‘Unlikely Hikers’ Bring Diversity to the Outdoors

Jenny Bruso had probably hiked Mount Hood a hundred times. So, when she stepped off the trail on a precariously narrow section with a steep drop-off to let another backpacker pass, Bruso bit her tongue at what he told her.

“Oh, you look like you need a break,” he said.

“No, man, just sharing the trail,” she answered.

“It was just so weird because that seems fairly innocuous, but I get comments like that all the time and I know that other fat people do too,” Bruso tells me. ”[Other hikers seem to] read that we can’t handle it, or we don’t know that our bodies don’t work as well as theirs, or whatever.”

Bruso started the Pacific Northwest-based Unlikely Hikers because she wanted to make a space for underrepresented communities on the trails. Her Instagram account attracts millions of visitors. She also runs inclusive group hikes, a popular blog and a related event called Queer Adventure Storytelling.

She co-hosts the monthly meet-up for LGBTQ outdoor enthusiasts at a packed Portland, Oregon, bookstore.

Bruso is part of a growing movement that advocates for better diversity in outdoor activities. After all, the image of outdoorsy people in ads and nature itself is overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, trim and well-off.

And when people don’t see themselves represented, they may decide those activities aren’t for them.

Bruso used to see the outdoors as a space for “yuppie white people.” It never occurred to her to hike while growing up. She calls herself a fat, queer femme – meaning she’s a larger feminine person who’s not straight.

Bruso’s day job is in the service industry, so she can’t drop $200 on a sleeping bag, and what’s available in outdoor stores doesn’t often fit her. She’s used to being dismissed, underestimated and ignored.

In contrast, those who are LGBTQ, fat, disabled, low-income and/or people of color are all welcome on the hikes Bruso organizes.

The group hikes aren’t about “crushing miles and bagging peaks.”  She hosts a monthly slow, flat hike for people who are fat or have chronic pain or mobility issues — whether they’re recovering from injuries or have a long-term condition like cerebral palsy. Her ultimate goal is to create a welcoming community where people can enjoy whatever movement feels good – around others who may share similar struggles.


Activists like Bruso run into a lot of pushback from critics who ask why people are talking about race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. in the outdoors because “it doesn’t matter.”  She says they need to listen and believe others’ stories instead of parroting phrases like, “The trail doesn’t judge.”

“It’s sort of like, ‘Of course I feel like everyone belongs in the outdoors. Why are you even asking me that? And why are we making an issue about it?’” says Bruso. “There’s this immediate defensiveness. And I think it comes from a place of feeling fearful that we’re not as evolved as we think we are, that there is even such a thing as privilege.”

Bruso says people also need to stop assuming if they aren’t experiencing something, doesn’t mean someone else isn’t either.

Unlikely Hikers fills an important niche in outdoor recreation. More importantly, the group lets more people engage with nature than otherwise would.

“Our culture is moving farther and farther away from the outdoors. With the advent of our smartphones and social media, things like that, we’re not really seeking the outdoors the way that our people before us did,” Bruso explains. “There’s so much to be found in nature. There’s so much clarity and feeling and resetting and grounding that can happen.

“And I would like to see more outdoor representation, whatever it may be, for national parks or retailers targeting underrepresented people so that they can find out what the outdoors has to offer them.”

Photo Credit: Tyler Nix/Unsplash

44 comments

Danuta W
Danuta W1 months ago

Thanks for posting.

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Angela K
Angela K1 months ago

noted

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DAVID fleming
Dave f2 months ago

Thanks for posting

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Greta L
Greta L2 months ago

thanks for posting

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

I think "Just sharing the trail, man" was a good response. It shows that even though the man had seen she was overweight and assumed she must be exhausted, she had the cool self-respect to show she knows what she is doing and is enjoying hiking exactly like he is.

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Marija M
Marija M2 months ago

tks

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DAVID f
Dave f3 months ago

TFS

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Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo C3 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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