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Industry Leader REI Is Helping Queers Get Outdoors

A Black man hiking in the mountains

The LGBTQ-supporting retail giant has the gear, classes, and programs to outfit you for adventure. 

In the not-too-distant past, the “gear gap” was one of the more frustrating chicanes for outdoor enthusiasts who weren’t male or who didn’t possess a model’s body.

Retailers carried limited selections of gear and apparel for women, focusing instead on the white hetero, cis, and able-bodied men that were the presumed market for outdoor activities. The situation was bleaker for women with bodies that did not fit the accepted perceptions about who belonged in the great outdoors. Women often found themselves browsing for hiking boots, backpacks, and other gear designed for small men or large children.

Femmes, plus-sized women, nonbinary people, and those with disabilities were treated like they didn’t exist, or like some imagined 1950s housewife who couldn’t survive outside the home. Fortunately, that myopia has started to change and REI, the co-op outdoor recreation retailer, is helping lead the way. 

In 2017, REI launched Force of Nature, an outreach program designed to advance gender equity in the outdoors and inside the industry “from the backcountry to the boardroom,” as REI president and CEO Jerry Stritzke put it in a statement announcing the initiative.

In the first three years, the Force of Nature project donated more than $2.5 million to dozens of organizations that promote inclusivity outdoors. The retailer later launched a new initiative, #OptOutside with Pride, that supports LGBTQ+ equality, and now partners with organizations like The Venture Out Project, Unlikely Hikers, TranSending, and Minority Veterans of America. REI also collaborated with backpacking drag queen Pattie Gonia on the film Dear Mother Nature about the impact of microplastics on the ocean. 

REI offers beginner- to advanced-level classes and workshops, and recently increased its rentals and resale of used gear to improve access for lower-income communities. Many of its stores across the country host queer climbing nights or day hikes. Last year the company issued a statement supporting the trans community, saying, “We remain committed to ensuring that the outdoors, the co-op, and society at large are accessible and welcoming to all people — including transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.”

REI has long been an industry leader in outdoor retail, earning praise for their curated gear and apparel. And they’re now an industry leader in opening the great outdoors to a more expansive section of humanity.

This article originally ran in the Winter 2022 issue of Out Traveler, which is available on the newsstand now. It was initially titled This Brand is a Force of Nature, and was part of our special feature on outsider travelers.

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