Brave Trails Leverages Backpacking to Support LGBTQ+ Youth
We all arrive to our outdoor adventures in our own ways, times, and places. For people with marginalized identities, the opportunities to do so can be more challenging. Brave Trails is one nonprofit organization working to reduce some of the barriers to getting outside for LGBTQ+ youth. Through a variety of outdoor-focused leadership activities, they’re helping LGBTQ+ youth build community and benefit from the positive effects of time spent in nature.
Thursday Sadler (they/them) grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Mammoth Lakes, California. They are a youth educator, life-long learner, passionate LGBTQ+ youth activist, and huge fan of Takis. They’ve used their own experiences in the outdoors and passion for empowering LGBTQ+ youth to grow the Brave Trails mission.
Interview With Thursday Sadler on Connecting LGBTQ+ Youth to the Outdoors
We caught up with Thursday to learn more about Brave Trails, how the nonprofit has incorporated backpacking into its programming, and ways we can all help support their cause.
Gossamer Gear: What’s the mission of Brave Trails and why is time spent outside integral to fulfilling it?
Thursday: Brave Trails is a nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth leadership. We offer summer camps, backpacking trips, family camps, mental health services, and year-round programming, giving youth leaders the opportunity to connect with nature and build community in a safe and supportive environment. Our mission is to help LGBTQ+ youth find their people, their place, and their passion.
Time spent outdoors is proven to promote positive physical and mental health in teens, reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. But outdoor spaces are often inaccessible to those who hold marginalized identities. That’s why connecting LGBTQ+ youth to natural spaces and eliminating barriers to outdoor recreation is so important, and why we’re passionate about creating opportunities like our backpacking program.
How did you get started with Brave Trails and what kind of work do you do with the organization today?
My journey with Brave Trails began in 2017, when I volunteered as a summer camp counselor. I instantly fell in love with this community and the work being done here. I’ve held many different roles since then, working with the counselor-in-training program, the mentorship program, and serving as the summer camp programs assistant. In 2022, I took on the role of developing and coordinating the backpacking program. I had the privilege of leading Brave Trails’ first-ever backpacking trip last summer, which was an absolute dream!
Can you tell us more about your fully supported backpacking programs and how they’ve been going so far?
Our backpacking trips are open to LGBTQ+ youth ages 14-19, no previous backpacking or hiking experience is required! We provide all backpacking gear, all meals, and teach our participants everything they need to know about hiking and recreating safely in the backcountry. These seven-day trips integrate leadership programming with outdoor education, while emphasizing community-building and a “challenge by choice” mentality. This year we’ve been able to expand the program, offering two separate trips in California along sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Last year was the first year we offered this type of program. As with any new program, you’re always a little apprehensive of how it will be received; but it was honestly overwhelming to see the response from our youth participants. The visible growth in confidence after just one week of outdoor leadership programming was so moving. This is the type of experience our staff wish we had as young LGBTQ+ folks trying to find our place in outdoor spaces. These opportunities are especially important right now, in a time when LGBTQ+ teens are fighting just to exist in public spaces.
What’s a memorable moment from your work with Brave Trails that you think really shows the impact the organization has?
My favorite moments from both backpacking and summer camp are always the last night of a session. Listening to the campers reflect on their experiences, and chat with one another about how they’re going to go home, take what they’ve learned here, and “make it like camp” is something that never gets old. I’m constantly surprised by how caring, insightful, and strong these youth are—they give me hope for the future.
At the same time, it’s sobering to know that the world many of them are going back to is so drastically different from this supportive environment. I’m so grateful to be part of an organization that gives LGBTQ+ teens a place where they are not just tolerated but actively celebrated. Having a community and the support of adult mentors saves lives. It’s not hyperbole. That’s why we do what we do.
How does having access to ultralight gear impact your efforts when introducing youth to backpacking?
Any first-time backpacker will tell you, carrying everything on your back while you hike is tougher than it looks. Most of us probably carried way too much gear on our first trips. I personally tried to cram 50 pounds of gear into a 35-liter pack… and predictably suffered the consequences! We want to make the introduction to backpacking as smooth as possible for our participants. Ultralight gear, like packs and shelters, are an essential element of this process. Our youth leaders should be able to focus on our programming and their overall outdoor experience, not worry about struggling with too much weight on their backs.
How would you like to see Brave Trails grow in the coming years, and what are some ways people can help that happen?
It’s been such an honor to develop a backpacking program solely for LGBTQ+ youth! I would personally love to see this program continue expanding in the future, potentially running backpacking trips outside of California, serving more youth leaders and employing more LGBTQ+ outdoor educators across the country. Programs like this are not possible without the support of our generous community. If you’d like to donate to our mission, connect with us, or learn more about what we do, visit bravetrails.org!
Support LGBTQ+ Youth Through Brave Trails
We hope you learned as much as we did from Thursday and have left with some ideas on how you can be a part of making the outdoor industry more inclusive. If you’d like to follow along with Thursday’s work, you can find them on Instagram at @thurs.day_. Learn more about Brave Trails on its website and by following along on Instagram at @bravetrails.
Know another great organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community in the outdoors? Feel free to share your favorite LGBTQ+ groups to follow with us by tagging Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.
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