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The Best Outdoor Jobs (And How You Can Get Them)

There is another way. Here's the proof...

Dream of wearing Gore-Tex to work rather than a grey suit? Fancy a worklife that’s less office and more outside? We hear you. It’s why we’ve picked the brains of seven individuals who make a living in the great outdoors, asked them to detail the good and the bad of their 9-5, and forced them to reveal exactly how you can follow in their muddy, sandy footprints too…

The Bushcraft Specialist

Thom Hunt, 36, uses his years of survival, fishing, foraging and bush skills to run courses at his company 7th Rise in remote Cornish woodland, and has hosted TV documentaries, visited more than 40 countries, and tested products for brands like Hunter, Millican and Filson

What my to-do list looks like: “It’s low season at 7th Rise now, running only two courses a month as opposed to the 20-plus we do in the summer. It’s all about maintenance for me today – I want to build a new fire pit with a seating area and an outdoor shower system as most of our customers stay overnight in one of our lodgings.”

How I got my job: “In all honestly, there are very few job opportunities like mine – you have to make your own. After working as a marine biologist, a scuba instructor, in stone masonry and a number of years working part time for ‘River Cottage’, I started my own company, 7th Rise, in 2012.”

Best bit: “Seeing people come to and really enjoy a business and venue that I built with my own hands and watching them come alive when they learn and use a new skill, such as lighting a fire or catching a fish for the first time.”

Worst bit: “However much effort you think you need to put into creating your own opportunities, double it, and double it again. To build my venue, I lived in the woods for three years, trying to start a business from nothing. I couldn’t pay bills or afford rent, and just survived with a few blankets for warmth, pigeons I’d shot or mackerel I’d caught for food, and my dog for company. It was difficult, but there’s been some epic joy beyond that pain.”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “Being a good instructor is not enough – the very best opportunities arise when you learn extra skills, like how to run a business or present a TV show. Just keep working to improve yourself constantly, and eventually you’ll look back and surprise yourself with all the things you’ve achieved.”

The National Trust Ranger

Harriet Reid, 26, has been based on the Farne Islands for almost two years, where she readies the island for visitors and collects data on the seabirds that nest at this rocky marine reserve

What my to-do list looks like: “I’m based on the islands from March through December, working five nights on, five nights off. The busiest month is June, when we carry out cliff counts. As a team we rise at 5am, assess the weather conditions, then head out in the boat to record the numbers of cliff nesting birds. It takes about three hours, then it’s time to do our individual monitoring plots of arctic terns, shags, kittiwakes, and eider ducks. Before lunch we’ll get the islands prepared for our visitors and carry out a puffin census. Visitor work lasts from 1pm to 5.45pm, and when that’s done we’ll put the kettle on for a well-earned cup of tea.”

How I got my job: “I knew I wanted a career in conservation after studying Marine Biology at Plymouth University. Whilst working day jobs like receptionist, data controller and floor assistant at Marks & Spencer, I volunteered at the weekends until I was offered a volunteer position at Spurn National Nature Reserve. I’ve worked on the Farne Islands since 2016, and was made a ranger in 2017.”

Best bit: “Being outside with all the seabirds is always just so enticing. You feel like you’re right where the action is.”

Worst bit: “Scrubbing the jetty is okay most of the time, but when the weather is miserable, it’s pretty tedious work.”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “All experience is useful. Say yes to every possible opportunity until you get your foot in the door.”

Photos: Paul Kingston

The Outdoor Educator

Mark Kelly, 39, has been coaching, guiding, training and assessing in the great outdoors since the age of 16, and now runs 4 Elements Adventure in the southwest of England, specialising in coastal adventures and qualifications

What my to-do list looks like: “I get up early to check the weather, tides, swell and wind so I can figure out how that will shape my day. Then I’ll check all my kit, which I pack the evening before. Then it’s emails and phone calls over breakfast, to make sure all logistics are in place. Next it’s to the meeting point to get kitted up, have an instructional and safety brief, and final kit checks. After a full day of activity – that could be as a coasteering guide, or training or assessing in Surf Lifeguarding – we’re back at base for a debrief and the instructor’s favourite task, cleaning all the kit.”

How I got job: “I always wanted to make my living in the outdoors. Working in a call centre selling accidental death insurance was perhaps my most grim ‘normal’ job, but it was my biggest drive to get out there and make it happen. I began focussing on the routes towards qualifications in my favourite activities, as well as studying Outdoor Education and Environmental Science at university.”

Best bit: “Every day I’m not watching the clock in an air-conditioned room is the best day. I just love being in wild environments and sharing my experience with others.”

Worst bit: “Sometimes you don’t have the time, are too exhausted, or just forget, to do the activities you love for yourself. For example, if the waves are pumping and I have a beginner surf group, I need to be in a suitable location, and not where the swell is big. By the time I’m done, I’m probably too exhausted to enjoy those epic conditions!”

Photo: Tom Young

The Adventure Writer

Award-winning journalist James Forrest, 35, has been a freelance outdoors and adventure writer and author since 2016

What my to-do list looks like: “No day is the same, and that’s something I love. But, on average, my week is split between spending time out in the mountains and time at home (or Starbucks) writing. The bulk of my work tends to be writing walking routes for outdoor magazines, which simply involves walking a route, taking pictures and writing up instructions to enable readers to follow in my footsteps.”

How I got job: “I got fed up, bored and depressed of working in an office for almost a decade, and longed to be closer to the mountains. I had no idea how to land my dream job of outdoors and travel writer, so made a long-term plan to complete a diploma in journalism, then get a job as a newspaper reporter, complete the National Qualification in Journalism, begin pitching to outdoor magazines, and finally build up enough writing for it to become my main occupation. Those final steps took years of hard graft, often in the face of rejection or deathly silence from editors. It’s not a standard route into the industry, but I’m so glad I persevered.”

Best bit: “What could be better than going on epic adventures in the great outdoors and being paid for it?”

Worst bit: “Chasing unpaid invoices, and, of course, the rates of pay. This job is definitely not making me rich! But they’re only minor things. I’ve got the best job in the world, and I’ve never been happier.”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “Being a great writer is not everything. You need to be a great photographer too. You’d be surprised how many editors you can seduce with an epic selection of images.”

James’s book Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six months. One record-breaking adventure, will be published on May 2 (£16.99, Conway).

The Outdoor Festival Organiser

Former professional skier and ski coach Steve Scott, 54, is the founder and creative director of Mountain Creative, an agency specialising in the outdoor market and one of the main reasons Kendal Mountain Festival has grown to be as unmissably epic as it is. He began working with KMF in 2004, and was invited to join a new board of directors in 2008


What my to-do list looks like: “My daily tasks involve promoting our UK tour and collaborative events, as well as laying plans for the next festival. I’m the guy contacting guest speakers and filmmakers which, inevitably, means I’m watching a lot of films to try and spot new talent, so to secure excellent new content for our home and overseas markets. And because I’m responsible for key brand partnerships, I’m always meeting new and existing business partners too.”

How I got job: “I have design, consultancy and adventure sports in my background, which seems to have been the ideal combo for working with Kendal Mountain Festival. I started my adventurous journey as a young ski racer, but after a bad accident I decided to focus on a career in coaching, then moved to Norway to work in publishing and pay the bills before moving back to the UK in 1998 to work for a company in events and creative marketing. They also paid for me to study graphic design. Six years later, I started my own agency specialising in the outdoor markets.”

Best bit: “I love the unknown element. Somebody in the team could turn up on a Monday with an adventure story to share, a recommendation for a new film they’ve seen, or a new achievement they’ve accomplished over the weekend. Working with such a fit bunch of people definitely keeps me on my toes.”

Worst bit: “As every event organiser knows, sourcing investment to make the event happen comes with a lot of stress. And the hours can be really long, too.”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “Always strive to discover the motivation for your or someone else’s actions and decisions. You’ll be able work faster and smarter that way.”

Mountaineering Instructor and Guide

Ian Stewart, 36, decided early on that a ‘normal job’ wasn’t for him, and for the past 13 years has built a career based in the mountains that sees him ice climbing in the winter, trail running in the summer, and plenty more in between

What my to-do list looks like: “My work changes with the seasons. I could be ski touring, rock climbing, guiding or teaching navigation depending on what the weather is throwing at me. There’s a fair bit of admin to get through – maybe 15% of my time is spent at a desk – but that balance seems to work for me. I’m glad of the indoor rest, but always keen to get back to the hills.”

How I got my job: “After nine months in a local authority scheme designed to get people into the outdoor industry, I took a job with Outward Bound in Wales, working long hours on minimum wage with large groups from inner-city London and Birmingham. After a year I moved to the ‘Nightwatch’ scheme at Glenmore Lodge, which exposed me to proper mountain work. I gained higher qualifications and began guiding and instructing in Scotland’s mountains. I’ve worked as a freelance Mountaineering Instructor for a decade now, and in the past couple of years I’ve diversified into trail running and have my own company, Trail Running Scotland, which runs a variety of training courses and running holidays across Scotland.”

Best bit: “Passing on simple skills that’ll make a big difference to others. For example, the skill of navigation quickly opens up huge possibilities for exploring Scotland’s wild places.”

Worst bit: “It’s got to be managing weather. A perfect plan made in advance might simply become impossible in strong winds. That said, an inventive plan B can take on new adventures, so it’s not always bad.”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “Working in the outdoor industry very quickly stops being about the sport that got you into it in the first place – the enjoyment ceases coming from the climbing, biking and running, but instead the people you share it with, in the environment you love.”

Outdoor Equipment Designer

Dan Jenkin, 28, has been working for Lowe Alpine for two years, where he is currently designing the cutting-edge packs and products you’ll be taking on the hill next winter

What my to-do list looks like: “Right now we’re in the early design stages of AW20, which means a lot of drawing, making mock-ups, and testing ideas in our workshop. I think it’s the fun part of the whole process, because every idea is a possibility, and we have time to invest in experimentation.”

How I got my job: “I chose to study design at Sheffield, primarily so I could climb as much as possible whilst at uni. Then, despite having no experience in textiles, after getting my degree I landed a six-month design role at a consultancy, timfishdesign, working on packs for some of the biggest brands in the outdoor industry. I realised I could combine two of my biggest interests – the outdoors and design – and stayed for four years, then joined Lowe Alpine two years ago.”

Best bit: “Taking a design from a scribble on a piece of paper to the finished product that I can go and use. I never get bored of that.”

Worst bit: I’m always spotting ways to improve on my designs, so nothing ever feels complete. I do recognise, however, that never being fully satisfied is the thing that keeps me motivated and good at my job!”

I wish I knew then what I know now: “How to sew. I’ve been learning it since I started and am still working on it today. I’m competent enough to test out ideas, but you’ll never be able to sell what I’ve sewn together!”

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