As a nonbinary customer wanders through aisles of backpacks, hiking boots, tents, and camping supplies in an outdoor gear shop, they come to the racks of gendered clothing: men’s in one corner, women’s in another. But what happens if this particular customer doesn’t identify as either? Hiking pants are on their list of items to buy for an upcoming weekend trip in the woods. So they bounce between both sections, trying to find the right fit, but coming up with nothing. Maybe they’ll just go home and shop online in a more comfortable setting, they think. 

In an effort to make the outdoor industry more welcoming and accessible for all, Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont, is partnering with Venture Out Project to launch a series of events this spring and summer— including a private shopping night—specifically geared toward the LGBTQIA+ community. Venture Out Project is a national organization that brings the queer community together outdoors and leads wilderness trips all around the country by queer people for queer people.

“Outdoor gear is heavily gendered and depending on what a retail employee might assume about a person's gender, they often steer them towards products that are not correct for them,” said Travis Clough, trip operations director at Venture Out Project. “It can also leave a person feeling humiliated and turned off from the whole idea of gearing up for outdoor adventures. We hear this horror story time and time again.”

Hosted by members of OGE’s staff who identify as LGBTQIA+, the Queer Shopping Night this April will cater toward queer-identifying outdoorists who want a private and supportive setting to shop in, as well as tips and tricks for climbing, camping, skiing, paddling, and more outdoor activities.

Also part of the series, OGE has teamed up with nearby Petra Cliffs Indoor Climbing Center to host LGBTQIA+ Climbing Nights on the last Friday of each month, an event that started in October 2019. OGE will provide snacks and lead meet-and-greet sessions.

And finally, queer mountain bikers and allies can participate in monthly Pride Rides, organized by a local LGBTQIA+ community member. OGE brings demo bikes for people who are just getting into the sport or those looking to continue to progress with a new ride.

“By creating safe and inclusive spaces for under-supported populations, we hope to encourage more folks to enjoy outdoor recreation and establish a relationship with the natural world,” said Carolyn Lawrence, events and grants program manager at OGE. “We look forward to sharing more upcoming events throughout the year.”

Because the outdoors knows no gender.