whitewater rafting guide outdoor industry

Recent Grad? 7 Ways To Break Into The Outdoors Industry

The day after I graduated from college, I drove west in an overloaded Honda Civic and was dropped off at the Colorado Outward Bound School.

6 Ways To Break Into The Outdoors Industry

Months earlier, I committed to moving west after graduation. I enjoyed school but was eager for a change. To my surprise, the opportunities were bountiful for recent grads who love the outdoors.

My First Job In The Outdoors

Growing up, I loved backpacking, hiking, and rock climbing. So after graduation instead of jumping on a traditional career track, I took a job as a logistics coordinator with Outward Bound.

The opportunity to live in Leadville, Colo. — population 2,000, elevation 10,000 — was something I could not turn down. Over the coming months, living and working in the outdoors was an experience that changed my life.

Are you in the same boat? Here are a few places to start.


Intern with Outward Bound

Being an Outward Bound instructor requires a savvy outdoor resume. You can intern for the school as an excellent place to start.

Outward Bound trip

Interns work closely with the logistics team to deliver effective course support. They also complete up to two weeks in the field with students.

In addition, administrators who have completed years of fieldwork in outdoor education take the time to mentor interns one on one. Interns often get hired back the next year as instructors.

Learn more about interning with Colorado Outward Bound or other schools.

Outward Bound bases
Outward Bound bases

Join The Conservation Corps

For the environmentally-inclined graduate, the Conservation Corps offers one-of-a-kind field experience. With locations around the country, Conservation Corps partners with Americorps for funding. Projects include trail work and storm clean up, and vary with location.

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Arizona Conservation Corps crew building trail in the Grand Canyon; photo by Bryan Struble

The most developed programs exist through the Minnesota and Iowa division, and the Western Colorado crew.

Become A Whitewater Raft Guide

Raft Guiding is great If you’re eager to combine work and play.

Montana Whitewater on the Gallatin River; photo by Jeffery Gerhardt

The Colorado, Green, and Snake rivers are some of the waterways dotted with raft outfitters. These cater to adventure-seeking vacationers. Most hire guide apprentices that require no experience at all. Row Adventures and Adrift Adventures are two to consider.

Rafting is a puzzle of logistics and planning. All gear, food, and people must fit onto the rafts. If learning to plan your own trips more efficiently, and developing the logistical skills that are in such high demand in the outdoor industry appeals to you, this is an excellent option.

Work At A National Park (Concessionaire)

For those interested in playing as much as possible in a specific location, a job in a national park is a no-brainer. National parks’ hospitality services (think restaurants, gift shops, and hotels) operate through contracted companies. Xanterra and Aramark are two common concessionaires.

The companies hire hundreds of seasonal employees at dozens of national parks. An additional perk is they provide dormitory-style housing, eliminating the need to live in a tent or your car for the summer.

6 Ways To Break Into The Outdoors Industry
Courtesy of the Department of the Interior

Work As National Park Intern

If living in a national park appeals to you but working in the service industry does not, check out the Student Conservation Association or USAJobs. The SCA is a conglomeration of environmental education, outreach, and conservation internships.

USAJobs requires a bit more navigation as it is the application site for all positions in the federal government.

Many of the positions require more advanced skill sets (wildland firefighting, emergency medicine certifications, etc).

6 Ways To Break Into The Outdoors Industry
Courtesy of the Department of the Interior

A perk of many internships is employee housing, which simplifies a big move. This position requires you to work hard and play hard, as the acres of the park are your office, backyard, and bedroom.

Intern For Outdoor Brands

Work alongside passionate outdoorsy people designing, marketing, and selling the gear we use on all of our adventures.

REI Funds Modern 'New Deal' Conservation Corps
REI Funds Modern 'New Deal' Conservation Corps

Outdoor retailer REI will donate $1 million to provide jobs to rebuild our National Parks. Read more…

If one brand’s ethic or history particularly attracts you, see if there are any entry-level or intern positions for marketing, retail, customer service, or sales jobs.

If the brand’s website doesn’t display anything, you can always patrol malakye.com for openings. Different than most job aggregators, this site focuses on outdoors industries.

Freelance As A Writer Or Photographer

Photo by Alex Kurt

Many outdoor magazines (including GearJunkie!) encourage new writers to submit stories, photographs, or videos that fit the editorial platform.

Dream Job: Make It As An Outdoors Photographer
Dream Job: Make It As An Outdoors Photographer

It takes more than the right Instagram filter. But with dedication, the dream job of a pro outdoors photographer is more attainable today than ever before. Read more…

It’s a competitive endeavor, and the content needs to be engaging and perfectly executed. But for those who dream of bylines in national publications, freelancing is a good foot in the door.

Internships are another route for those hoping to become editors of the future. For both routes, persistence, great grammar, and excellent pitches are necessary.