Why Family Matters More than Ever: Raising a Generation to Love the Outdoors

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I considered myself a pretty outdoorsy person when I had my son. Most of my career choices connected to the outdoors and I spent my free time adventuring around the globe to mountain bike, surf and snowboard. But when Mason arrived, I assumed it was the end of my fun days.

I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. Numerous friends from the outdoor world and beyond said, “Just wait and see. You won’t want to get out there like you did before.”

Mason was born at an interesting time in history, during the transition between a president who was very aligned with the outdoors to one who clearly doesn’t feel the same kinship. Our country is feeling divided on so many fronts, and amid this crazy turmoil, I started a little hike group, a club of sorts to keep me inspired to get outside while drawing in new people who felt like their lives had to change because of having a child.

Four years later, after hiking with a thousand families across the U.S., here’s why I think there has never been a better time for the outdoor industry to get serious about embracing all families: nature is a neutralizer. In nature we are all equal, a fact I’ve observed firsthand from Ohio to Oregon to Anchorage and beyond. If it rains, we’re all getting muddy shoes no matter how fancy our gear. The weather ultimately wins.

What matters is people are kinder to each other in nature. You don’t ask someone you just met about their political views when they pick up your screaming child’s dropped binky. You just thank them and smile. They aren’t questioning your lifestyle choices while offering you a snack on a hike. Everyone wants to help maintain a peaceful trail and if you forget your toddler’s shoes, another parent will step up and offer an extra pair with that knowing “You’ve got this!” nod.

We don’t like to admit it, but the outdoor industry is something of a secret club. A whole country of people are out there who might be interested in an invite to climb a mountain, but we need to take the first step by spreading a picnic blanket at the base of that mountain and inviting them to sit down. Add a snack and a child into the equation and watch how things blossom.

This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Seven.

Self-portrait by Ashley Sheider.

xx Shanti Hodges