We all have something to offer and lessons to learn from each other. Keep reading to discover why diversity in skills and experience levels is a recipe for a good team.
Walking up the steep fire roads of Henry Coe state park in California, a group of Outward Bound students on an Adult expedition chatted and laughed as the sun began to set. The rolling hills glowed pink all around us, and I stopped on the trail to take in the view.
Looking down the path, I saw members of my group coming toward me at all different paces. Some walked individually, meditatively taking in the immersive experience in nature. Some paired up with a new friend, a connection made over the last few days on Course. Still, others were hiking in small clusters, exchanging stories of their past adventures, and sharing knowledge about the plants and animals along the trail.
Nothing makes me happier as an Outward Bound Instructor than witnessing beautiful connections happen in nature. People from all walks of life can relate to each other through their love of the outdoors. People who would otherwise unlikely meet become best friends on even a short Outward Bound Course.
Diversity and Learning in the Outdoors
Hiking and camping with diverse groups can teach us important lessons about community and exchanging power through skills and knowledge. Traveling with a beginner hiker enables us to see the nature around us from a new perspective and find a renewed sense of wonder. In the same vein, hiking with seasoned outdoors people lets us learn personalized tips and tricks that come from experience. Where backpacking with a group of folks similarly experienced to you can feel relaxing and comfortable, at times, it can grow to be stagnant. It is important to include people who have different experience levels than you in your outdoor expeditions.
Below you will find three compelling reasons to hike with people with different experiences and skills. This is not an exhaustive list, and since the best way to learn is by doing, I recommend inviting a friend out hiking who might never have been before, or perhaps someone you look up to as a leader in the outdoors. You will find out just how empowering and joyful it is to be in nature in community, no matter the experience level.
Three Reasons to Hike With People of Diverse Skill Levels
1. Diversify Your Outdoor Experience
Learn about the outdoors from a different perspective. Make space for people of all experience levels to participate in outdoor activities and to become leaders in the outdoors. Getting into hiking shouldn’t be intimidating because the reality is that you don’t need any experience to go hiking!
Everyone on the trail, from beginner hikers to those with years of experience, brings something unique to the experience. Some people believe that going into the outdoors, or wilderness spaces, is an escape from society and the norms of our culture. I like to say that when we go into nature, we aren’t really going out away from the world. We’re actually going deeper IN.
When we go outdoors with a group of people, we form a community full of many perspectives and experiences. It’s the perfect opportunity to start building the better world that so many of us imagine.
2. Focus Your Energy on Personal Connection Rather Than the End Goal
Making it to the top is a good and fine goal. However, it can be overrated. Fixating on the mileage, the fastest times and finishing a hike no matter what will distract you from the most important things. The beauty of nature. The conversations with a friend. Stopping to watch a coyote or a family of quail cross the trail. These are the moments why I hike, why I go outside. Making it to the top is an added bonus, but it isn’t the end all be all.
Hiking with people who have different experiences than you takes the pressure off of the end goal. You don’t have to go all the way to the top, you can turn around whenever it feels right to the group. You can take detours and make stops based on group needs and wants. Sometimes that is completing difficult routes and reaching the tallest peaks, but the majority of the time it is not. Most of the time it’s laughing, playing games on the trail, and pointing out weird fungus to each other. That’s what it’s all about.
3. Practice Mentorship and Skill-Sharing Between Peers
From plant identification and navigation to knowing the best snacks to bring on a hike, countless skills exist within any given group. Everyone has a unique experience and approach to the outdoors. There are variations in everything, from how you pack your backpack to the route you choose to hike. When we spend time with people who do things differently, we learn new skills, pick up tips and tricks, and collectively evolve and improve the way we approach hiking.
We also get to practice and engage in peer mentorship. Sharing and intentionally spreading out power in the group is a radical act. Each of us has something to gain by becoming a student, and each of us has gifts to share with others. With practice, you’ll find the ebb and flow of learning and teaching, listening and sharing, mentoring and being mentored.
Everyone can enjoy hiking, and the outdoors, regardless of experience level. Communities are made up of many people with unique skill sets who work together to distribute labor and take care of each other.
You don’t need experience for that! Next time you plan a hike with friends, consider the different experiences you each bring to the group. Try to invite new people and people who have different experience levels than you. It will only make your community stronger.
About the Author
Tilly Schoonhoven is a San Francisco Bay Area based educator, naturalist and poet, who goes by they/them pronouns. Tilly has worked in the outdoor industry for the past eight years, most recently at Outward Bound California as a Field Instructor, Equity Process Facilitator, Communications Contractor and Social Media Writer. They are passionate about bringing equity and justice to all corners of the outdoor industry, and they are known in their communities for engaging others in thoughtful and challenging dialogues to push the Outdoor industry forward. In their free time, Tilly enjoys taking care of their plants, and laying on the beach on a rare sunny day in San Francisco.