It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was a difficult year for many of us, and it’s clear there are more pain points ahead before we get to where we’re going. As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, we’re reminded just how much it means to give back. Our hopes and dreams for a better year ahead are tied up in how we can face and address the most pressing issues within our communities.

We recently asked our crew of brand ambassadors to share their thoughts with us on critical issues the outdoor industry faces today, how they plan to give back to make the outdoors better for everyone, and which nonprofits they support who are focusing on these causes.

Their responses warmed our hearts and provided some much needed faith and inspiration to keep us moving forward. We hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as we did. 

Duncan Cheung on Healing the Healers

Exhaustion and cause-fatigue, especially when so many are tired, resource-strapped, and fed-up with the pandemic, are critical issues right now. Essential workers, especially the ones with low paying roles (e.g., hospital staff, janitors, care workers, grocery store associates), and their families and communities are disproportionately shouldering the burden of Covid risk and impact.

Healers need to be healed. They deserve to rest, recharge, and be heard more than most.

So, I'm going to do something about this through my soon-to-be-official nonprofit Off Trail On Track.

In 2021, I'll be prioritizing healing the healers. I'm now planning a series of minimalist backpacking courses and guided trips in the Sierra specifically for healthcare workers. In addition to offering my Gossamer-Gear-filled gear library for their use, I'd like to offer the trips and courses free-of-charge to healthcare and essential workers, and provide a stipend to BIPOC individuals. I’m planning out the details in the next few weeks and already have a ton of interest from my community.

This year, we care for those who cared so deeply for all of us.

Arlette Laan on Volunteering in the Backcountry

In 2006, I spent a summer volunteering as a backcountry ranger. I learned a lot about the amount of work and effort that goes into maintaining trails and keeping the outdoors accessible. It taught me to be appreciative of all the workers behind the scenes who make it possible for us to be out there and explore. I found the position via an ad in an Appalachian Trail magazine, but you can likely find it online on a forest service job website, as well.

Kathy Vaughan on Encouraging Proper Stewardship

Preserving the outdoors, wilderness areas, and front-country places, to me, are pressing issues. Keeping these areas pristine and protected for future generations is quite important.

I plan on giving back by continuing beach clean-up, roadside trash pick-up through the tourist areas in my community, and trail trash clean-up. One of Covid’s impacts was to draw more folks to the outdoors (yay!!!). So, now, setting an example of proper stewardship is important.

Ras and I raised our daughter, Angela, in the Okanagan Highlands, a remote community, dependent on volunteerism to support its needs. I enjoyed helping out as a family, putting on skate park and snow terrain park events for the underprivileged youth in nearby small towns. We helped many young people find a place and an appreciation for recreating in the outdoors, encouraging gear donations to help these youth engage in the sports. Angela went on to serve in the Peace Corps in Madagascar, learning the true value in volunteering. 

Look for areas of need in your community, and find what matches your interests and place in life. See if you can match your interests with a way to provide a resource for involvement of others in an outdoor activity.

I like to become a member of the trail associations from my long hikesArizona Trail Association, Washington Trails Association, and Idaho Trails Association. This gives back directly to areas that have given so much to me, and keeps me connected to the trails’ ongoing needs, improvements, and programs.

Heather Anderson on Trail Building

I'll never forget the first time I showed up to do trail work. I thought we'd be clearing brush and grooming—it turns out we were there to build! We stood in a blank forest listening to instructions on how to use things I'd never heard of, like pulaskis. Then, many hours later, we set our tools down and clambered out onto the bluffs above the ocean to eat lunch and rest our bodies. Afterward, we walked back into that once blank forest now on soft, new tread. It was incredible to be part of the birth of a trail. 

Trail work is hard and unglamorous, but it's extremely rewarding and necessary. Look up local organizations near you for opportunities to give back in this way. Smaller organizations almost always need more hands!

Nancy East on Connecting With Conservancy and Advocacy Groups

A couple of summers ago, my search and rescue team volunteered to take part in an annual work day in Pisgah National Forest through Pisgah Conservancy, a nonprofit “dedicated to the well-being and betterment of the Pisgah Ranger District.”  

We were instructed to install pre-made signs at trailheads, reminding hikers that they were about to enter a wilderness area with tips on how to be adequately prepared. My entire family was able to attend the workday, and it was a fantastic way to expose my kids to volunteer opportunities with outdoor-related nonprofits.

To take part in a similar effort, I recommend looking for similar conservancy or advocacy groups in your area. National and state parks are entities that frequently seek help from volunteers.  Hiking clubs also frequently engage in volunteer activities, such as trail maintenance and trash pickup. The websites of these groups or parks are great places to start looking for volunteer needs, but I also find the associated social media pages helpful, as well.

Ras Vaughan on Promoting Nature as a Basic Human Need

I would say the most pressing issue in the outdoor industry is reminding people that moving around outside is a basic human need, and not just a sport or a hobby or a pastime. In order to be fully human, we need to move through beautiful and challenging places under our own power. 

The changes in beneficial brain chemistry wrought by physical exertion are compounded and multiplied by the sensory input of the outdoors. The sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors, whether it be the depths of a desert, the pinnacles of the mountaintops, a secluded section of a city park, or the very streets of the concrete jungle itself, when we immerse ourselves in the experience of our surroundings it fundamentally affects our experience of life. 

I think we can help promote outdoor culture by encouraging people to focus more on their actual experience of the outdoors, and less on the metrics we use to quantify that experience, such as speed, distance, or duration.

Share Your 2021 Outdoor Hopes and Dreams With Our Community

Know an outdoor nonprofit everyone should support this year? Have a story to share about volunteering to make the outdoors more accessible for everyone? Want to share some tips on how we can all support an important issue facing the outdoor industry?

Tag us on social media (@gossamergear) and use the hashtag #takelessdomore with your thoughts to help us share our collective 2021 outdoor hopes and dreams far and wide!

January 15, 2021 — Korrin Bishop