The dream job for most outdoor enthusiasts = spending a good amount of time outdoors and with like-minded people. Oh, and free gear.
Welcome to the lives of those working in the outdoor industry. Yes, it’s just as good as you’ve always imagined. How do you land a job like that? Workers at three outdoor retailers tell us:
Mark Cole, a business and sales executive at HippyTree Surf & Stone Apparel, graduated with a BA of social ecology from UC Irvine.
Jess Smith, vice president of Outside PR (which represents Cotopaxi), majored in communication at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
Robert Shirley-Smith (see image above), sales director at Tentsile, studied human geography and anthropology at Sussex University in England.
Do you feel that your education applies to your current work?
Cole: I want to say yes because I’m a big fan of higher education, but truthfully, probably not. This type of industry and these type of jobs require a lot of on-the-job-training.
Smith: Absolutely. 100 percent. It just sets you up in terms of who you are as a person, what you like to do, and how to utilize your skills and talents the best.
Shirley-Smith: No crossover whatsoever. When I graduated in 2010 during the economic slump, there were no jobs available so I retrained as a carpenter. The founder of Tentsile reached out to me originally because of my experience with treehouses; that was involved in his goal of creating a tent that would fit all trees.
Did you always know you wanted to work with an outdoor company?
Cole: I kind of figured it out when I was about 17 or 18 when I saw people older than myself living a pretty sweet lifestyle and told myself, ‘If they can make money doing that, I don’t see why I can’t.’
Shirley-Smith: No—I didn’t even know this industry existed back in England! My real passion was for building. But I just rolled with the punches and ended up here.
What is your favorite aspect of your work?
Cole: I like that this industry is fun and it can be pretty irreverent at times. There’s a whole lot of lines that get crossed on a pretty regular basis and I can’t say that it shares that with a lot of other industries. It’s unique in that way.
Shirley-Smith: I respect the business’s ethics; it supports reforestation and sustainability, which aligns with my own values.
What is your all-time favorite piece of equipment or gear?
Smith: I’m really drawn to Cotopaxi’s Kusa line of products with llama fleece and poly-insulation products. It’s helping to assist a lot of Bolivian communities because they’re working with farmers and the agricultural production there. Nobody else is doing llama. And the items look great, too.
Shirley-Smith: The Connect Model Tensile. After I survived an 11-hour rainstorm in it, I bonded with it.
Do you have an outdoor tip to share with fellow enthusiasts?
Cole: Don’t be afraid to push your limits, but always stay within your comfort zone and be prepared.
Smith: Layer up. Always have a Buff on hand. Buff is the most versatile piece of equipment you are going to have for any sport.
What is your favorite aspect of the outdoors?
Cole: It’s kind of like church for me personally. You are able to connect with nature on a deeper level when you step outside your comfort zone and experience new things and kind of see the raw splendor of Mother Nature.
Shirley-Smith: I grew up in the city in London, where the outdoors are viewed more as an escape from an urban environment than in other areas. So that is initially how I learned to love the outdoors, as an escape. It also helped that my parents were hippies and roamed the country with me in a van.
Photo by Claire Simon