Promoting Diversity, Body Positivity & Representation in the Outdoors
CamelBak Partner Spotlight – Unlikely Hikers
CamelBak®, is partnered with Unlikely Hikers, an outdoor community that features underrepresented people in the outdoors. Together, the organizations will continue to support diversity, anti-racism and body positivity in the outdoors through community events, ambassadors, blog posts and podcast episodes.
Unlikely Hikers is a nationwide hiking group, podcast and Instagram community that seeks to redefine how we define “outdoorsy” in order to be more representative of the broad swath of people and bodies that recreate in the outdoors. Through enriching conversations about access, politics, conservation and honoring the land and its Indigenous stewards, Unlikely Hikers and its courageous founder, Jenny Bruso, have carved an important space for representation in the outdoors.
Considering all that Unlikely Hikers has become—a nationwide hiking group, a podcast, and a social media community of more than 139k members—it’s funny to think about how, in the beginning, all I wanted was for it to be an alternative to the imagery we are bombarded with on outdoorsy social media.
I’m Jenny Bruso, the founder of Unlikely Hikers (UH). I identify as a white, queer, fat writer and hiker. I’ve had a lifelong passion for bringing people together and challenging oppression, especially the dominant ideals projected onto plus-size people. I know the word “fat” in a neutral context is difficult for many people to hold, so I reserve it mainly for myself. But I use it simply as the descriptive word it is. It’s the power and negativity we’ve assigned to it that makes it a bad word.
Values and Vision - Putting a Wide-Angle Lens on Outdoor Adventuring
Five years ago, I was still new to outdoor activities like camping, backpacking, and hiking. I was scrolling through my feed on Instagram and following all the cool nature accounts, outdoor brands, and a handful of influencers. I loved how social media inspired my desire to see these beautiful places for myself—but as I viewed this content, I always had this sinking, anxious feeling. I wanted to know why we had subconsciously decided this was what outdoor culture looked like.
Image after image depicted some remote outdoor location that would take weeks, if not months, for the average person to find enough time and resources to make a visit to. There would usually be a person in the shot, shown from the back and posed in some overly humble, look-how-small-I-am-in-the-grandeur-of-nature kind of way. They were always white, young, thin, non-disabled and captions were often some iteration of “good vibes only.” They were usually dressed in trendy outdoor brands in colors we are quick to call “earth tones.” Browns, beiges, and various dark greens. The most vibrant colors exist in nature. When did everything become so muted?
To my eyes, the portrayal of outdoor exploration was overly narrow and exclusive. And from what I could see, why wasn’t anyone talking about it?
I’d had enough. It’s not that this imagery is inherently wrong. It’s not; I enjoy it just as much as anyone, but I wanted to see—I needed to see—more than this. I wanted to see people like myself and my friends. Representation is so powerful. It’s an invitation. Lack of representation reinforces a lack of belonging and this can be subconsciously internalized. How many people aren’t accessing outdoor recreation because they’ve never felt invited into it?
I wanted to see Black, Indigenous and People of Color enjoying the same wild places we see depicted in mainstream media. I wanted to see people of all body sizes, of vast physical abilities & disabilities. I wanted to see queer and Trans* people living their best outdoor lives. I wanted to see the everyday ways that everyday people get outside, because however we get outside—as long as it’s with reverence to the land and all of its creatures—is valid.
Beyond that, I wanted a message. I wanted to know why we individually feel so called to the outdoors. Wanting to see something pretty is valid and feeling the magnitude of how small we are in the grand scheme of things is important, but what else does nature evoke for us? What are we escaping? What are we running to? What does nature heal in us?
We unquestioningly accept the inherent diversity found in nature in ways we don’t extend to each other. We don’t expect every mushroom or every sunset, tree, and rock to be the same. We marvel over the largest and tiniest wonders without comparison. Why do we expect conformity among humans?
June 2016 – Unlikely Hikers is Born to Bring More Diversity to the Outdoor Space
In June of 2016, I launched Unlikely Hikers on Instagram with little more intention than busting up the narrative of what we see on social media. In doing so, I found other communities like fellow CamelBak partner, Melanin Basecamp, leading similar efforts. But why were resources like this so difficult to find before? I wanted to be a part of amplifying these resources and bringing attention to the great work being done all over the world to create even more belonging outside.
Because how can we know something exists if we don’t see it?
The response to UH was, and remains, overwhelming. As I began sharing stories from everyday people, from farmers to outdoor organizations taking underserved youth outside, UH was flooded with requests for community events. With hiking at the center of my passion for the outdoors, I began leading group hikes, first in my home city of Portland, Oregon, and then nationwide whenever possible. The mission has been expanding ever since, thanks to our diverse community.
Unlikely Hikers creates safe, supportive, intentional, and body-positive outdoor experiences for hikers looking for community who might not feel welcome or comfortable in most outdoor group scenarios. We hike slowly together as a group, leaving no hiker behind.
Before our adventures begin, we share guidelines and intentions to create the most welcoming space possible by sharing personal pronouns, prohibiting body-negative talk, acknowledging the First Nations of the land we recreate on—as well as collecting donations for a cause that supports them—and cultivating a network of support around what it truly means to build community outside. We instill the importance of revering the land and all its creatures by sharing best practices for minimal impact on the land.
Expanding the Horizons for Unlikely Hikers in 2022
I’ve done my best to answer the call for our highly in-demand group hikes, but my dreams and ambitions are bigger than my personal ability. With CamelBak’s support, I am thrilled to announce that my team-of-one is growing.
With the help of our new team, we are revamping and reenergizing programs that have had to pause (some before they could even start) due to lack of support. One of the biggest announcements for 2022 is the re-release of the Unlikely Hikers Podcast, found wherever you get your podcasts. We’re also very excited about the rollout of group hiking chapters across the U.S. and, hopefully, worldwide.
We’ll be sharing more about our new programs and initiatives in our next blog, including introductions to our incredible team members making Unlikely Hikers more accessible than ever. We want to thank CamelBak for helping us to continue our work of widening the narrative around who is recreating outside.
Read more about our other partners, like Little Bellas.