How Instagram’s being used to make the outdoors more inclusive and diverse

top instagram accounts closing outdoor adventure gap ambreen tariq

This is Ambreen Tariq, founder of the Instagram account Brown People Camping. As a South Asian immigrant, a person of color, and a Muslim woman, Tariq wanted to create something capable of utilizing personal narratives and storytelling to promote diversity in outdoor communities. With the creation of BPC, she’s able to authentically discuss how her identities shape her outdoor experiences. By sharing her own personal stories via the account, she hopes it inspires others to step outside their comfort zone, as well.

Thanks to her platform, the picture above represents many firsts for Tariq and her growing movement. She eloquently posts, “On this inaugural meet-up event for [Brown People Camping] — I will celebrate many firsts. I will, for the first time, cook for 50 people and serve the tangy lentil soup and spiced chai as per my secret family recipe all the way from Hyderabad, India. I will, also for the first time, face my fears of hosting a public event for Brown People Camping.”

“People of color are very underrepresented in mainstream marketing efforts, yet they contribute significantly to sales.”

Though it’s natural to look the other way and think there’s never been a problem with diversity in the outdoors, history shows there is, in fact, a large adventure gap. Additionally, the outdoor industry consistently portrays itself with photos, commercials, and content of mostly white men, on rad adventures, using the most expensive gear in the most remote locations. What this does is create an even larger chasm.

Brown People Camping is just one of several Instagram feeds tackling these issues head-on, aiming to create a more welcoming community by providing visibility, outreach, education, meet-ups, and support to those who feel marginalized or intimidated to get outside. This gap historically includes (but is not limited to) people of color, women, LGBTQIA communities, and those with differing physical abilities. For Tariq and so many others, there’s a better way forward.

Why the call to action?

For children in the United States, data shows that minorities will shift to the majority in 2020; by 2040, non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority. Today, the disconnect between minority groups and the national parks surrounding them is staggering. According to NPR, the most recent survey commissioned by the Park Service to see how different population groups related to the parks found that, “collectively, minorities made up just over 20 percent of the visitors to national parks, despite the fact that they made up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population.”

By sheer numbers alone, working to include those who are marginalized benefits all Americans mentally, physically, and culturally while playing a vital role in conservation — it also makes for good business.

top instagram accounts closing outdoor adventure gap stay on trail

According to Outside magazine, “People of color are very underrepresented in mainstream marketing efforts, yet they contribute significantly to sales.” Outdoor retailers and brands need to accurately reflect the diversity of consumers who purchase their products and work harder in areas of marketing, sizing, and pricing to authentically connect with these consumers. Yes, large retailers like REI, Patagonia, and The North Face (among others) have taken steps in diversifying their ad campaigns, apparel sizes, and social media to highlight women of different shapes and sizes, as well as people of color.

It’s a good start but, frankly, it’s not enough. To the rest of the outdoor brands in the industry: There’s a long way to go to attract 40 percent of the population. This is where Instagram can make a massive impact.

Diversity and inclusion, the Instagram way

Instagram now plays a vital role in helping close the adventure gap across the online digital landscape. To help paint a more vivid picture, we tracked down a few of the top accounts across the platform who are truly advocating for better visibility and representation of marginalized groups in adventure sports and outdoor recreation.

We spoke to each founder specifically about the challenges, risks, and importance of forming social media initiatives, why the lack of diversity and inclusion is still a prevalent issue in the outdoor space, and what adventure brands and outdoor companies need to do to diversify their advertising and media campaigns.

Native Women’s Wilderness

“WHOSE LAND ARE WE HIKING ON?” “Mount Evans is located in Front Range of Colorado, within the Mount Evans Wilderness. The Ute Nation is thought to be the longest residing tribe residing in this area, dating back to as early as 8,000 years ago. However, there have been many other tribes residing within the area, The Comanche, The Arapahoe, and The Cheyenne. Mt. Evans was named after the second Governor of Colorado, John Evans. A little history of John Evans, he was forced to resign early due to his role in the Sand Creek Massacre. The Sand Creek Massacre, CO was committed on November 29th, 1864. A Colorado Cavalry of 675, attacked and destroyed a village of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, killing and mutilating 70-163, about 2/3 of which were women and children. From there, soldiers armed their hats and gear with scalps, human fetuses, and mutilated body parts, and then paraded throughout Denver, in celebration of their attack. Activist are encouraging Mt. Evans to be renamed to Cheyenne Arapaho Peak, Sand Creek Mountain, or Black Kettle Mountain (the Cheyenne Chief), in honor of the victims of The Sand Creek Massacre.” __________ Photo of: @jgoughphotography (Navajo) Ambassador for @nativesoutdoors Founder of @nativewomenswilderness __________ Please use #nativewomenswilderness or DM to be featured. This is a place for our Native women to share, encourage, and support each other in the Outdoor Realm. __________ #nativewomenswilderness #unaplogeticallynativeandproud #wilderness #outside #indigenouswomen #unapologeticallybadass #optoutside #whoselandareweexploringon #nativeamericanheritagemonth

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Mission:Jaylyn Gough, the founder of NWW, is a photographer, social worker, and ambassador for Natives Outdoors who formed NWW as a community gathering to share stories, learn, and support other Native women in the outdoor realm.

What inspired you to start NWW?

NWW was created out of frustration regarding the lack of representation of women of color in the outdoor industry, especially Native Women. I grew up on a Navajo Reservation with the land as my playground and as I became older, I wanted to be the woman climbing mountains and exploring unknown terrains. However, I thought only white women were allowed to do that because it was all that was being represented.

I’ve never been good at people telling me I can’t do things, so I became a guide and a mountain bike race coordinator. I also worked at REI and other outdoor retailers, and I became that woman climbing mountains. I’m inspired by our Native Women’s stories and their ties to the land and I want their voices and hearts to be heard.

Tell us about any backlash encountered since founding NWW? What top issues do you tackle? 

Creating NWW has been a challenge but a welcomed one. For the most part, I’ve been blown away by how fast it’s taken off but it hasn’t been without its roadblocks. I’ve had people say, “Challenging the outdoor realm isn’t important.” I’ve had people cyber-attack the female athletes and challenge their [IG] stories and I’ve had people personally attack me and the vision I have for NWW.

This past year, I also found myself in the center of a hate crime in Boulder, Colorado, by a white supremacist. It took months of healing and a lot of it was in the wild. I have women sharing stories of rape, adoptions, colonization, and the challenges of being a woman of color but the common denominator is our love and the healing we receive from the land. This led me to the conception of “Whose Land Are We Exploring.” For we [native people] know our ancestral lands but many people don’t.

Do you know about the people who lived in Yosemite long before John Muir? Do you know about the ancestral land and the sacred ties five major tribes have to Bears Ears? Through “Whose Land Are We Exploring,” native women athletes are researching the lands in which they’re exploring and bringing them forward.

What positive outcomes do you feel NWW has accomplished and what do you see for the future?

Native Women are gaining a voice — we’re being recognized. I’ve personally witnessed healing in several of our features by just having women share their story. Young girls are excited to see more women who look like them being represented in the outdoors, so my goal is to support other Native Women in the outdoor realm.

I have several women who’ve created Adventure Clubs on the [reservation] and I want to support them, whether it’s bringing them backpacks and hydration systems or funding them or providing scholarships to help them grow and lead. In many ways, being in the outdoors is a privilege — you need money to travel, money for gear and there are many people who don’t have this privilege. I would like the opportunity to provide this.

I understand what it means to live in poverty here and not having the ability to participate. I was blessed to have these items donated to us and blessed that I had a strong mother who taught me to be a strong Navajo woman.

Melanin Base Camp

Are you a Woman of Color who loves the Outdoors? Want to be featured in a video project that’s all about your goals and accomplishments? @Melaninbasecamp is teaming up with @Browngirlsclimb on @projectdiversifyoutdoors to highlight Women of Color in the Outdoors. . . We’re looking for shots of Black, Brown, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latinx, Indigenous, Multiracial, Queer and Trans Women of Color in the Outdoors hiking, climbing, kayaking, surfing, skydiving, snowboarding etc. The footage needs to be 1080p MP4 format shot at 60fps medium or widescreen at minimum. Unfortunately we are unable to accept iPhone footage at this time (sorry ladies!) You don’t need to be a professional athlete; you just need to be passionate! If you’re interested in taking part email us at projectdiversifyoutdoors@gmail.com. The submission deadline is January 15th! . . . Questions? Hit up @projectdiversifyoutdoors Watch our previous short film [LINK IN PROFILE] . . .

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Mission: Founded by Danielle Williams, Melanin Base Camp‘s mission is to increase ethnic minority and LGBTQIA participation in adventure sports.

What inspired you to start Melanin Base Camp?

MBC is a response to a need within our community — the need for better representation of marginalized groups in the outdoors. Although America is 40 percent minority and well on its way to becoming a minority-majority country, some things haven’t changed since segregation and that includes the outdoors.

When we talk about the outdoors, the story is still very much one of the lone, rugged white male testing his strength and mettle against a vast pristine landscape. It’s a story that leaves out women, people of color, marginalized gender identities, and indigenous people. We must think critically about the sort of stories we tell ourselves about the outdoors and ask tough questions like, “Whose stories are we leaving out?” Melanin Base Camp is telling the stories that aren’t being heard anywhere else.

How should outdoor adventure companies/brands include marginalized groups? Which brands are getting it right?

I think it’s easy to pay lip service to diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts as an outdoor brand, or to repost a photo of a person of color hiking. It’s a much bigger commitment to diversify your brand ambassadors so they reflect your customer base and to have people of color represented at every level of your organization. It’s a much bigger commitment to work with diverse ad agencies to produce national ad campaigns which are consistently inclusive. To quote former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, “if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.” I think my constituents are ready to be at the table.

REI built a ton of momentum with campaigns such as Force Of Nature and its commitment to adding more sizes for women. I really admire outdoor brands like Outdoor Voices, which consistently includes plus-sized and straight-sized women of all ethnicities in its advertisements. It’s intentional about celebrating diverse women and body types. It’s great it reposts plus-sized women of color on social media and it’s even better the brand compensates diverse models of all different sizes for its work. Paying diverse models who reflect America is that next level of commitment for brands.

Black Freedom Outfitters is another great choice. CEOs Zahra Alabanza and Paris Hatcher guide backcountry hiking and cycling trips with a focus on African American history. Natives Outdoors is another apparel company that combines policy work, activism, and great products. CEO and Navajo tribal member Len Necefer has been busy fundraising along with Friends of Cedar Mesa to build a Bears Ears Education Center, which is so vital given current events.

Brown People Camping

Yesterday, I discovered a new color. A new musical note. A new sensation of warmth. A new definition for friends. Yesterday, at our first meet-up event for @BrownPeopleCamping, I met 30 people who changed my life for the better. Due to a medical emergency, I couldn’t hike, but I made due with what I had; and what I had were two good hands and a group of friends who won’t quit. So, the show went on. People came from miles away, states away, drove for hours, took trains. People came. And we gathered on a beautiful fall morning in #RockCreekPark where we learned local history from Ranger Steve and we shared what inspires us to keep venturing outdoors. We shared laughter and tears. We shared ourselves. . Since I launched @BrownPeopleCamping over a year ago, I’ve been working so hard to promote diversity in the outdoors through personal storytelling. Yesterday, after meeting everyone at my first meet-up event, I was reminded why I keep doing what I do: promoting diversity requires celebrating it. And that celebration requires hugs and smiles and warm bowls of spiced goodness. It requires us to come together and share authentically with each other what we love and why. . And so, I woke up the next day reenergized. I woke up deliberate and intentional to do more and love harder. I’ve faced many fears by putting on this event and I’ve come out on the other side wanting to do more. So here’s to next time my friends, may it be more diverse and more empowering than the last. May we keep crossing paths and trails and stories. . Thank you to all those who came. . . Will you help diversify our public lands? Tag your photos #BrownPeopleCamping . #findyourpark #ForceOfNature #OptOutside #LetsCamp #rei1440project #fatgirlshiking #unlikelyhiker #thegreatoutdoors #getoutside #wildernessculture #adventuregap #nationalpark #sheexplores #naturegram #alltrails #womenwhohike #wehiketoheal #everytrailconnects #ourwild #itsallyours #hikingculture #radparks #rockcreekpark #reimypage

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Mission: Founded by Ambreen Tariq, BrownPeopleCamping is a social media initiative which utilizes personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote greater diversity in public lands and across the outdoor community.

What led you to form Brown People Camping?

After moving to Minnesota from India when I was eight, my parents decided to try camping — but it wasn’t easy. Being immigrants, my parents faced many challenges, finances being one of them, and they worked two jobs in order to save up to spend time in the outdoors. When we camped, we did it our way with the bare minimum in supplies. Even though I remember feeling different from other families camping, I developed a deep love for the outdoors. In fact, I never questioned the lack of diversity because it was all I ever knew and I accepted it as fact — this is what America looks like.

As I grew older, I wanted the outdoors to be part of my lifestyle again. As my husband and I started enjoying the outdoors together, that’s when I truly noticed a lack of diversity in the space. In fact, it looked the same as it did when I was 10 years old — most everyone was white. I was shocked and felt isolated. The country had moved on and so much progress had been achieved, but the outdoors still looked the same.

I decided I wanted more people of color, women, immigrants, and other underrepresented communities to experience its beauty and benefits authentically. I wanted them to share real stories with others through online spaces like Brown People Camping. Sharing stories about personal topics allows people to feel empowered and vulnerable. But in order for me to expect others to open up, I had to be willing to do the same. I feel privileged that I get to have outdoor experiences and to share them; I want to use my privilege to allow others to do the same.

What should be done to help those who are marginalized in the outdoors? Why?

Last year, The National Park Service also celebrated their Centennial and discussed the lack of diversity in the outdoors. It finally became a national conversation because even though our country’s demographics are diversifying, outdoor communities, environmentalists, and conservationists are still predominantly white. Come 2020, when the majority of our country will be people of color, we won’t have the commitment, staff, community, or non-profits to keep up with this change and that’s when our environmental spaces will really be in threat.

We need to fund our national park services and conservation programs to help younger generations feel safe, encouraged, respected, and well-educated on the spaces they recreate. We need to help foster a connection between this generation and the outdoors, because only then will they be motivated to protect something they love and have a relationship with.

Other notable accounts

Natives Outdoors

  • Mission: Founder Len Necefer is a climber, skier, and member of the Navajo Nation with a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University. Necefer began Natives Outdoors to share stories of indigenous people outdoors and uses this platform to help the Navajo people and native people all over the world. Necefer also sells outdoor activewear and gear with Natives Outdoors branding, donating a portion of the profits to outdoor focused projects taken on by tribes, native-run organizations, and individual native people.

Unlikely Hikers

  • Mission: Jenny Bruso, founder of Unlikely Hikers, states on her blog, “I’m a self-identified fat, femme, queer writer and a former indoor kid who, in 2012, went on an accidental hike which revealed a new life trajectory of healing, self-care, and adventure in the outdoors. Through sharing my personal stories and the Unlikely Hikers Instagram community, I want to bust up preconceived notions of what an “outdoors person” looks like and put a spotlight on diversity, inclusion, and visibility.”

Latino Outdoors

  • Mission:Latino Outdoors, founded by Jose Gonzalez, is a Latino-led organization inspiring and supporting leadership, stewardship, and recreation in the outdoors within families and communities. Latino Outdoors brings culture into the outdoor narrative, connects Latino communities and leadership with nature and outdoor experiences, and empowers communities to explore and share their stories in defining the Latino Outdoors identity.

Wild and Weightless

  • Mission: Founder Kristen Ales began Wild And Weightless to promote positive body image and confidence through outdoor adventures and mentorship. Wild And Weightless provide experiences and resources to support those affected by eating disorders to live healthy and adventurous lives.

Outdoor Asian

  • Mission: Founder Christopher Chalaka created Outdoor Asian to support Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the outdoors. The organization coordinates locally-based trips and outings to engage and inspire individuals in the outdoors while also creating a platform to lift up stories of individuals and histories of our communities to reflect on their ever-changing relationship to ecology and nature.

We Belong Outside

  • Mission: Founder Jes Scott started We Belong Outside to support a diverse group of women, trans and non-binary folks who love outdoor climbing, mountaineering, and alpine adventures.

The Heroes Project

  • Mission:The Heroes Project, founded by Tim Wayne Medvetz, is dedicated to redefining the personal limits of injured veterans through extreme outdoor expeditions and community support. This organization makes the impossible a reality by empowering injured war veterans through physical and emotional training, allowing them to explore the farthest reaches of themselves and the world they live in.

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