to everyone,” Mapp said. “Our hope is that trip attendees will learn more about black American history, culture, and build a community of fellow like-minded adventurers celebrating joy in the outdoors.”

Learn more by visiting the REI page for Outdoor Afro Inc.’s trips.

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