Outdoor gear is expensive. And for those who can’t afford the high price tags attached to tents, sleeping bags, and hiking boots, there's a heavier cost that's not measured in dollars and cents—not being able to experience nor enjoy the life-changing benefits of outdoor recreation. Pricey new gear and equipment—even the stuff some of us deem "affordable"—creates an immovable barrier to entry around the outdoors, dividing those with means and those without. Historically, this has been a major contributor to "the outdoors" becoming an inherently white and privileged activity.
While we've been excited to see and document dozens of inspiring and impactful organizations led by LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenious, people of color, and other underrepresented groups begin to fundamentally shift this divide in recent years—like Colour the Trails, HBCU Outside, and others—a new crop of groups specifically focused on mutual aid is taking on inequality from a more individual-impact angle.
It's called gear redistribution, a inequality fighting framework getting good quality, used gear into the hands of those who need and want it. Not to be mistaken for charitable giving, mutual aid is, according to the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, “the act of exchanging skills and redistributing resources for our collective benefit. It is a form of political participation, one that is rooted in the idea of caring for each other through a horizontal model of resources and power.” This definition is important to note, as it eliminates any sanctimonious attitudes and power imbalances by establishing that both the giver and receiver of goods are of equal merit.
Grassroots mutual aid funds have played an imapctful role in distributing healthy food and quality clothing to individual communities in major cities for some time. In recent years these proven social equity efforts have inspired a small but growing number of mutual aid funds in the outdoor space, whose specific mission is outdoor gear redistribution. Even though the movement is still in its beginning stages, there are plenty of ways to support and be inspired to support new outdoorists in your area. The following are three to take note of.
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, The Gear Fund Collective was started in the spring of 2021 by a few members of the local climbing community who saw a need for a mutual aid group that donates outdoor gear free of charge. “Since then, we’ve distributed nearly 500 items,” says Marina Inoue, one of The Gear Fund Collective’s founding members. “Items are donated from individuals, gyms, and even companies such as Osprey.” The group prioritizes BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S+, and people with disabilities. “We also redistribute items in bulk to organizations like We Climb and Climbers of Color for various programs they have, as well as to the unsheltered communities in Salt Lake City directly,” says Inoue. The Gear Fund Collective plans to continue redistributing free gear with the goals to smooth out their systems, reach more people, and inspire others who want to start mutual aid groups in their local areas.
After putting out a call to raise funds for camping kits to donate to BIPOC people in the Pacific Northwest during the spring of 2020, Olympia, Washington-based Mo Jackson watched her fundraiser grow and grow. By the end of that summer, she had raised over $96,000, supplied 400 camping kits (which consisted of a tent, sleeping bag, and cooler), and begun a partnership with Next Adventure, a new and used gear shop in Portland, Oregon, to supply and distribute even more.
Jackson’s project garnered a lot of media attention, including a write-up in the LA Times that sparked an even greater interest in the accessibility of gear. While it’s not a traditional mutual aid organization, and much is still evolving behind the scenes, the informal effort speaks volumes of the impact that a single person can have in inspiring a larger movement that supports the community and makes the outdoors more inclusive for all.
The Eugene Gear Collective was founded by Indigo Amarys, Sol Flores, and Nicholas Gariepy in Eugene, Oregon during the summer of 2021. “There are many barriers to access and we think that through this collective, we can help get more people into the outdoor spaces that we love,” says the group’s founders. “We do this as a collective, with an intentional lack of hierarchy and open door to anyone who wants to participate.” Since its conception, the organization has received donations from the community and redistributed 50 items via pop-up shops and Instagram posts that prioritize giving to BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people.
So far, the community response has been positive, and the collective hopes to raise even more funds so they can ship and redistribute even more gear, free of charge. “People are finally getting the gear they need to do things like rock climbing, camping, or hiking,” say the founders. “Our favorite response to the collective was at a pop-up shop. People were looking for price tags and were shocked to learn that everything was free.” In addition to donating used gear, the Eugene Gear Collective welcomes volunteers and donations to help keep the organization up and running.