Adventure Awaits: Your Field Guide to Outdoor and Nature-Based Jobs

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Written by: Rebecca Graham | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: July 30th, 2020

Entrance to woods In September 2017, Sydney Williams realized her sedentary corporate lifestyle was literally killing her. A former collegiate rower and professional skydiver, she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes after a 12-year career in big-brand corporate marketing and public relations. 

“I realized that everything that I thought was a bragging point on my resume was actually teaching people how to be sick and numb, and I was a byproduct of the work I had been doing,” Williams says. “I decided I wanted to use my skills to make the world a better place. So I left my cushy agency job with a six-figure salary, platinum health benefits provided by my employer, unlimited time off, and prestigious clients to join my friend’s startup in the realm of women’s empowerment and social justice.” 

But while her goal of joining the startup was to find and contribute deeper meaning to the world, the stress of startup life left her even sicker and more unhappy than before.

So she left. 

A journey to healing

Four days after leaving the startup, Williams was hiking when she realized that, thanks to diabetes, she had shifted her coping mechanisms from eating and drinking her feelings to hiking her feelings. “That shift felt revolutionary,” says Williams. But even more important was her realization that she had been coping unhealthily for all of those years due to a sexual assault she had survived in college and how the trauma had manifested in her mind and body. 

After Williams’ epiphany on the healing that comes from reconnecting with herself and nature, she made it her mission to spread the message to others dealing with ailments of body and mind. She recalls, “In late 2018, my husband and I sold everything we owned and moved into a 1998 Chevy van so we could take this message around the country, and share the healing power of nature with as many people as possible.” 

Now, as an author, event planner, and speaker with her organization, Hiking My Feelings, she hosts storytelling events and hikes around the United States to encourage people to get off the couch and onto the trail. 

Williams believes the work she is doing can have a monumental impact on the world. “This is bigger than my story and bigger than hiking,” she explains. “The fact of the matter is, when we disconnect from our distractions and reconnect with ourselves, anything is possible. We meet folks on the road who hike their feelings, but they also bike, run, yoga, climb, fish, ride motorcycles, sail, and surf their feelings. The common throughline is when we get the devices out of our faces and get outside, tremendous healing is possible.”

Williams is walking proof, as her diabetes has been in remission for over a year, and she’s healthier and happier than she’s ever been. The outdoors turned her life around, and she turned around and made it her livelihood.

Sydney Williams quote

Aside from the nearly countless overall health benefits of spending time outdoors, nature offers unmatched opportunities for exploration, education, recreation, and leisure that can contribute to a vibrant and meaningful life. 

Are you sitting at a desk as you read this, looking out the windows of an office — yes, even a home office — and wishing you were outside? 

The fact is, like Sydney Williams, some people actually get paid to work outside. Maybe you could, too.

We'll explore several outdoors and nature-based jobs from the perspectives of people who have experience doing them; the benefits, the challenges, the training required, and the best advice for job seekers; plus wage and growth statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics based on the 2018 median salary for those jobs and the growth projected by 2028. 

For your reference, the median annual wage for all workers in 2018 was $38,640 and the average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent. 

Outdoor jobs infographic

Infographic by Venngage

Read through all of the jobs we've compiled, browse the expert insight quote boxes, or click on a job category to jump straight to it: 

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Agriculture

Agricultural and food scientists

Job duties: Conduct research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of field crops and farm animals; study soil composition for plant growth improvement; travel between facilities to oversee projects 
Median salary: $64,020 ($30.78 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth 
Types of jobs

  • Animal scientists
  • Food scientists and technologists
  • Plant scientists
  • Soil scientists

Agricultural engineers

Job duties: Solve problems concerning pollution and environmental issues, machine efficiency, and storage; test equipment to ensure safety and reliability; improve efficiency in automated and processes 
Median salary: $77,110 ($37.07 per hour) 
Job outlook: 5% growth 

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Job duties: Supervise crop production and ranging; maintain farm facilities and supplies; purchase and sell supplies  
Median salary: $67,950 ($32.67 per hour) 
Job outlook: -1% decline
Types of jobs:

  • Farmers and ranchers
  • Agricultural managers
  • Crop farmers and managers
  • Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers
  • Nursery and greenhouse managers
  • Aquaculture farmers and managers

Other agriculture-based jobs include agriculture educators, vineyard managers, and beekeepers. 

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Animals

Animal care and service workers

Job duties: Attend to animals in a variety of settings, such as animal shelters, aquariums, kennels, pet stores, stables, veterinary clinics, and zoos 
Median salary: $23,950 ($11.51 per hour) 
Job outlook: 16% growth 
Types of jobs:

  • Animal trainers
  • Groomers
  • Grooms
  • Kennel attendants
  • Nonfarm animal caretakers
  • Pet sitters
  • Zookeepers

Jeff Carbridge, former dog walker and now educator on dog training at Dogowner.co.uk, got into dog walking and training because he was sick of the standard 9–5 office job. "I felt like I was accomplishing nothing, and I needed something exciting in my life," Carbridge explains.

So he got a career diploma in Canine Training and Behavior Management to combine with his professional dog walking experience. "It is so rewarding to be able to help dogs as well as their owners." 

Jeff Carbridge quote

Veterinarians

Job duties: Care for animals in clinics, hospitals, farms, labs, classrooms, zoos; advise animal owners about animal care; perform surgery; prescribe medication  
Median salary: $93,830 ($45.11 per hour) 
Job outlook: 18% growth 

As a small animal and exotic veterinarian Sara Ochoa, who consults for DogLab, dreamed of being a veterinarian her whole life. "During my undergraduate studies, I worked at a veterinary clinic, which solidified my choice of going to veterinary school," Ochoa explains.

From there, she volunteered her time in other countries working with animals, giving her experience working as a vet even before graduating from vet school at St. George's University in Grenada, West Indies. Ochoa now practices at an animal hospital in Texas.  

Sara Ochoa quote

Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Job duties: Study animals and other wildlife; collect biological data and specimens for analysis; develop conservation plans; write papers and give presentations on research 
Median salary: $63,420 ($30.49 per hour)
Job outlook: 5% growth 

Allison Cornell, professor and field biologist at Cedar Crest College, started college with the intent to pursue veterinary school because she loved animals. However, she discovered that the things she loved about animals — their natural behavior, their evolutionary histories, and their connectedness with their environment — weren't central to veterinary medicine.

"With the help of mentors, I found my way to research," Cornell explains. "I realized I was more interested in investigating scientific questions than using existing knowledge to solve medical problems." Her expertise is in ornithology, physiology, ecology, field biology, and science education. 

Allison Cornell quote

How would you like to swim with sharks for a living? That's one component of what Toby Daly-Engel does. Daly-Engel is an assistant professor of ocean engineering and marine sciences at Florida Tech studying the molecular ecology and evolution of sharks and other marine megafauna. 

She had her heart set on studying sharks since she was a little girl despite growing up in upstate New York, nowhere near the ocean. After getting a bachelor's degree in biology and master's and doctorate degrees in zoology, Daly-Engel was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in research and teaching where she spent three years testing the hypotheses she had developed around sharks on giant predatory water bugs from the mountains of the Sonora Desert.

Along the way, she took advantage of all of the research opportunities she could. "I took whatever opportunities I could to move forward in my career, a lot of which did not involve shark research," Daly-Engel says. "Because of that, I have gotten to do science with mice, bugs, fish, crabs, and dolphins, all of which really helped me understand my subject and prepared me for my current job better than I would have been had I studied only one type of animal."

Now, Daly-Engel encourages marine biologist hopefuls to follow their passion above all else. "First and foremost, go for what you love. Just because you want to study an animal that lots of people like — sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, etc. — doesn’t mean you, yourself can’t do it!" 

Toby Daly-Engel quote

Other animal-based jobs include animal control workers and habitat specialists (like at zoos or Disney's Animal Kingdom). 

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Building and Maintenance

Commercial divers 

Job duties: Work below surface of water, using scuba gear to inspect, repair, remove, install equipment and structures; use power and hand tools, such as drills, sledgehammers, torches, and welding equipment; conduct tests or experiments, rig explosives, photograph structures or marine life 
Median salary: $49,140 ($23.63 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth
Types of jobs

  • Offshore divers
  • Onshore divers
  • HAZMAT divers 
  • Scientific divers
  • Naval divers
  • Military and police divers

Construction managers and workers

Job duties: Plan, coordinate, and supervise construction projects; implement construction plans for residential and commercial properties  
Median salary of managers: $93,370 ($44.89 per hour) 
Median salary of construction workers and helpers: $34,810 ($16.74 per hour) 
Job outlook: 10% growth

Glaziers

Job duties: Install glass in windows, skylights, and other fixtures in buildings and storefronts; follow blueprints and specifications; add weather seal around pane edges 
Median salary: $43,550 ($20.94 per hour) 
Job outlook: 11% growth  

Line installers and repairers 

Job duties: Identify defective devices; inspect and test power lines; climb poles and transmission towers and use truck-mounted buckets
Median salary: $65,880 ($31.67 per hour) 
Job outlook: 4% growth
Types of jobs

  • Electrical power-line installers and repairers
  • Telecommunications line installers and repairers 
  • Line installers
  • Line repairers

Masonry workers 

Job duties: Read and follow blueprints; lay out patterns, forms, and foundations; mix and spread mortar or grout; align structures using levels 
Median salary: $44,810 ($21.54 per hour) 
Job outlook: 11% growth
Types of jobs:

  • Brickmasons and blockmasons
  • Cement masons and concrete finishers
  • Stonemasons
  • Terrazzo workers and finishers 

Roofers 

Job duties: Replace, repair, and install roofing materials on residential and commercial buildings
Median salary: $39,970 ($19.22 per hour) 
Job outlook: 12% growth 

Milwaukee-based roofing contractor Mark Evans graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing and worked in the corporate world for two years, but quickly grew tired of it. "I come from a blue-collar family so I was used to working outside," Evans explains. "I started to realize that working in an office just wasn't something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Around the same time, one of Evans' high school friends reached out to him for help marketing his struggling roofing company. Evans saw an opportunity as there wasn't a lot of competition at the time, and agreed to help his friend as long as he could become co-owner of the company. He already knew how to do roofing jobs, and he was happy to utilize his marketing expertise for the benefit of the business. 

Evans recommends people seeking a similar career learn the trade for a few years, then start their own business as there are always people looking for roof repair and installs so there will always be a stream potential clients. But he emphasizes the continued importance of marketing in finding and maintaining a client base. "As we are well into the digital age, your company website is key," he says. "That's how you gain an edge on your competition. 

Mark Evans quote

Other building and maintenance jobs include demolition managers, framers, and building surveyors.

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Conservation and Research

Archaeologists 

Job duties: Examine, recover, and preserve artifacts from past cultures; prepare reports and present research; advise organizations on cultural impact
Median salary: $62,420 ($30.01 per hour) 
Job outlook: 10% growth

Biological technicians

Job duties: Assist biological and medical scientists in conducting lab tests and experiments 
Median salary: $44,500 ($21.39 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth 

Environmental scientists and specialists 

Job duties: Collect and compile environmental data; analyze samples; develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems; provide information and guidance on possible environmental hazards 
Median salary: $71,130 ($34.20 per hour) 
Job outlook: 8% growth 
Job types

  • Climate change analysts
  • Environmental health and safety specialists
  • Environmental restoration planners
  • Industrial ecologists
  • Environmental chemists

Dr. Megan Wise de Valdez, an associate professor of biology at Texas A&M-San Antonio, studies vector ecology and parasitology specifically pertaining to the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito. As a freshman in college, she took a field parasitology course which took her out into the field to study insects infected with parasites.

"I loved being outdoors and doing real science," Wise says. "During all of my schooling, from undergraduate through doctorate studies, I always had an outdoor component to my research." Now, her fieldwork often takes her and her student researchers into suburbs and nearby cities in Texas to study this species in an effort to control their spread of disease. 

Megan Wise de Valdez quote

Geoscientists

Job duties: Study the composition, structure, and processes of the Earth; conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in fieldwork; make geological maps and charts
Median salary: $91,130 ($42.81 per hour) 
Job outlook: 6% growth 
Job types:

  • Geologists
  • Geophysicists
  • Oceanographers
  • Paleontologists
  • Petroleum geologists
  • Seismologists

Rick Hunter, a paleontologist at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT, wears many hats as a scientist, curator, and exhibit designer.

As head paleontologist, his main responsibilities include directing the activities in the paleontology lab, overseeing and training the volunteer prep staff, and guiding the preparation of their current Barosaurus dinosaur project.

As curator for the museum, he is responsible for the acquisition, identification, cataloging, curation, inventory, legality, and protection of the museum’s collections.

And as exhibit designer, he oversees the design and maintenance of current and new exhibits, including the technical writing for museum signage.

"The education never stops," Hunter says. "I do things almost every day that I have no formal training for. I have no training as a sculptor, yet I sculpt missing bones. I have no training as an artist, yet I paint. All of the skills that I have acquired over a lifetime have lead me to the positions that I now fill." 

To aspiring paleontologists, Hunter suggests focusing on specific goals and doing what it takes to proactively make them happen, as positions in his field are limited. 

Rick Hunter quote

Other conservation and research-based careers include cartographers, volcanologists, and nonprofit managers. 

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Education

Archivists, curators, and museum workers

Job duties: Prepare and restore items in collections; oversee collections and displays; may include science, archaeology, and nature museums or other nonprofit or for-profit organizations
Median salary: $48,400 ($23.27 per hour) 
Job outlook: 9% growth

Meeting, convention, and event planners 

Job duties: Coordinate aspects of events and professional meetings, including for the outdoor industry or in outdoor settings 
Median salary: $49,370 ($23.74 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth 

Rebecca Turk remembers the day her mom first taught her about horticulture. She was about 12 years old and helping to cultivate the mulch in her backyard. "My mom mentioned noticing how much I loved to work outside," Turk remembers, "and she wanted to make sure I knew that I could focus on that passion as a career." From that point on, she decided to major in horticulture and she never strayed from that path. 

After pursuing bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture and horticulture, respectively, she worked various employments throughout academia including with the Stephen F. Austin (SFA) Mast Arboretum, the Nacogdoches Naturally environmental education program, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University. She also became active in the American Public Garden Association, an invaluable resource for meaningful connections and partnerships. 

Now, as the director of education and events at the 65-acre Moore Farms Botanical Garden in Lake City, SC, she embraces her leadership role and the fact that no day is like another. "I have a strong passion for public horticulture and I love that my position lets me combine both horticulture and education together," Turk explains. "This is an industry that is ever-evolving. It is significantly influenced by the interests and demands of the public as well as our fast-changing climate."

Turk continually needs to be willing to adapt, to be challenged, and to look at each challenge as a new obstacle to face. Regarding events management specifically, she says developing a logistical mindset is especially crucial. 

Rebecca Turk quote

Postsecondary teachers

Job duties: Teach courses in a specific subject area; work with colleagues to develop curricula; stay up-to-date on innovations in their field; assess students' progress 
Median salary: $78,470 ($37.73 per hour)
Job outlook: 11% growth 

Franklin Pierce University professor of biology and environmental science Rhine Singleton teaches courses in environmental science, ecology, plant biology, and forest ecology. Located in rural southwest New Hampshire, the campus includes over 1,000 acres of natural areas encompassing a variety of ecosystem types including coniferous forest, northern hardwood forest, spruce swamp, marsh, meadow, stream, and pond. 

"As a result of this setting," says Singleton, "my classes spend significant amounts of time in the field studying natural history and collecting data to answer ecological questions. And my students have great attitudes about learning and being outdoors during labs, even when the weather isn't pleasant." 

Travel beyond campus is also a major component of Singleton's job. He frequently travels to Africa, Central America, and other exotic locations to carry out field research assignments. 

Rhine Singleton quote

Self-enrichment education teachers

Job duties: Teach courses on self-improvement, nonvocational, and nonacademic subjects
Median salary:  $38,438 ($18.48 per hour)

Cindy Olsen is a self-employed nature educator continually seeking out ways to learn more about nature and mindfulness through experts, classes, books, and research — and then sharing that knowledge with the community.

She first trained to be an environmental educator on local flora and fauna and taught youth at the Sheldrake Environmental Center in Rochelle, New York. Then in 2018, she was certified as a mindful outdoor guide through the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. She is currently in the process of becoming a certified guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy as well as a certified meditation teacher with Mindful Schools. 

While always a nature enthusiast, Olsen's current career is quite a departure from her previous career in international finance for film and media. "I made the decision to leave the corporate world because I saw two problems that I wanted to find a way to contribute solutions to," Olsen explains. "First, the rising levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness in our culture, and second, the threat of human impact on the environment."

Olsen was inspired to become a nature educator because of this quote: 

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." 

— Baba Dioum 

Through her nature and mindfulness education programs, she sees the meaningful impact she has in forging deep connections to self, each other, and the natural world. 

Cindy Olsen quote

Other education-based jobs include podcasters, public speakers, authors, influencers, and conservation-focused lobbyists. 

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Environmental engineers 

Job duties: Use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and/or chemistry to solve environmental problems; may tackle concerns about water availability and efficiency of water use
Median salary: $87,620 ($42.13 per hour) 
Median salary of environmental engineering technicians: $50,560 ($24.31 per hour) 
Job outlook
: 5% growth (9% for technicians)

Regional and urban planners 

Job duties: Develop land use plans; gather and analyze data from environmental studies; present projects to planning commissions; stay current on environmental regulations and concerns 
Median salary: $73,050 ($35.12 per hour) 
Job outlook: 11% growth 

Solar photovoltaic installers

Job duties: Plan PV system configurations; install solar modules, panels, and support structures; connect panels to the electrical system; perform routine maintenance 
Median salary: $42,680 per year ($20.52 per hour)
Job outlook: 63% growth

Wind turbine technicians

Job duties: Climb wind turbine towers to inspect or repair equipment; test and troubleshoot systems; collect data for testing or research; service underground transmission systems 
Median salary: $52,370 per year ($26.14 per hour)
Job outlook: 57% growth 

For more energy-based jobs, consult Zety's list of over 150 sustainability careers.

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Forestry

Conservation scientists and foresters

Job duties: Ensure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection; establish plans for managing forest lands; work with individuals and groups to improve foresting land 
Median salary: $61,340 per year ($29.49 per hour)
Job outlook: 3% growth 
Job types

  • Conservation land managers
  • Range managers
  • Soil and water conservationists
  • Procurement foresters
  • Urban foresters
  • Conservation education foresters

Forest and conservation workers 

Job duties: Measure and improve quality of forests for state or local governments or on privately-owned forest lands or nurseries
Median salary: $27,460 ($13.20 per hour) 
Job outlook: -3% decline 

Other forestry-based jobs include trail builders, arborists, park and forest rangers, and other state or national park employees. 

Arborist Lisa Tadewaldt, who owns Urban Forest Pro, a tree services company based in Oregon, enjoys working outside with trees daily. "I love the sheer amount of variety we experience," she explains. "One day we might be cutting back limbs on a massive pine tree and the next day we're grinding stumps."

While at times it might seem this career can be challenging, and it certainly can, Tadewaldt absolutely loves experiencing new situations, meeting community members and helping them, and being active for several hours a day.  

The job is physically demanding and can put your body through some wear and tear. And for safety purposes, the work you do is often limited by stormy or other adverse weather. Because of this, there are certain times of the year with a lull in project volume. 

But Tadewaldt says the rewards more than compensate for the challenges. She jokes that she and her employees don't need a gym membership. "Try hauling a chainsaw up a tree while you're climbing for several hours on end. That'll burn more calories than a treadmill could in a day!"  

If you love trees and would enjoy trimming trees and bushes professionally, an arborist job might be right for you. As is the case in landscaping and nearly all outdoor home service fields, some experience is really all you need to get your foot in the door as long as the company is bonded and insured. But the more you know, the further you'll go.

Tadewaldt makes sure each member of her team is certified by the International Society of Aboriculture, which allows them the title of Certified Arborist — a designation given only to individuals who have passed exams and work towards continuing education in the field. 

Lisa Tadewaldt quote

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Plants

Grounds maintenance workers 

Job duties: Ensure the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy 
Median salary: $29,400 ($14.13 per hour) 
Job outlook: 9% growth

Landscape architects 

Job duties:  Design parks and other outdoor spaces; prepare graphic representations of plans using CADD software; analyze environmental reports on land conditions 
Median salary: $68,230 ($32.80 per hour) 
Job outlook: 4% growth

Cassy Aoyagi is a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council and president of FormLA Landscaping, an energy-conscious landscaping company based in Los Angeles. Aoyagi studied environmental horticulture in college and started a landscaping business with her husband upon graduation. Over the years, the Aoyagis have built out their landscaping business to offer comprehensive design, build, and maintenance services. 

Her training in environmental studies sets her apart from other industry leaders. "My Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITEs) credentials have informed and enriched my approach to the work and have opened doors to influencing our industry and community," states Aoyagi. 

Her advice to other landscaping professionals? "Make sure that your crews and staff are getting the accolades and opportunities they deserve," she recommends. "While they may have the best outside jobs in the world, the elements can be rough as well as the work. Make sure they understand the big picture of what their work means to the world." 

Cassy Aoyagi quote

Other plant-focused jobs include botanists, florists, and nursery managers. 

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Recreation

Amusement and recreation attendants 

Job duties: Maintain and provide equipment to participants at recreational facilities; operate logistical procedures at sporting events; operate amusement concessions and rides 
Median salary: $22,260 ($10.70 per hour) 
Job outlook: 8% growth 

Athletes 

Job duties: Participate in sporting events to entertain spectators, including for live-streamed or other online content
Median salary: $50,650 ($24.35 per hour)
Job outlook: 6% growth 

Could you get paid to explore gorgeous coasts and unique landforms?

That's what Iain Miller does. He is a full-time professional rock climber specializing in sea stack climbing. A sea stack is a steep geological landform made up of columns of rock in the sea near a coast, and Miller paddles out to these stacks to free climb.

Miller, 49, has been hillwalking since he was 14 and rock climbing since his mid-20s. He's also worked at sea on different vessels such as bulk carriers, cable layers, and ferries, providing him a good mix of mountaineering and nautical skills which have led him to where he is now.

Apart from being a great day out, his adventures provide endless content for YouTube and other social media channels and blogs, which is a large part of this type of independent lifestyle and employment.

"When you are doing what you love doing then nothing should be a chore. Being self-employed in any profession or industry presents similar challenges to overcome, but I have found what works for me is to simply be out doing what it is I say I do — being out climbing in beautiful settings in places where few, if any, have climbed before." 

Iain Miller quote

Coaches and scouts

Job duties: Teach amateur or professional athletes 
Median salary: $33,780 ($16.24 per hour)
Job outlook: 11% growth 

As a professional golf coach and the founder of Golf Insider UK, Will Shaw helps amateurs and professionals alike to improve their game. While Shaw has a deep love of the game, people skills and business know-how are also crucial for this career.

"To excel as a coach, you have to spend time learning about golfing technique and coaching methods," Shaw says. "But on top of this, you have to be great at communicating with a wide range of people and to learn the basics of running your own business."

According to Shaw, aspiring coaches should expect to earn less than average wage when first starting out, but can expect to build a successful coaching business within 2-3 years. 

The most common route for becoming a golf coach is to take up an assistant's role at a golf club, then take a three-year Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) qualification. However, Shaw says there is no legal requirement to follow this route. There are many coaching qualifications that anyone can take, such as the certificate offered by the United States Golf Teachers Federation (USGTF). 

Will Shaw quote

Recreation workers

Job duties: Help people stay active, improve fitness, and/or have fun; may be through coordinated daytime and/or overnight activities 
Median salary: $25,060 ($12.05 per hour)
Job outlook: 8% growth

As the director of Gold Arrow Camp in California's High Sierra, Andy Moeschberger is well aware of the logistical challenges to working in nature. "You can't just quickly pop into Wal-Mart if you need some eggs," Moeschberger jokes.

But he says the challenges of his career as a summer camp director are massively offset by the benefits. From the picturesque setting to the positive energy of the youth to the freedom from technology attachment, summer camp really is one of the best places to be for kids and adults alike. 

The Moeschbergers both taught school after getting their bachelor's degrees and spent the summers working at the camp. Little by little, their responsibilities expanded until they were both working full-time at Gold Arrow Camp. He attends conferences regularly with the American Camp Association and the Western Association of Independent Camps. 

Moeschberger is confident about the future of employment for youth and young adults interested in becoming camp counselors: "If you're dedicated to camp and open about your desire to work in camping, you're going to find opportunities." 

Andy Moeschberger quote

Tour and travel guides 

Job duties: Plan, organize, and conduct long-distance or sightseeing tours, travel, or expeditions
Median salary: $26,570 ($12.77 per hour)
Job outlook: 7% growth

Kevin Rosenburg grew up in a tough neighborhood where Boy Scouts were bullied, and his family never hiked or camped, so he never had experience in the outdoors. But when he joined the military right out of high school, he came to love carrying a 75-lb pack, wearing greasepaint on his face, sleeping out under the stars and carrying an M-16. "Eventually, I realized I could leave the M-16 behind and just hike," Rosenberg explains. 

After the military trained him in survival and navigation, Rosenberg became certified as a Wilderness EMT and got his guide license from New York state. Now a mountain guide, he leads individuals and groups on arctic and sub-arctic adventure travels through his business, International Adventure Guides

As a guide, Rosenburg's biggest challenge is "being found on the web amongst a sea of white-bread tours labeling themselves as adventure travel." Weather is a close second. 

Kevin Rosenberg quote

Other recreation-focused jobs include race directors, turf managers, resort managers, and instructors for surfing, archery, skiing, and snowboarding.  

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Resource and Retail

Bicycle repairers 

Job duties: Repair and service bicycles 
Median salary: $28,960 ($13.92 per hour) 
Job outlook: 8% growth 

Fishing and hunting workers

Job duties: Locate animals to catch or hunt, sort, pack, and store for food or other purposes; follow local environmental and safety regulations
Median salary: $28,530  ($13.72 per hour) 
Job outlook: -2% decline 
Job types:

  • Fishing boat captains
  • Fishing deckhands
  • Hunters
  • Trappers

Logging workers

Job duties: Harvest forests to provide the raw materials for consumer goods and industrial products; follow protocols for correct machinery usage and environmental regulations 
Median salary: $40,650 ($19.54 per hour) 
Job outlook: -14% decline

Photographers 

Job duties: Use various techniques and equipment to capture images and video of subjects in a variety of landscapes and settings; market their work and services to clients or an employer; may shoot for a travel magazine or local tourist hot spot 
Median salary: $34,000 ($16.35 per hour) 
Job outlook: -6% decline

Retail sales workers 

Job duties: Recommend merchandise based on customer needs; promote sale and special items; process customer payments; may work in an outdoor-niche retail shop such as REI, Lands End, an outdoor gear rental shop, or a ski resort shop 
Median salary: $24,340 ($11.70 per hour) 
Job outlook: -2% decline

Writers and authors 

Job duties: Develop written content for various types of media, including books, magazines, and other digital and print media 
Median salary: $62,170 ($29.89 per hour) 
Job outlook: 0% growth (little to no change) 

Steph Young is an outdoor gear blogger at CampingCooks.com. She had been making websites for clients before wondering what would happen if she made one for herself. And it’s been a grand adventure. 

Young still consults for a marketing agency but loves that she can focus on her interests in the outdoors through volunteering for conservation groups and creating helpful and fun camping-related content on her website, which is how she makes money as an Amazon Associate. 

The biggest challenge is the ever-present demand for new content and website updates. “I could see this being a chore for someone who isn’t enthusiastic about all of these things,” Young admits. “But I love blogging, camping, and experimenting with different (and sometimes strange!) devices to cook with in my outdoor adventures, so it’s something I enjoy.”  

Steph Young quote

Paul Ronto’s career path included several twists and turns within the outdoors industry. He’s been a whitewater guide, an elk and deer hunt guide, a gear tester, an outdoor gear copywriter, a leadership event planner, and he’s worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in both their outfitting and marketing departments. 
 
While he’s had his share of adventure, there were obstacles to face. “Starting a job in the outdoor industry, like guiding or gear testing, can be tough,” says Ronto. “You need a lot of experience to gain credibility, and a lot of times it’s hard to get paid to get that experience, which means doing a lot of things on your own for no return for a time.”

Still, he says you can find a career that’s rewarding if you focus on your passion and your strengths. “Just beware, you may have to live in your car or on a friend’s couch at some point,” he warns. 
 
He’s also done marketing in the real estate sector, but has found his sweet spot in marketing for RunRepeat, an athletic footwear review site. In his role as CMO and content director, he manages a team of writers creating content on running and hiking. 
 
“I’ve tried to ignore my passion at times to find a career with better pay and titles, but I kept coming back to a feeling of unease,” Ronto explains. “If your passion is the outdoors, you have to follow it. You will feel an empty hole if you don’t!” 

Paul Ronto quote

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Safety

EMTs and paramedics 

Job duties: Respond to emergency calls as a result of car crashes, natural disasters, or acts of violence; perform medical services; transport patients to medical facilities
Median salary: $34,320 ($16.50 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth

Environmental science and protection technicians

Job duties: Monitor the environment; investigate sources of pollution and contamination; may work in an office or laboratory in addition to fieldwork
Median salary: $46,170 ($22.20 per hour) 
Job outlook: 9% growth

Firefighters

Job duties: Respond to residential, commercial, or wildfires  
Median salary: $49,620 ($23.85 per hour) 
Job outlook: 5% growth 

First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers 

Job duties: Plan, coordinate, and supervise fire fighting efforts 
Median salary: $76,330 ($36.70 per hour)
Job outlook: 5% growth 

Nolan Heaps, who works for the Idaho National Laboratory Fire Department, started his firefighting career in 2009 as a senior in high school on an engine crew for the Idaho Falls Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In that role, he did a lot of mobile initial attacks on fires on the flame front, spraying water and digging line to establish a barrier between the unburned fuel and the fire.

Some years, depending on the terrain, he and his crew wouldn't use the truck much at all, forming a hand crew and do a lot of burning, cutting with chain saws, and digging line. 

With wildland firefighting jobs, you are sent to wherever you're needed: all over the United States, Canada, and even Australia. There are multiple fire suppression jobs that fall under the umbrella of wildland firefighting: smoke jumpers, helitack, hotshots, hand crews, and engine crews. Like Heaps, people usually start off on an engine crew to get experience and some certifications and then move on to other crews such as helitack (helicopter operations) and hotshots (an elite handcrew with leadership responsibilities). 

In 2013, Heaps was assigned to a two-week job with the BLM's Bonneville Hotshots attacking some of the biggest wildfires in Idaho that summer. In 2017, he was hired on to a helitack crew in Swan Valley, Idaho. "Helitack was an amazing opportunity for me," Heaps says. "We would fly for up to seven hours a day from fire to fire helping crews with bucket drops, firing operations, and digging line to stop the spread of fire." 

The work of a wildland firefighter is just as grueling (and probably more so) than what you'd expect. You do 14–16 day operational shifts (shifts are 16+ hours long) in a row, then travel back home. You sleep on the ground wherever you are sent. For Heaps, hard work is a huge part of the appeal. He says, "It is one of the most satisfying feelings when you work that hard and can crawl into a sleeping bag at night knowing you earned that night's rest." 

As for the training required for the job, Heaps attended basic fire school and had other opportunities for professional development, eventually building up a strong knowledge base and skill set including the following:

  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification 
  • Fire behavior
  • Chain saw operation
  • Cutting line to bare mineral dirt 
  • Water pump operation
  • Technical tree felling
  • Firing operations
  • Commanding aircraft 
  • Commanding personnel 

To aspiring wildland firefighters, Heaps offers encouragement: "Don't be afraid of a challenge. It will be some of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding work you will ever do. It was a great experience for me and helped me grow as an individual." 

Nolan Heaps quote

Lifeguards, ski patrol, and other recreational protective service workers 

Job duties: Monitor recreational areas like pools, beaches, and ski slopes; work may be seasonal
Median salary: $22,410 ($10.77 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth 

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators 

Job duties: Manage a system of machines to safely and efficiently transfer or treat water or wastewater 
Median salary: $46,780 ($22.49 per hour) 
Job outlook: -5% decline

Other safety-based jobs include oil and safety gas technicians, environmental health and safety officers, fire prevention specialists, and helicopter pilots. 

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Wellness

Animal-assisted therapists 

Job duties: Assess client challenges and needs; utilize animal-assisted therapy techniques to treat symptoms; may involve equine therapy and emotional support animals 

Median salary of psychologists: $79,010 ($37.99 per hour) 
Job outlook: 14% growth 

Median salary of recreation therapists: $47,680 ($22.92 per hour) 
Job outlook: 7% growth 

Licensed mental health professional Prairie Conlon, clinical director of Therapetic and CertaPet consultant, specializes in animal-assisted therapy. Many patients experience anxiety, panic attacks, depressive symptoms, and sleep difficulties. From equine therapy to working with therapy dogs, Conlon has seen significant improvements in her patients. 

As the founder and lead researcher of Emotional Support Animal Assisted Therapy (ESAAT), a set of techniques utilized to decrease symptoms with an Emotional Support Animal, Conlon is continually working to improve upon and teach this methodology. 

Conlon has undergone extensive training to hone her expertise and craft. She has a master’s degree in professional counseling, a postgraduate degree in Military Behavioral Health Counseling, an equine-assisted psychotherapist certification, and an Accelerated Resolution Therapist certificate. Conlon also trains future trauma therapists and consults for several nonprofits for veterans and first responder trauma.

Prairie Conlon quote

Fitness trainers and instructors

Job duties: Lead, instruct, or motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities; may work at a spa, resort, clinic, or cruise line 
Median salary: $39,820 ($19.15 per hour)
Job outlook: 13% growth 

Steve Silberberg combines recreation and fitness in his business, Fitpacking. The goal is for adventurers to get fit, lose fat, and have fun on one- or two-week group expeditions led by trip leaders certified as SOLO, Wilderness Medicine Associates, Wilderness Medicine Institute, or NOLS-certified Wilderness First Responders.

Silberberg says, "I live an incredibly good and meaningful quality of life, but of course it’s no way to get rich." Still, he finds the trade-off worth it to get paid to promote fitness in the environment he loves.   

Steve Silberburg quote

Your next step in career exploration

Now that you've read about some of the incredible perks and real struggles to some of these careers, perhaps you've identified one or more you want to pursue. What next? 

Inventory your interests and strengths

Take stock of the unique skills you've developed in your education and work experience thus far. Brainstorm how you could use those skills in an outdoor career. Take a personality test if you're stumped.

Find a mentor

Identify a few individuals who are two or more steps ahead of where you are and ask if they will mentor you as you begin exploring your options. Using LinkedIn, contact pages, or in-person events to connect, reach out to those individuals with your questions and goals. You may want to look into joining a society for outdoor professionals or another networking group within your chosen niche. 

Consider a career certificate

Recently, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) partnered with three universities (Utah State University, University of Colorado Boulder, and Western Colorado University) to create the Outdoor Industry Business Certificate program which will be launched soon. It's definitely worth considering, especially if you'd like training on one of OIA's three pillar areas: 

  • Public policy
  • Increasing outdoor participation
  • Sustainable business innovation 

Other potential certifications worth looking into:

  • ed2go's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate course
  • U.S. Career Institute's Certified Personal Trainer course for passing the National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) exam 
  • Stratford Career Institute's bicycle mechanic course for entry-level employment in a bike shop or bike department at a retail store 

Support outdoor businesses 

Whether or not you decide to take a step into the unknown terrain of a new career path, you can use your knowledge of the outdoors industry to be mindful of the people behind these jobs. As you plan your adventures beyond the office, you can use your words and your wallet to support the people and policies that keep the natural world accessible and thriving for generations to come. 

The Top Career Certification Companies

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Stratford Career Institute chevron_right
2.6
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(47)
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2.2
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(19)
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1.6
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(17)

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