Nowadays, when you read a phrase like “get paid to do what you love,” you probably glaze over, assuming it's a phishing scam or clickbait headline. It sounds too good to be true. But if you love camping and spending what most people would consider an excessive amount of time outdoors, it might not be all that unrealistic. I'm not malware, hear me out!
First, figure out which skills set you apart from other wilderness junkies—photography? Blogging? Carpentry? Ability to lift over 600 pounds? Anything you learned from your badass backwoods uncle will bolster your resume when it comes to these forest-dweller jobs. That includes chainsawing, laying stone, and dealing with the most savage of outdoor toilet rigs.
Next, set some expectations for yourself: it’s not going to happen overnight. If anyone could do these jobs, they probably would. Some outdoor careers are especially ambitious, like wilderness guiding or instructing, as you’ll need a decent amount of training (and money) to get certified. Even then, it can take time to break into that fairly-saturated market of dream jobs.
You might be better off spending those hours volunteering for the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail—you'll meet all the right kinds of people while racking up precious trail miles. Plus, you'll figure out—crucially—whether keeping pine trees as company is right for you.
Think you’re ready? Then check out this list of rad outdoors gigs, ranging from the weekend warrior variety to the full-on professional camper. And don’t forget to send us a postcard when you head into town for laundry day.
1. Hipcamp Field Scout
GREAT FOR: Photographers
This isn’t at the top of my list because I manage the Field Scout program here at Hipcamp; it’s at the top of my list because it’s the easiest entry point for a career in camping (okay, it’s also totally because I manage the program.) If you are an approved Field Scout, we’ll pay you $75 per property you shoot, plus allow you to camp at said property for free—it’s as simple as that. These properties are usually within an hour or two from your home, which makes this gig great for those just starting out; you only pick the assignments you want, when you want.
Oh, and did I mention that we’ll also pay you to go on cool road trips? Yeah, for real.
Getting paid to take pictures like these? That's what Field Scouting for Hipcamp is all about.
WAGES: Up to $1,000/month
GREAT FOR: Writers
There are whole guides on how to make money blogging, so I'll try to keep it short. If you live in a less-travelled area, if you're an expert on a niche outdoor activity, or if you have a situation that forces you to find specific qualities in a camping experience, you should get into blogging. Why? Because content for those topics is likely lacking, and when you fill that space with your own high-quality material, you'll quickly climb the ranks of Google. Cha-ching.
Advertising and affiliate marketing (when you link to your favorite gear on Amazon with a special URL, for example) are two easy ways to bring in funds, but bloggers increasingly use the platform to launch their own products: guide books, prints, workshops, etc.
The best part about being a blogger? As long as you can muster up access to a smartphone and wi-fi every couple of days, it's completely free. Wordpress, Medium, and Exposure.co are great places to start.
Reading up at Magical Romantic Treehouse, Petaluma.
3. Campground Host
WAGES: $500 to $800/month
GREAT FOR: Couples and dog-owners
Been living that nomadic #vanlife but ready to park it for a while? This could be the position for you. Camp hosts babysit campgrounds in national forests, national parks, and state parks throughout the country, helping guests, collecting payments, and keeping the place clean (yeah, bathrooms too.) Depending on what type of campground you’re at, you might also manage things like boat ramps and canoe rentals—that could mean first dibs on an early morning paddle.
In exchange for your help, you’ll get paid anywhere from $500 to $800 per month, as well as a free camping spot at some of the most beautiful places in the country, like Mt. Whitney in California or Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona. If the campground is pet-friendly, Fido can join too. Apply here.
Maintenance workers fly in via helicopter to swap out these outhouse barrels in the Yukon's Tombstone Territorial Park.
4. Cabin Caretaker
GREAT FOR: Creatives
To be a cabin caretaker, you’ve got to be devoted to living off the grid, yet still boast impressive interpersonal skills for the folks you do interact with (because no one wants to hang out with a creep when they’re in the middle of nowhere.) In addition to light trail work, barebones cooking, structure maintenance, and fee collection, you might have to perform camp counselor-style skits for guests. But with all that down time learning the cords to Wagon Wheel, this should be no problem, right?
A few years ago, while hiking up Colorado’s Pikes Peak, I met two lovely cabin caretakers named Ashley and Nathan. They made caretaker life at Barr Camp look extremely chill, explaining that they cared for guests, chopped wood, and baked goodies for hikers to buy as they passed through (I could have done without the garlic cookies though.) In case you start thinking this all sounds a little too chill, I’ll add that Ashley’s brother and the third caretaker, Zach, used this position to train as a North Face-sponsored ultra-runner.
A peek into Barr Camp, about a 6-mile climb to 10,000 feet elevation.
GREAT FOR: Peak-baggers
If the other items on this list are dipping your toes into the getting-paid-to-camp lifestyle, then being a ridgerunner is cannonballing into the deep end. You'll trek solo for miles at a time, greeting hikers and warding off bears, fixing trail weak spots and keeping shelters in good condition. And your calves will almost certainly resemble Cornish hens by the end of the season.
Full-time ridgerunner Andrea Powell spends 130 nights a year patrolling and maintaining the AT. Her advice for becoming a professional hiker on America’s most beloved trail? “Volunteer at your local trail clubs,” Powell tells Blue Ridge Outdoors. “Oh yeah, and a thru-hike of the AT doesn’t hurt.”
Start racking up trail miles through your local trail club.
6. Outdoor Gear Tester
WAGES: Free product
GREAT FOR: Avid backpackers
Okay, this isn’t money per se, but you’d have just spent those hard-earned bucks on new gear anyway, right? A good backpack will set you back a couple hundred bucks, but if you put in the time reviewing one while you do all the camping you would have done anyways, you’ll score it for free. Even better? You can write up all your reviews on a blog and gain notoriety in the outdoor world. (And then, maybe, just maybe, Columbia will appoint you as their next Director of Toughness.)
7. Job Boards
None of the above jobs tickle your fancy? No worries, there are plenty more out there.
- CoolWorks: For over 20 years, CoolWorks has been connecting hard-working adventurers with rad outdoor jobs at national parks, dude ranches, ski resorts, retreat centers, and summer camps.
- American Hiking Society: Some of these might be desk jobs, but there's no better place to prep for a professional hiking career.
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy: Likewise, the ATC is one of the most respected organizations in the trail industry so any job here will help you work towards a career outdoors.
- Workamper: RV and van-lifers can find tons of great jobs here.
- Camp Host: Find all kinds of public campgrounds in need of hosts.
Photos by Madison Kotack.