When it comes to choosing a workplace, the obvious option for many people is the routine and predictability of an office job. But if you're a person who enjoys variety in your professional life and can't stand the thought of a cubicle-bound life, an outdoor career may be a better fit for you.
Working in an outdoor industry is a great way to connect with nature while also making money, but you should also consider the physical toll and the unique tasks this type of job may require. From picking grapes in vineyards to putting out forest fires, an outdoor career can mean a lot of activity, but it can also be an exciting way to enjoy new challenges.
Is an Outdoor Career Right for You?
Before you get started, ask yourself the following questions to determine if an outdoor career suits you:
Do you love nature?
Are you adventurous?
Are you independent and able to work without constant supervision?
Do you enjoy being physically active more than sedentary?
Are you willing to potentially put your safety at risk if you are protecting something or someone else?
Have you always been attracted to non-traditional approaches to things?
Are you comfortable with physical labor?
Do you enjoy traveling frequently?
Are you comfortable with the idea of working in extreme heat or cold?
Are you okay with working in solitude from time to time?
Are you willing to go a while without showering if necessary?
Are you okay with being on your feet for most of the day on a regular basis?
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How to Get Started
There are many options in outdoor career choices, so exploring job options may seem overwhelming at first, but it helps to take inventory of your skills before choosing an industry. Start with your favorite hobby, and ask yourself if it can be made into a career. The results may surprise you, as there are many ways to turn your creative endeavors into a paying career.
If you aren't sure whether an outdoor career is something you'd like to pursue, consider starting off with something short-term, like volunteering or interning. There are many ways to kick off your search:
- Investigate local opportunities. Look for zoos, national parks, vineyards, botanical gardens, campgrounds, lakes, farms, conservation non-profits, sports and recreation facilities and any other places where being outside is a major component of the work. Then, reach out to supervisors at those sites to see what kinds of internships and volunteer work might be available.
- Search online for volunteer work and internships with specific outdoor-related keywords such as: environment, adventure, outside, outdoor, nature, wilderness, conservation, etc. These words will help narrow down your search.
- Check your university's career center. There may be resources and connections available to students and alumni who are looking for outdoor volunteer work and internships.
Many outdoor careers have professional organizations that can be used to network and find career opportunities.
For instance, if you are really passionate about river rafting, you can check out the American Canoe Association, a national organization that posts both internships and paid positions related to outdoor careers. Any competition, scholarship or community event related to water sports is listed on the association's website, and there are educational resources to become a certified canoe instructor.
Degrees can also lead to a wide variety of opportunities in an outdoor career field. Here are some examples of how different degrees can lead to jobs in the outdoors:
- An English degree can translate into a job as an environmental journalist.
- A degree in forestry can lead to opportunities like becoming a park ranger, conservationist, fisher or horticulturist.
- If you feel passionate about helping the environment in a big way, a degree in environmental studies can help you get into a prestigious volunteer program, like the Peace Corps.
- A degree in biology can be used to become a fish and game warden, who is responsible for maintaining safety in hunting and fishing by upholding laws and monitoring designated areas.
- An internship or degree program in photojournalism can set you up to take pictures of wildlife while also giving you the freedom to tell a story you feel passionate about.
Outdoor careers are a great option for people who want to be their own boss or who work well in solitude. To get a better idea of what path you should choose, make a list of what you do well and a list of what you love most about the outdoors. Look for common themes or ways to combine your skill with your passion. After you have a few ideas of what may work for you for a degree program, check out ways to get started financially. There are many unique scholarships available for fields of study in the great outdoors.
This scholarship is sponsored by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators and provides funds to individuals seeking to continue their education or obtain training in wildlife rehabilitation.
Provides scholarships to individuals working outside in print, photo, or other media.
Provides scholarships for high school seniors who are passionate about preserving the Association's hunting heritage through hunting sports.
Annual awards for undergraduate or graduate students who wish to pursue a career outdoors.
Funding for outdoor enthusiasts involved in coastal environment, oceanography, or other marine activities.
Founded in memory of a legendary fishing writer, this scholarship program is aimed at Communications students who work outdoors.
A scholarship program with an annual essay contest that engages young people in the conservation of our ecological system.
10 Popular Outdoor Careers
All salary data below reflects median values from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018 report unless otherwise noted.
There are many different job openings in this field, including park ranger and conservationist. This is the field to get into if you want to get paid to hike and camp, as foresters need to be familiar with their area of operations for new forest growth, preservation and efficient use of natural resources. Urban forestry is also an option, where you can manage the growth of trees within the limits of the city. Though much of this career is outdoors, foresters and conservation scientists also work with the government and private parties to ensure that natural resources are being used and preserved safely and efficiently.
Work with businesses and government entities to ensure regulations are being met for habitat protection
Analyze specimens to determine the health of different organisms in an ecosystem
Manage the planting and growth of new forest
Create plans for managing forest resources
Use controlled burning, bulldozers, and herbicides to clear land for new forest growth
Find ways to safely and efficiently remove timber
Archeology is the practice of studying physical and biological remains to learn things about human history and prehistory. An archeologist examines patterns from the past and connects them with current research, and advanced degrees are typically required to enter this field.
Collect information and data from excavation sites
Analyze artifacts and samples to determine patterns about the history of an area
Create research reports and hypotheses based on uncovered information
Present research findings at conferences and research institutes
Instruct students on the theory and practice of anthropology and archeology
Participate in occasional research projects including working at dig sites and presenting analysis to colleagues
Environmental science is a broad field with many different options. Environmental scientists and specialists in work to reduce waste and pollution as well as advise policymakers. Working in the environmental sciences can mean working with both private and public entities to ensure that human activities don't have a negative impact on nature and vice versa.
Collect data from environmental samples (e.g. air, soil, food, rocks, etc.) for research, investigations, and surveys
Analyze data to assess the health of an ecosystem
Work with businesses, engineers and government organizations to put environmental plans into action
Create action plans that mitigate environmental threats such as pollution, contaminants or other health hazards
Collect and analyze data from water samples for research, investigation, and surveys to determine the health of a body of water
Analyze stream flow and volume
Analyze presence and effects of pollution, erosion, and drought
Work with businesses, engineers and government organizations to put environmental plans into action
Marine biologists study the behaviors of organisms that live in saltwater and their roles in the marine ecosystem. Marine biologists can narrow in their career goals as they progress, going on to specialize in a specific species or behavioral patterns. Many people in this fieldwork to protect ocean wildlife populations from the negative encroachment of human activities.
Collect samples of and perform tests on water, soil, food supplies, plants, and other specimens to determine the health of organisms in an environment
Analyze data and create research reports that contribute to general knowledge about the ocean
Consult with government agencies and businesses about how their actions and policies affect marine life
Perform studies and analysis on wildlife specimens in an ecosystem to learn about their health, behaviors, population dynamics and movement patterns
Monitor and manage wildlife populations
Consult with private and public parties about how human activities might affect wildlife
Teach students about the study of life and living organisms, including the classification of plants and animals
Conduct occasional research and experiments
Present research and analysis to colleagues
It may require some patience and persistence to get a job as a firefighter, but the personal reward of saving lives and structures is worth it for people who want to help their community. The main goal of this job is to respond to emergency situations, which is why in some areas you are required to obtain emergency medical technician (EMT) certification before you can apply to be a firefighter. Though the application process is exhaustive, you can show your dedication at the local volunteer fire station while you work your way up.
Perform emergency medical services for members of the community
Put out structure fires and wildfires
Rescue people who have been trapped in engulfed buildings
Stay in peak physical condition with regular training and exercise
Go for lengths of time away from family while on duty
Educate the community about fire safety
Conduct building inspections to ensure they're up to code for fire prevention
Test fire protection equipment such as fire alarms and sprinklers
Work with developers to check building plans for safety compliance
For people who love working with dirt, rocks and plants, landscape and groundskeeping jobs are the perfect way to get into an outdoor career without prior experience or specific education. Landscape design applies to the layout of plant life and pathways on a specific property-the color combination of plants and flowers, the placement of water or light fixtures and the formation of stone pathways or steps-to ensure a visually-pleasing aesthetic. Laborers are always needed in the landscape industry to dig holes, plant bulbs, mow lawns, trim trees and spray pesticides.
Design property landscapes for clients
Oversee the development of landscape projects
Maintain lawns, foliage, and pathways for clients
Re-seed perennial plants and flowers
Perform seasonal duties like raking leaves and trimming tree branches
Install water and light fixtures
Surveyors collect relevant data required for map-making, engineering and construction projects. They also ensure exact measurement of property boundaries to mitigate any legal disputes. One of the primary tools of a surveyor's trade is the Global Positioning System (GPS), which uses satellites to find exact positioning of a property's reference points. Surveyors can use GPS to upload data to create digital maps and design documents.
Measure and establish the official boundaries of a property for use in deeds, leases and other legal documents
Create maps and reports of properties that can be provided to clients and government agencies
A pest controller travels frequently to inspect a residential or commercial building for termites, rats, roaches, ants or any other unwanted creatures. They complete necessary inspections before the purchase of a residential or commercial building and exterminate insect infestations. This job requires a license.
Eliminate unwanted vermin, insects and spiders in residences and businesses
Spray chemicals that protect against the encroachment of pests
Inspect buildings to ensure they are safe and don't have pest infestations
Sports and recreation workers are part of a large career field and can be responsible for anything from local sporting events at a community center to organizing or coaching professional, large-scale athletic events. People in this industry might scout college athletes, organize local games or manage volunteer activities for a park or community center.
Work with members of the community to teach and organize sports and recreation activities
Help athletes achieve their goals
Scout athletes for college and professional opportunities
Ensure that athletes are following the rules of their sport
Play a sport professionally, which may involve travel
The wine industry is large and varied in its careers, from agricultural workers to sommeliers to business moguls, but the industry starts in the great outdoors at a vineyard. Workers at a vineyard may be responsible for trimming and maintaining healthy vines, fermenting and storing wine or running a tasting room for visitors. It may seem impossible that there could be a downside to having such a beautiful "office," but working in a vineyard can mean very intense seasonal work, especially during harvest times.
Work with tasting rooms, wholesalers and retailers to distribute the finished product
Introduce customers to your winery's product by walking them through the flavors and qualities of the wine
Sell wine to customers
Keep the tasting room clean, well-stocked and organized
Assist with wine production and customer interaction
*According to a 2019 report from Indeed.com
What It's Like to Work in the Great Outdoors
Karl Johnson, Vice President of Building Contractors of Maryland; Russ Carbone, President and CEO of Unisource Stone; and Sameer Kalyani, President and CEO of Kalyani Environmental Solutions have offered their expertise on how to succeed in an outdoor career.
What is the biggest benefit of having an outdoor career?
Johnson It's is a matter of personal preference, but if you enjoy the feeling of sun on your face and wind in your hair, the smells and sounds of nature (even in a city), and prefer the intense heat or cold over air-conditioning or fluorescent lighting, it may be for you.
What is something a person should keep in mind when starting an outdoor career?
Johnson Like with everything you have to take the good with the bad, and in times of excessive heat or brutally cold weather, you can lose a lot of work hours. Generally, a career outdoors requires more time during peak weather conditions, to make up for lost time when the weather isn't cooperating.
Carbone I started my career in a niche area of the industry, so success was quick at first. The drawbacks were (and still are) staying ahead of what's happening in the industry, and where the market is heading with the economy. Sometimes outside forces overcome the best of intentions, so you have to be able to assess the reality of your situation.
What skills or traits should a person possess to succeed in an outdoor career?
Johnson A person who chooses an outdoor career should be more of a self-starter, but also more of a loner, as the number of people you will interact with is a lot less than a typical indoor job. You also need to be a determined, task-oriented person able to overcome personal discomforts in order to get the job done.
Carbone In an industry where you are often responsible for your own success- a person requires focus, intent and personal motivation to stay committed to doing whatever is needed to achieve their goals.
Are there any internships or volunteer opportunities in your field?
Johnson There aren't any carpentry internships that I know of, but you can volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. This field usually requires a person to start as a laborer, and they can advance to a senior level position in about five years, providing they possess the aptitude and determination.
Kalyani The best ways to get your feet wet would be to join environmental government agencies such as the EPA to understand the broad scope of how environmental policies and regulations are monitored and enforced. After securing a position like that, private companies like KES tend to hire those interns because they can bring a wealth of knowledge from an environmental policy perspective to the environmental construction world.
What does your job entail?
Carbone Designing mosaics, medallions, custom borders and backsplashes to meet customer specifications. Manufacturing tumbled stone and overseeing employees. Meeting with clients and potential partners to find out what they want in their homes or buildings. It can change daily, but I am basically making sure that everything is under control in my shop.
Johnson Overseeing restoration projects and other home improvement jobs we have at the time. Communicating with insurance adjusters, customers, and building residents about work that needs to be completed, and providing written estimates when necessary. We also provide emergency restoration for situations when the insurance company is involved, so we have to be available at all hours.