Jenny Bruso outside on a hike and standing on a rock with a waterfall in the background.

Thirst For More:
Jenny Bruso

Outdoor Adventure Magic for All

The mountains, rivers, trees⁠—and the trails that meander around them⁠—are for all people. Seems simple enough. But for many, it’s not. They’ve been told, both subtly and blatantly, that they’re not welcome. And that needs to end. 

It shouldn’t matter what pace you move at to explore the outdoors, or what you choose to wear while doing it. It shouldn’t matter your ability level, what you look like, or how you identify. Everyone should feel comfortable moving their body, reaching the waterfalls, and smelling the wildflowers. In short, outdoor adventure magic for all! 

Jenny Bruso Wants You to Find Joyful Movement in the Outdoors 

Jenny Bruso, 40, grew up in southern California. As a kid, she loved being outside—gardening, skateboarding, bike riding, and swimming in the ocean. But it wasn’t until adulthood that she truly thought of herself as outdoorsy. Bruso now lives in Portland, Oregon, spending as much time as possible outdoors, and she’s always ready to try something new. 

But Bruso’s love affair with hiking and outdoor activity almost didn’t happen. 

“About 10 years ago I went on a hike with my super fit friend who had just finished the Pacific Crest Trail. This hike was so hard. I've done it many times since, and I love it. But at that time, without any frame of reference for hiking, it was incredibly hard. I was super embarrassed. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is so not for me.’”

A few years later, another friend offered to take Bruso on a hike, and this time the experience was totally different. “They really understood what I was saying when I talked about that first [hiking] experience. They were like, ‘Hiking doesn't have to be like that. There are a lot of different ways to hike. Let me take you on this trail that I know, and let's just see how you feel. We can always turn around if we want.’” 

That day changed everything for Bruso. “It sounds so precious, but it completely changed my perception of hiking. I loved it. I fell really hard in love with hiking on that one trail and I had this desire for more.” 

Now, she wants to make sure that everyone has the experience they need to find their comfort zone.

Discovering (and Sharing) the Magic of Outdoor Adventure 

Bruso got a book of over 100 hiking trails in her area. She started checking off all the easy hikes, then the moderate hikes, then the difficult ones. Although she really liked being a solo adventurer, she felt like she needed a community. 

So, she organized an online presence and 6-years ago, she founded Unlikely Hikers—a diverse, anti-racist, body-positive outdoor community for the underrepresented nature lover. “We are trying to create an inclusive space where people can come exactly as they are, in the bodies they are in right now.”

Unlikely Hikers is made up of all ability levels, from beginners to ultrarunners to those who have summited the world’s highest peaks. Whether new to outdoor activities or a seasoned pro, not seeing anyone who looks like you can feel intimidating.

More than anything, Bruso says, it’s amazing what happens when people see that there’s a place for them. She wants to spread representation, support, and the idea that being at home in the outdoors is for everyone. “Unlikely Hikers is very simply an outdoor community for everybody who doesn't feel represented in outdoor culture.” The goal is to create a safe space for everyone to enjoy the magic of the outdoors. 

Changing the Narrative Around Movement and Fitness

One thing Bruso believes we all need more of is joyful movement. Not movement to change ourselves or to achieve fitness, not to be better, but just to do what is natural. To have fun and feel good. No goals. No narrative from the masses. Movement like children. 

“The actual joy of movement has been so deranged by dominant culture—it’s a measure of health, of moral well-being, and of attractiveness. We’ve learned that exercise is a way to punish ourselves.” But Bruso has discovered, in her love of hiking, rock climbing and other outdoor endeavors, that joyful movement is entirely pure. No comparisons, no rhetoric telling her she should do this or that to change her body. 

Tied up in the narrative of needing to change or improve one's body, comes the fear of not being enough. Bruso says one of the main reasons people decide not to try something is because they’re afraid of not being good enough. We live in a society that says if you don’t finish the race, or if you don’t reach the summit, you’re a failure. When really, the success comes in starting the thing at all. 

“It’s not about being good, it’s about the joy that comes with doing the thing.” Bruso went skiing recently for the first time. And it was tough. “I felt fascinated by that whole experience. It was way harder than I thought it was going to be. I don't think I got it. I don't think I liked it. But I do know that I would like to do it again. I want to do it again and again and again until I feel like I got it. Even if I discover that I didn't like it, I'm curious about myself enough to at least give it a shot.”

Hiking Gear for Every Body 

Bruso wants to see more people trying the thing they’re curious about. Like riding a mountain bike for the first time as an adult. Or getting on a snowboard or in a kayak. She wants to see people release the fear of not being good enough. Because being new at something is fun. Give yourself permission to be “bad” at something, and then see if you want to dedicate more time to getting better, simply for the joy of doing it.

But for a lot of people, trying something new comes down having clothing and equipment that fits comfortably. “I want to see more plus sized hiking gear, backpacks, bike saddles, everything. I want to see our needs as a priority because honestly, I think like half of the U.S. population is considered to be plus sized.” 

People in larger bodies are going on all kinds of outdoor adventures, and they deserve to not only see themselves as outdoorsy, but also have the outdoor industry acknowledge them as such. “I would like to see plus-sized folks included in social media feeds and be normalized as adventurers.” 

As a member of the queer community, Bruso wants to see queer, trans, and disabled representation normalized in the outdoor industry. “Representation is the first step in creating a more equitable outdoor culture. And the fact that we still don't really see any trans representation or disabled representation honestly breaks my heart. I want it to be so much better.” 

The outdoor industry still has work to do in terms of being inclusive. But Bruso says she’s encouraged by all of the grassroots momentum. 

“It inspires me—like really fires me up—to see so many people finding and building the communities that they need. Starting social media accounts that represent who they are as adventurers and creating outdoor event spaces for their community.” Unlikely Hikers is rolling out new hiking chapters starting this month across the U.S. and beyond. “Find your magic in the outdoors, and help create it for others, too.” 

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