Experiences working in the Outdoor Industry?

I would love to hear from anyone who has experience designing in-house for outdoor gear companies. It’s the golden dream job for me right now and I am trying to decide if it’s worth $100k for a second degree. (My undergrad was sculpture but I have had two internships in I.D.)

How did you get to where you are? Where did you study? Could you land an entry level job in the Outdoor Industry, or did you garner xp somewhere else? Do you get to test your products in the field on company sponsored trips?


I think I’ve read every post on this forum with the words “Outdoor Gear” or “Outdoor Design”! What a great forum!

Thanks for your time!

I would say it pretty much depends on the company and type of products they develop.

Is it a large scale company? Are their products diverse enough, many different or one or two core products?

My ID or lets say Product Design carreer started some 7 years ago in a small outdoor sports equipment company.
They were and still are creating top grade products, like kite surfing and paragliding sports equipment.

Unfortunately what I missed a lot during my time in-house was a true design team departent or understanding for product design, like you have in classic Product design studios or bigger sports equipment firms, with design departments.
Their department is still in R&D (Research and Development), and only one graphic design person. All other projects were done outside the company with freelancers.

That said, versatility of products you can work on will be limited to the core products of the company. I had the feel that I am stuck in professional development and needed a change into a more complex problem solving direction.

What I did later is switch to a classic Product design studio, where I still work. It allows you to learn a lot more on product & industrial design, in multi-disciplinary projects. It is really a “skill improver” experience. Since, you would be working with likewise people and a broad range of projects, it surely will not get boring as the years go by.

Should you then decide to work in a bit more specialized field, then all the experience you gathered from a product design studio will come into place.

So my advice is to first start out in a general field, working on a wide range of projects, including sports equipment if possible. After a while you will have a feel for which direction your carreer should take. In case you deffinately want to start the outdoor company path, be sure to first check the design department structures, by doing an internship.

Good luck!

I would like to hear from some more people on this as well. Thanks for your story stv.

Outdoor recreation is one of my favorite pursuits, it’s become a necessity to me and I’ve long thought that if there was a way to combine my love for design with my love for the outdoors, I’ll be happy for the rest of my life. Long shot, but I imagine being a design tester/consultant for backcountry equipment. Live off the grid and get to improve the products with my feedback, I don’t think I could ever tire of that.

Perfectly timed post. I am in the same boat but studied architecture instead. I would love to be part of the r&d for ice hockey or outdoor equipment like fly-fishing. One of the things I did was send out a lot of e-mails to the actual companies I was interested in and asked a lot of questions. I did get a lot of no responses. However the few times I did get a response, a lot of them were looking for someone locally who had a lot of experience both in the field and selling the equipment.
I think you should make a list of all the companies you would be interested in working for and send send them e-mails. A lot of them also have job boards so you can see what kind of experience and education they have.
Best of luck.

Stv- Thank you for the thoughtful response, it’s great to hear your background and that sounds like really wise advice. I am absolutely interested in working for a company that has a design department, at least 2 or 3 other designers that I can learn from. Patagonia, Northface, Mtn Hardware, Marmot, any company that designs a range of technical gear (of course if it’s in the outdoor industry I’ll take anything I can get at the beginning).

Like yssagul, I think it would be awesome to merge interests and be constantly testing my work even when I’m on a vacation adventure. It seems reasonable to assume that these jobs are pretty sought after. Trying to career plan so I can be there in 5 or so years; it would be great if anyone else could chime in!