‘Unlikely Hikers’ Instagram Crushes Stereotypes About 'Outdoorsy' People

"I want to bust up preconceived notions of what an 'outdoorsperson' looks like and put a spotlight on diversity, inclusion and visibility."

Hiking, a central activity for "outdoorsy" types, has tons of benefits aside from just enjoying the nature that surrounds us on this planet we all live on. It's been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and anxiety, according to the American Hiking Society. In addition, studies have shown hiking can help to increase attention spans and improve creative problem-solving skills. Oh, and it's also really fun and good exercise. 

Despite what we see on commercials, in magazines, and Instagram feeds, people of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, and abilities love to hike. Here to prove that is 35-year-old Jenny Bruso.

The "self-identified fat, femme, queer, writer and former indoor kid" started the Instagram account Unlikely Hikers last summer in an effort to crush stereotypes about what it means to be "outdoorsy." On the social media site, she celebrates people of color, plus-size people, differently-abled people, and people in the LGBTQ community, to name a few, who love hiking and spending time outdoors. 

Bruso calls Unlikely Hikers an "ironic, tongue-in-cheek, reclamatory." 

"There is nothing unlikely about wanting to enjoy and explore nature, it's one of the most natural things any of us can want to do. Yes, the outdoors and public lands belong to all of us and sure, no one is getting a handwritten invitation to our National Parks and trailheads, but exclusion isn't always verbal. A lot of the time, it's about representation. Representation matters! Who is being targeted for outdoor recreation? Who has a seemingly natural sense of access?" she wrote on her website. 

Back in 2012, Bruso and her partner Brie went hiking for their first date. Bruso didn't expect to fall in love with hiking as she had never seen herself as an outdoors person before, but she did. And, as she continued hiking more and more, she found herself tired of seeing the same types of people portrayed in media as members of the outdoors community. 

"White, thin, 'fit' and straight-looking. Often, moneyed (read: top of the line gear). Often, a man. The typical woman featured fits an even narrower set of guidelines. That isn't a knock at anyone who fits that, but it's a reality that leaves the rest of us noticeably out of place," Bruso wrote. "Through sharing my personal stories and the @UnlikelyHikers Instagram community, I want to bust up preconceived notions of what an 'outdoorsperson' looks like and put a spotlight on diversity, inclusion and visibility," 

Bruso hopes to change people's perceptions about what a hiker looks like, and both her Instagram and blog serve as inspiration for people to spend more time in nature. People just like Bruso, who never thought of themselves as a person who would fit into the outdoors community, may decide to give hiking a shot after seeing her posts. 

"Whether you hike a mile or fifteen, or only a few times a year; if you use a mobility device on trails, or don't see anyone who likes you; You Are A Hiker. When we base our worth as hikers on how many miles and feet of elevation we crush, or on our physical abilities, or inabilities, we miss out on the journey, healing and connection to all-that-is that can be found in nature," Bruso wrote on her website. "I invite you to move your body in ways that feel good, for the joy of it. Be in your own journey, don't compare it to someone else's. It's the doing it that matters. It's OK to challenge yourself. It's OK to want to do more, harder, faster, longer, but it doesn't make one a 'real' hiker. That standard Instagram summit photo at golden hour is beautiful, but it doesn't tell the story of a 'real' hiker."

"The outdoors is for everyone. If you need an invitation, this is it. If you need an invitation to quit these thought patterns, this is it. If you hike, you are a hiker."

Check out more of the badass people featured on Unlikely Hikers, along with their thoughts on being outdoorsy.

"There's something about being outdoors that really grounds me and makes me more conscious of what my body can do. Being out on a hike can be gentle, peaceful, social, strenuous, and rewarding all at once. It's an activity I've never really seen POC visible in, so I'm trying to change that!" 

"I grew up in NYC and really did not get to experience nature and the outdoors. It wasn't untill my early twenties, when I moved to Kentucky, that I had the opportunity to go camping, hiking and canoeing. Ever since then, I try to go and explore any city, state or federal park I can come across."

"My first hiking trip was at an older age of 29. I've never dreamed about being a PCT thruhiker. I fell in love with nature because after getting sweaty while hiking, I find a sense of achievement and meaning. I've solo hiked 700 miles of desert, 103 miles of High Sierra including Mt. Whitney, Forester and Glen Pass. I am continuing on to Canada. I feel stronger, independent and free. Being a slow paced hiker, I made everyday decisions, big or small, alone. It is rare to be able to do that in the real world. The PCT has taught me patience, optimism and showed me beauty that only my eyes can truly capture."

"When I first started hiking, I was an unlikely hiker because I had no outdoor experience. I didn't hike or camp growing up. But in the depths of depression, something called me to a trail near my house. I feel now that hiking helped save my life. I continued to be an unlikely hiker because back then I thought I was a cis woman. Now, as a transmasculine nonbinary person, I face new challenges on the trail due to being visibly gender nonconforming. My partner, a trans woman, shares in these challenges. Where will we pee? Are we safe in this rural area? But we hike anyway, because the power and beauty of nature is worth it. We're proud to be trans and be unlikely hikers in love!"

"Expectations, other people's and our own, often stop us from trying new things. Because of the way we look or where we're from maybe we don't know people who do a certain outdoor activity or they don't think of us when an invite is extended. Working with Columbia Sportswear has been a deep dive into exposure to outdoor activities. I definitely want to share my experiences and work to make it so that one day, my presence on hiking trails or ski lifts isn't unlikely." 

"I'm an immigrant who learned English when I was 3, and I sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression. But I'm also white, middle class, college educated, and cis, so I carry a lot of privilege. In that sense I'm not really an unlikely hiker. But I want to create conversation about mental health in the outdoors- I want to talk about how people can be adventurous and anxious, motivated and depressed, at the same time. In this way, I want to use my challenges to fuel my passion for advocacy, and my privilege as a platform from which to speak."

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