I have a photograph in my desk drawer from On the Mountain greeting cards. It’s of a man sitting by an alpine lake, blue jeans on, dog resting on a rock next to him. It’s clearly vintage, the whitewashed lighting telling of a distinctly 1970s-made camera.
But the thing is … it could have been taken yesterday.
I hear a lot of griping and groaning about the new era of the outdoorsman — and I totally get it. It does feel as though camping sites that used to sit empty are being filled up by weekend warriors fleeing the city with their stylish backpacks and patterned socks.
And there’s a downside to that: Outdoor brands that were built decades ago by people who lived and breathed the outdoor life are suddenly losing business to companies who see the outdoors as a trend, a way to cash in quick on hipster camping mugs and beanies.
And there are people who treat it that way, too, booking weekends in the wilderness just to cache material for Instagram.
To some people, it’s a violation of everything that was sacred and traditional about camping, about the great outdoors. And at first, that was me.
But then I thought about it: Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed — encouraged, even — to embrace the outdoors?
For so long, being “outdoorsy” was a lifestyle and an industry that felt cold, exclusive, untouchable, elite and out of reach. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
It was inviting, attainable, inclusive, encouraging.
And really, are we so different than those generations before us? I hear stories from friends in their 50s and 60s about days spent skiing in blue jeans, camping in secondhand sleeping bags that had lost most of their stuffing.
Hell, my dad still hikes in Carhartt jackets and denim (though I finally convinced him wool socks aren’t just for the weak).
So what if you can’t take your camper van out to Yosemite for a year? You could borrow your friend’s tent and have an epic weekend in Big Sur instead.
Who cares if you aren’t wearing expedition-grade down jackets? You don’t need them for a night under the stars with your best friends in Joshua Tree.
I’m not saying the shift is always a positive thing, and I’ve come across some downright dangerous and irritating behavior (hikers unprepared for hostile environments, obnoxious campers treating the campground like a frat party, climbers becoming territorial at the gym, graffiti artists trying to make a name for themselves by defacing national parks).
But this is the era of new traditions, when our generation gets to define the “Great Outdoors” experience for ourselves. And I kind of love that.
This era is about embracing adventures that anyone can have: the man and woman who make an award-worthy video about a normal weekend. The duo that got married on top of a mountain. The couple launching a moneymaking business from the back of a camper.
We may never achieve the same Polaroid-tinged freedom of our predecessors, but we can try. When it comes to starting that type of tradition, the more the merrier.
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