Finding a Career in the Great Outdoors

Guide to Outdoor Careers

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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.

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.

1

Volunteer Work/Internships

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.
2

Professional Organizations

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.

3

Degree Programs

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.

Scholarships

10 Popular Outdoor Careers

All salary data below reflects median values from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018 report unless otherwise noted.

FORESTRY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Conservation scientist-$61,310

  • Work with businesses and government entities to ensure regulations are being met for habitat protection

Life scientist-$66,070

  • Analyze specimens to determine the health of different organisms in an ecosystem

Forester-$61,410

  • 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

Logging worker-$40,650

  • Find ways to safely and efficiently remove timber
ARCHEOLOGY

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Anthropologists and archeologists-$62,410

  • 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

Anthropology and archeology professors-$83,940

  • 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 & ENGINEERING

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Environmental scientists and specialists-$71,130

  • 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

Environmental engineers-$87,620

  • Create action plans that mitigate environmental threats such as pollution, contaminants or other health hazards

Hydrologists-$79,370

  • 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 BIOLOGY

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Marine life scientists-above $70,000

  • 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

Zoologists and wildlife biologists-$63,420

  • 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

Biology professors-$82,550

  • 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
FIRE SCIENCE AND SAFETY

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Firefighter-$49,620

  • 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

Fire inspectors-$62,510

  • 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
LANDSCAPING

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.

Sample careers and job responsibilities:

Landscape architects-$73,160

  • Design property landscapes for clients
  • Oversee the development of landscape projects

Grounds maintenance workers-$29,400

  • 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
SURVEYING

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.

Related careers and job responsibilities:

Surveyor-$62,580

  • Measure and establish the official boundaries of a property for use in deeds, leases and other legal documents

Cartographer-$64,430

  • Create maps and reports of properties that can be provided to clients and government agencies
PEST CONTROL

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.

Related careers and job responsibilities:

Pest control technician-$35,610

  • 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/RECREATION

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.

Related careers and job responsibilities:

Recreation worker-$25,060

  • Work with members of the community to teach and organize sports and recreation activities

Coaches and scouts-$33,780

  • Help athletes achieve their goals
  • Scout athletes for college and professional opportunities

Umpires and referees-$27,020

  • Ensure that athletes are following the rules of their sport

Athlete-$50,650

  • Play a sport professionally, which may involve travel
WINE

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.

Related careers and job responsibilities:

Alcoholic beverage merchant wholesale and retail buyers-around $61,700

  • Work with tasting rooms, wholesalers and retailers to distribute the finished product

Tasting room General Manager-$53,319*

  • 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

Guest service agent-$32,180*

  • 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.

  1. What is the biggest benefit of having an outdoor career?
  2. What is something a person should keep in mind when starting an outdoor career?
  3. What skills or traits should a person possess to succeed in an outdoor career?
  4. Are there any internships or volunteer opportunities in your field?
  5. What does your job entail?
Karl Johnson
Karl Johnson

Owner

Russ Carbone
Russ Carbone

Founder

Sameer Kalyani
Sameer Kalyani

Founder

About the Author


expert-profile

Diana-Ashley Krach is a full-time freelance writer, author, and journalist. In addition to her personal writing, she has over five years' experience managing content creation and marketing for companies, covering a wide scope of industries and professions.