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Does The Outdoors Really Have A Diversity Problem?


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Dody Baxter



The outdoors is often depicted as a place of natural beauty, tranquility, and adventure. It is the realm of mountains, forests, rivers, and stunning landscapes that beckon us to explore and connect with nature. However, there is a growing concern that the outdoors has a diversity problem. It is a realm that seems to cater primarily to certain demographics, leaving others feeling excluded or marginalized.


But what exactly do we mean by diversity? At its core, diversity encompasses a wide range of characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities, and socioeconomic background. It represents the multitude of perspectives, experiences, and identities that make up our society. While the lack of diversity is a fundamental issue that affects various industries, its impact on outdoor activities and access to nature is particularly noteworthy.


When we think about outdoor activities, we often have a stereotypical image in mind – a group of predominantly white individuals engaging in hiking, camping, or extreme sports. The truth is, these activities often lack representation from underrepresented communities. This lack of diversity not only restricts access to the physical and mental health benefits that outdoor spaces provide but also perpetuates a narrow definition of who belongs in the outdoors.


There are various barriers that contribute to the limited diversity in outdoor activities. Socioeconomic factors play a significant role, as individuals from lower-income backgrounds may have limited resources and opportunities to engage in outdoor adventures. Additionally, a lack of representation in outdoor media, such as magazines and advertisements, can make individuals from underrepresented communities feel unwelcome or invisible.


It is crucial to recognize the importance of diversity in the outdoors. Nature has a transformative power that can positively impact people from all walks of life. It can boost mental health, promote physical fitness, foster a sense of belonging, and encourage environmental stewardship. By embracing diversity in outdoor spaces, we can create a more inclusive and equitable environment for everyone to enjoy and benefit from.


Fortunately, there are initiatives and organizations actively working to tackle the diversity problem in the outdoors. They are striving to break down barriers and create opportunities for underrepresented communities to access and engage with nature. These efforts are not only necessary for social justice but also crucial for the long-term sustainability and preservation of our natural environments.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the issue of diversity in the outdoors, explore the barriers that hinder access, and highlight the importance of diversity for the well-being of individuals and the environment. We will also discuss some of the initiatives and organizations that are making strides towards a more inclusive and diverse outdoor community.


Definition of Diversity

Before delving into the issue of diversity in the outdoors, let us first understand what diversity truly means. Diversity is more than just a buzzword; it is a concept that encompasses a range of characteristics, experiences, and perspectives within a society or community.


At its core, diversity is about recognizing and valuing the differences among individuals. These differences can include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities, socioeconomic background, and cultural beliefs. It goes beyond surface-level distinctions and delves into the rich tapestry of human identities and experiences.


Embracing diversity means acknowledging and appreciating that each person brings unique perspectives, strengths, and talents to the table. It involves fostering an inclusive environment that not only respects individual differences but also celebrates them.


When it comes to the outdoors, diversity encompasses the range of people who engage with and have access to outdoor spaces, activities, and experiences. Achieving diversity in the outdoors means breaking down barriers and ensuring that individuals from all walks of life can equally and comfortably participate, enjoy, and benefit from outdoor activities.


It is essential to recognize that diversity is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The different dimensions of diversity intersect and interact with one another, shaping individuals’ experiences and identities. A person’s race or ethnicity, for example, can intersect with their gender, age, or socioeconomic background, leading to unique challenges and experiences in the outdoor space.


Moreover, diversity is not a static concept; it is dynamic and ever-evolving. As societies and communities change and progress, so do our understandings of diversity. It is crucial to continually reassess and broaden our definition of diversity to include more voices and identities.


Ultimately, diversity is about creating equitable and inclusive environments that value and respect the experiences and perspectives of all individuals. It is about dismantling barriers and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background or identity, has the opportunity to connect with and enjoy the outdoors.


The Outdoors and Diversity

The outdoors, with its vast and awe-inspiring landscapes, has the potential to connect and inspire people from all walks of life. It offers opportunities for adventure, recreation, and solace, allowing individuals to disconnect from daily routines and immerse themselves in nature. However, the outdoor sector has historically struggled with issues of diversity and inclusivity.


When we talk about diversity in the context of the outdoors, we refer to the representation and inclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses. The reality is that certain groups have been underrepresented or feel unwelcome in outdoor spaces, leading to a lack of diversity within the outdoor community.


One key aspect of the lack of diversity is the limited representation of people of color in outdoor activities. Despite growing racial and ethnic diversity in society, outdoor spaces and outdoor media often prominently feature a homogenous group of people engaging in activities such as hiking, camping, rock climbing, and skiing. This lack of representation can perpetuate the notion that the outdoors is primarily for a specific demographic, leading to feelings of exclusion and inadequacy among those who do not see themselves reflected in these spaces.


Another aspect is the gender gap in outdoor participation. Women have historically faced barriers in accessing and engaging with the outdoors. Stereotypes around gender roles and societal expectations often discourage women from participating in outdoor activities, and safety concerns can also be a deterrent. Breaking down these barriers and creating a more inclusive environment for women is essential in promoting diversity in the outdoors.


Additionally, individuals with different abilities may face obstacles in accessing outdoor spaces and participating in activities due to limited infrastructure and lack of accommodations. The outdoor community should strive to make outdoor spaces inclusive and accessible for people of all abilities to ensure equal opportunities for participation and enjoyment.


Furthermore, the socioeconomic factors cannot be overlooked when discussing diversity in the outdoors. Outdoor activities and equipment can be costly, making them inaccessible to those with limited financial resources. This economic barrier creates disparities in access and perpetuates the idea that outdoor recreation is a luxury reserved for the privileged few.


The lack of diversity in the outdoors is not only a social issue but also a missed opportunity for the outdoor sector. By embracing diversity and fostering inclusivity, outdoor organizations, businesses, and communities can tap into the rich tapestry of perspectives and experiences that different populations bring. This inclusivity can lead to the development of innovative solutions, increased consumer engagement, and greater sustainability efforts.


In the following sections, we will explore the barriers to outdoor access, the importance of diversity in the outdoors, and the initiatives and organizations working towards creating a more inclusive outdoor community.


Representation in Outdoor Activities

Representation is a critical aspect of promoting diversity and inclusivity in outdoor activities. It involves ensuring that individuals from all backgrounds and identities are not only present but also seen, heard, and valued in outdoor spaces and activities. Unfortunately, many outdoor activities have been dominated by a narrow and homogenous representation, which can create a sense of exclusion and limited access for underrepresented communities.


One area that lacks diverse representation is adventure sports such as rock climbing, mountaineering, and extreme skiing. These activities are often associated with thrill-seeking and physical prowess, which can deter individuals who do not fit the traditional image of an outdoor adventurer. The lack of diversity in adventure sports can perpetuate the idea that these activities are reserved for a particular demographic, reinforcing social and cultural barriers that prevent individuals from diverse backgrounds from participating.


Hiking and camping are outdoor activities that may seem more accessible to a wider range of people. However, even in these pursuits, there is often a lack of representation and inclusion. For example, hiking trails are often designed and managed by predominantly white communities, excluding the perspectives and needs of diverse populations. This lack of representation can create physical and cultural barriers that deter individuals from underrepresented communities from engaging in these activities.


Outdoor education programs and youth camps are another area where representation matters. These programs have the potential to introduce young people to the joys and benefits of outdoor activities. However, if the leaders, instructors, and mentors in these programs do not represent a diverse range of backgrounds and identities, it can create a disconnect and limit the effectiveness of the programs in reaching and inspiring a broader audience.


In order to promote representation in outdoor activities, there is a need for intentional efforts to diversify leadership, instructors, and ambassadors within the outdoor community. By ensuring that individuals from a variety of backgrounds and identities are visible and celebrated as leaders and experts in their respective outdoor pursuits, it sends a powerful message that the outdoors is for everyone.


Moreover, representation goes beyond the individuals engaging in outdoor activities; it also extends to the stories, images, and narratives that are shared and celebrated within the outdoor community. Outdoor media plays a vital role in shaping the perception of who belongs in outdoor spaces and what outdoor adventures look like. Therefore, it is essential to promote diverse representation in outdoor media, showcasing a wide range of individuals, experiences, and perspectives. This can help break down stereotypes and inspire individuals from underrepresented communities to see themselves participating in outdoor activities.


By actively working towards diverse representation in outdoor activities, we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all individuals. It is important to acknowledge that representation is not just about numbers and visibility but also about creating a sense of belonging and empowerment for individuals from underrepresented communities.


Barriers to Outdoor Access

While the outdoors may seem open and accessible to all, various barriers prevent individuals from diverse backgrounds from experiencing and enjoying outdoor activities. These barriers can be physical, financial, cultural, or systemic, and they contribute to the limited access and representation in outdoor spaces. Understanding and addressing these barriers is crucial for creating a more inclusive and equitable outdoor community.


Socioeconomic factors play a significant role in limiting outdoor access for many individuals. Outdoor activities often require equipment, transportation, and sometimes fees for access to certain areas. The cost of gear and travel expenses can be prohibitive for those with limited financial resources, creating barriers to participation. Inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities exacerbates these barriers, perpetuating the notion that outdoor recreation is a luxury reserved for the affluent.


Physical barriers also hinder outdoor access for individuals with disabilities or limited mobility. Inaccessible trails, lack of wheelchair-accessible facilities, and the absence of accommodations for individuals with sensory impairments can make it difficult or impossible for them to engage in outdoor activities. The outdoor community should prioritize the creation of inclusive infrastructure and facilities to ensure that individuals of all abilities can access and enjoy outdoor spaces.


Cultural barriers, including stereotypes, exclusionary practices, and a lack of representation, can leave individuals from diverse backgrounds feeling unwelcome or out of place in outdoor spaces. At times, the outdoor community may reinforce a specific image of who belongs in outdoor activities, creating a sense of exclusion for those who do not fit that mold. These cultural barriers discourage individuals from diverse communities from engaging in outdoor activities and perpetuate the underrepresentation of certain groups.


Another barrier is the lack of knowledge and awareness about outdoor activities. Access to outdoor spaces and outdoor education is not uniformly distributed, particularly among marginalized communities. Limited exposure to outdoor activities and a lack of role models or mentors within these communities can create a perception that the outdoors is not for them or that outdoor activities are unattainable.


Moreover, safety concerns can act as a barrier, particularly for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Historical and ongoing issues of harassment and discrimination can create fear and unease, making outdoor spaces feel unsafe and unwelcoming. Building a more inclusive outdoor community requires addressing these safety concerns and creating an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable to participate.


To overcome these barriers to outdoor access, collaborative efforts are necessary. Outdoor organizations, governments, and communities should work together to provide financial assistance, scholarships, and inclusive programming to reduce the financial barriers. Building accessible infrastructure, including trails, facilities, and equipment, can ensure equitable access for individuals with disabilities. Promoting diversity and inclusion in marketing and media can break down cultural barriers and inspire individuals from underrepresented communities to engage in outdoor activities.


By addressing these barriers and working towards a more inclusive outdoor community, we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience the benefits and joys of being in nature.


Socioeconomic Factors

Socioeconomic factors play a significant role in determining who has access to outdoor activities and who is left behind. Financial resources, educational opportunities, and social support networks all contribute to the disparities in outdoor access and participation.


One of the main barriers created by socioeconomic factors is the cost associated with outdoor activities. Engaging in outdoor pursuits often requires equipment, gear, transportation, and sometimes fees for access to certain areas. The expenses can quickly add up, making outdoor recreation unaffordable for individuals with limited financial resources. This cost barrier disproportionately affects marginalized communities, perpetuating the notion that outdoor activities are only for the privileged few.


Furthermore, the lack of representation and diversity in outdoor spaces can stem from socioeconomic disparities. Communities with lower incomes may not have the same opportunities to access outdoor spaces due to limited resources or geographical location. In many cases, outdoor spaces and parks are concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods, creating unequal access for individuals living in low-income areas.


The economic disparity extends beyond access to outdoor spaces. It also affects educational opportunities related to outdoor activities. Outdoor education programs, summer camps, and wilderness expeditions are valuable experiences that can foster a love for nature and outdoor pursuits. However, the cost of these programs can be prohibitive for many individuals, limiting their exposure to outdoor activities and the benefits they offer.


Socioeconomic factors also influence the level of knowledge and familiarity individuals have with the outdoors. Individuals from low-income communities may not have grown up with opportunities to learn outdoor skills, such as swimming, hiking, or camping. This lack of exposure and early experiences can create a sense of unfamiliarity and hesitancy towards outdoor activities later in life.


To address the socioeconomic barriers to outdoor access, it is essential to create equitable opportunities and resources. Providing financial assistance and scholarships for outdoor programs can help individuals with limited means participate in outdoor activities. Affordable rental programs for equipment and gear can also make outdoor pursuits more accessible.


Additionally, outdoor organizations, nonprofits, and public agencies can work together to ensure that outdoor spaces and resources are distributed more equitably. This can involve creating outdoor spaces and parks in underserved areas, prioritizing the development of inclusive infrastructure, and providing transportation options for individuals who may not have easy access to outdoor spaces.


Education is also a key aspect of addressing socioeconomic barriers. Introducing outdoor education programs in schools and community centers can provide opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds to learn about and engage in outdoor activities. By promoting diversity and inclusivity in these programs, we can encourage a broader range of participants and create a more inclusive outdoor community.


Ultimately, addressing socioeconomic factors requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. By prioritizing equitable access, financial support, and educational opportunities, we can work towards breaking down the barriers that limit outdoor access for individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.


Lack of Representation in Outdoor Media

The lack of representation in outdoor media is a significant barrier to diversity and inclusivity in the outdoor community. Outdoor media, including magazines, advertisements, social media influencers, and outdoor-related content, have the power to shape perceptions, set trends, and influence who feels welcome and valued in outdoor spaces.


Historically, outdoor media has often portrayed a narrow and homogeneous image of who participates in outdoor activities. The predominant representation has skewed towards white, able-bodied individuals, creating a limited and exclusionary narrative of what it means to be an outdoor enthusiast. This lack of diversity in outdoor media can make individuals from underrepresented communities feel invisible, unwelcome, or disconnected from the outdoor community.


Without diverse representation, the message sent is that the outdoors is for a select demographic, reinforcing social and cultural barriers. This lack of representation can perpetuate stereotypes and create a perception that outdoor recreation is not accessible or relatable to individuals from diverse backgrounds.


Moreover, the absence of representation in outdoor media can inadvertently discourage individuals from underrepresented communities from pursuing outdoor activities. If people do not see themselves reflected in the stories, images, and narratives presented in outdoor media, they may not feel inspired or empowered to engage in outdoor activities. This limited representation stifles the potential for growth, development, and inclusion within the outdoor community.


In recent years, there has been a growing movement to challenge the lack of representation in outdoor media. Many individuals and organizations are working to amplify diverse voices, share inclusive stories, and showcase a wider range of outdoor enthusiasts. By featuring individuals from different backgrounds, races, genders, abilities, and cultures, they challenge the status quo and promote a more inclusive vision of outdoor recreation.


Increasing representation in outdoor media is not just about ticking boxes or being politically correct; it is about reflecting the reality of today’s society and recognizing the contributions and experiences of individuals from all walks of life. It is about celebrating the diverse stories, perspectives, and talents that exist within the outdoor community.


Efforts to improve representation in outdoor media involve intentional decision-making and collaboration. Outdoor media outlets can actively seek out diverse perspectives, stories, and content creators to showcase in their publications and platforms. They can integrate inclusive messaging, imagery, and storytelling that resonate with a wide range of individuals. By doing so, outdoor media can create a more inclusive narrative and inspire a broader audience to engage in outdoor activities.


Representation in outdoor media goes beyond tokenism; it requires sustained commitment and ongoing efforts to challenge and dismantle the existing barriers. By promoting diverse voices and fostering an inclusive narrative, outdoor media can facilitate a sense of belonging, empowerment, and inspiration for individuals from underrepresented communities, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and welcoming outdoor community.


The Importance of Diversity in the Outdoors

Diversity plays a crucial role in the outdoors, benefiting individuals, communities, and the environment. Embracing and promoting diversity in outdoor spaces and activities is not just a matter of social justice; it is also essential for the well-being of individuals and the long-term sustainability of our natural environments.


One of the key reasons why diversity is important in the outdoors is that it enhances the overall experience for everyone involved. When individuals from different backgrounds come together in outdoor spaces, they bring unique perspectives, knowledge, and skills. This diversity of experiences and expertise enriches the outdoor community and fosters a sense of inclusivity and belonging.


Moreover, diversity in the outdoors promotes personal growth and development. Outdoor activities challenge individuals physically, mentally, and emotionally, fostering resilience, self-confidence, and personal growth. By engaging with people from diverse backgrounds, individuals can also expand their cultural awareness, gain new perspectives, and develop empathy and understanding.


For underrepresented communities, the outdoors can serve as a powerful tool for empowerment and social change. It provides an opportunity for individuals to reclaim and redefine their relationships with nature, challenging the historical and social barriers that have excluded them. By actively engaging in outdoor activities, these communities can assert their presence, challenge stereotypes, and inspire others to do the same.


Furthermore, diversity in the outdoors is essential for fostering environmental stewardship and conservation. People are more likely to care about and protect natural spaces when they have a personal connection and sense of ownership. By engaging a diverse range of individuals in outdoor activities, we can cultivate a broader community of advocates and stewards who are committed to preserving and protecting our natural environments.


Additionally, diversity in the outdoors helps to break down the notion that outdoor pursuits are exclusive to a specific demographic. It challenges the outdated stereotypes surrounding who belongs in outdoor spaces and activities. By promoting diversity, we create a more inclusive environment that encourages individuals from all backgrounds to engage with and enjoy the outdoors.


Furthermore, when the outdoor community becomes more diverse, it opens doors for new voices, perspectives, and innovations. Diverse perspectives contribute to creativity, problem-solving, and resilience within the outdoor community. This variety of experiences and ideas can lead to the development of innovative solutions to address the environmental challenges we face.


Overall, the importance of diversity in the outdoors cannot be overstated. It enhances the outdoor experience, promotes personal growth and empowerment, fosters environmental stewardship, challenges stereotypes, and drives innovation. By actively nurturing diversity and creating inclusive outdoor spaces, we can build a stronger, more vibrant, and sustainable outdoor community that benefits everyone.


Initiatives and Organizations Working towards Diversity

Recognizing the significance of diversity in the outdoors, there are numerous initiatives and organizations dedicated to promoting inclusivity and breaking down barriers within the outdoor community. These initiatives aim to create more equitable access, representation, and opportunities for individuals from underrepresented communities. Here are a few examples of the work being done:

  1. Outdoor Afro: Outdoor Afro is a national non-profit organization committed to celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature. They organize outdoor events, provide resources, and cultivate a network of leaders to increase African American representation and engagement in outdoor activities.
  2. LatinXHikers: LatinXHikers is a platform and community that aims to increase Latinx representation in the outdoors. They organize hikes, outdoor events, and storytelling opportunities to amplify the voices and experiences of Latinx outdoor enthusiasts.
  3. Brown Girls Climb: Brown Girls Climb is a collective that creates opportunities and promotes leadership for women of color in rock climbing. Through meetups, mentorship programs, and partnerships, they address the lack of representation for women of color in the climbing community.
  4. Outdoor Asian: Outdoor Asian is a community-driven initiative that seeks to promote inclusion and representation of Asian individuals in outdoor activities. They provide resources, organize outdoor events, and foster connections among Asian outdoor enthusiasts to inspire and empower participation in outdoor pursuits.
  5. Disabled Hikers: Disabled Hikers is an organization that advocates for accessibility and inclusion in outdoor spaces for individuals with disabilities. They provide resources, access guides, and community support to empower disabled individuals to explore and enjoy the outdoors.
  6. SheJumps: SheJumps is a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. They offer programs and events focused on skill-building, mentorship, and community-building to reduce the gender gap in outdoor recreation.
  7. Outdoor LGBTQ+: Outdoor LGBTQ+ is an organization that promotes inclusivity and representation of LGBTQ+ individuals in outdoor spaces. They provide resources, organize events, and foster a supportive community for LGBTQ+ outdoor enthusiasts.

These are just a few examples among many initiatives and organizations working towards diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. These groups are actively challenging the lack of representation, breaking down barriers, and creating opportunities for individuals from underrepresented communities. Their efforts are critical in shaping a more inclusive and welcoming outdoor community for all.



The outdoors should be a place for everyone, offering access, opportunities, and a sense of belonging to individuals from all backgrounds. However, there is still work to be done to address the diversity problem within the outdoor community.


We have discussed the barriers that hinder access to the outdoors, including socioeconomic factors, lack of representation in outdoor media, and cultural stereotypes. These barriers limit the participation and representation of individuals from underrepresented communities, perpetuating a narrow and exclusionary narrative of who belongs in outdoor spaces and activities.


However, it is important to recognize the importance of diversity in the outdoors. Embracing diversity not only leads to a more inclusive and equitable outdoor community but also enhances the overall experiences of individuals, fosters personal growth, promotes environmental stewardship, challenges stereotypes, and drives innovation.


Fortunately, there are initiatives and organizations actively working towards addressing the diversity problem in the outdoors. From Outdoor Afro and LatinXHikers to Brown Girls Climb and Disabled Hikers, these organizations are creating opportunities, amplifying underrepresented voices, and breaking down barriers. Their efforts are essential in creating a more inclusive outdoor community that reflects the diversity of our society.


To continue advancing towards a more diverse and inclusive outdoor community, collaboration is key. Outdoor organizations, governments, communities, and individuals all have a role to play in promoting diversity, breaking down barriers, and fostering inclusivity. This includes providing financial support, creating inclusive infrastructure, promoting diverse representation in outdoor media, and providing educational opportunities for individuals from underrepresented communities.


By working together, we can ensure that the outdoors truly becomes a place that welcomes and celebrates individuals from all backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, abilities, or socioeconomic status. The benefits of diversity in the outdoors extend far beyond the individual level – they have the power to transform communities, inspire environmental stewardship, and create a more sustainable future for all.


Let us embrace the diversity of our world and work towards a more inclusive, accessible, and equitable outdoor community where everyone feels empowered and inspired to explore and enjoy the natural wonders that our planet has to offer.