When you’re surrounded by nature, the trout are rising and you’re camped in a beautiful spot, it’s often so enjoyable that many people consider finding a job that would allow them to live like that all the time. It is rewarding and can be a viable career option, but there are challenges that should be considered before making the leap.
There are several ways people have been successful building outdoor careers. Although there are differing levels of success associated with each one, there are four main ways people have turned bushcraft into a job:
- Making and/or selling gear.
- Teaching skills.
- Leading trips and facilitating experiences.
- Creating media.
With each of these, and with work in general, there are two approaches:
- Get a job working for someone else.
- Create a job working for yourself.
Opportunities making and/or selling gear have grown dramatically with the rise in popularity of bushcraft, prepping and survival. You could either design and make your own gear, or be a reseller for other gear makers. The challenges with doing this are to make gear that people want and to let people know what you’re offering and how it can help them.
Teaching skills is a much longer road to success than selling tangible items. First, you have to get really good at the skills you plan to teach, then you have to learn something about teaching and how people learn, and finally you have to get the word out about what you do and convince people that you can help them learn. Add to this having a place where you can teach.
Leading trips and facilitating experiences is where you take people out for a hike, paddle, climb, or extended wilderness journey. It also includes teambuilding and facilitating. It takes time to get good at the various activities, to learn the specific routes, and to acquire the needed gear. It’s also a challenge to market what you do.
Very few people get paid to just go and do bushcraft, ie. live outdoors for any length of time. Those that do get paid by tv networks to display/demonstrate what they do. You’ve probably heard of a few of them, as they usually have their own tv shows, their own brands of gear, their own self-designed knives, etc. These jobs are really hard to get and are often the result of a person’s look and luck, not skill. The handing out of tv shows isn’t based on a meritocracy. Other ways people have turned creating media into a job is by making their own youtube videos, creating a popular blog, shooting and selling photographs, and writing books. All of these are viable, but all take work.
With regards to going off on your own or finding someone to work for, there are a few large outdoor companies, but the pay isn’t great. Most of the larger companies can afford to pay very little because it’s a desirable job and people line up to do it, even if the pay isn’t very good. But even if it isn’t very good, the pay is usually steady.
If you don’t want to work for someone else, there is the entrepreneur option. As with starting and running any other business, there are many challenges. Running a business is a job, and if you’re not willing to treat it as such, you shouldn’t consider working for yourself. I’ve spoken with many people who’ve told me they’re only interested in the bushcraft skills, not in running a business. To them I advise that they try to find a job working for someone else. The pay can be good, but it is rarely steady, especially at the beginning. There are a variety of costs associated with running your own outdoor business, including fixed costs (gear, insurance, licenses, etc.), variable costs (food, transportation, marketing, etc.) and personal costs (time away from family, etc.). In order to succeed at this, I advise people to study their craft (bushcraft, for example), study business, and study marketing; you need skills in all three in order to be successful.
If running an outdoor school was all about casting a dry fly to a rising trout on a misty morning, or paddling a beautiful river at the perfect water level, you’d be crazy to want to do anything else. But these experiences are not that common as part of the job. To balance these, consider the amount of computer work, writing, creating websites, accounting, and other office-type tasks it takes to be successful. Also think about extended periods of rain, swarms of bugs, disagreeable clients, etc. Working outdoors is good work. Sometimes it’s great work. But it’s still work, and if you don’t treat it as such, your chances for success, both financial success and personal fulfillment success, are very limited.