In decades past, suffering for the fun of it seemed integral to the mainstream definition of “outdoorsy.” To wear the moniker, one was expected to carry heavy packs in extreme conditions, or head into the wilderness alone to flirt with life-and-death scenarios. The “outdoorsy” breed climbed thousands of feet, hiked hundreds of miles and biked across whole continents.
Going outside—at least the way shows like Man vs. Wild and other extreme sports media portrayed it—was supposedly just for hard-core folks hell-bent on Type 2 fun.
But that hard-core version was never the be-all, end-all, despite its popularity on TV and in adventure magazines: For many, there has always been an emphasis on the sheer fun of getting outside. One positive side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was that more and more people felt inspired to escape their four walls with a seemingly simple neighborhood walk, seeking a respite of joy and peace. We traded house parties for group hikes, and many of us shared meals outside and tried sleeping on the dirt for the first time. Data from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) reported that 53% of Americans over age 6 participated in outdoor recreation at least once in 2020, and it’s still climbing annually, surpassing the previous highest participation rate on record. That same OIA report notes that outdoor recreation is “sticky,” meaning that “once someone begins to participate, they are likely to continue to participate.”
Maybe the pandemic highlighted something we intuitively knew all along: Going outside—whether it’s for a stroll around the block, a hike on local trails or a backpacking trip 2 miles (or 20) past the trailhead—is fun. And guess what: The outdoors wants everybody to participate.
“There’s been a really big—what we called an explosion, really—of new outdoor affinity groups that have been increasing outdoor participation and interest,” notes Amy Marks, a designer for REI Co-op. Groups are coming together based on their shared location, body type, gender identity, race or ethnicity and shared love of an activity. They spur each other to get outside to “enjoy themselves and what they can do together.”
A Collection for All
The design teams at REI believe that a life outdoors is a life well-lived, and that everyone belongs outside. That means dreaming up gear and apparel accordingly, recognizing that newcomers and experienced adventurers alike need outdoor products to be intuitive, inclusive, accessible, self-expressive—and fun. That’s exactly what the brand-new Trailmade collection is.
Nate Borne, REI director of product strategy, understands the difficulty of getting involved in a new outdoor activity. Everything from how a pack fits to how a jacket works for you may seem to require mastery of a new skill, he points out. That’s intimidating for new users—and even more experienced users may be frustrated by the rigmarole.
Take backpacks, for example. “New backpackers are very turned off and intimidated by a lot of straps and folds and pockets and features that they don’t know how to use right off the bat,” says Marks. “It can actually make them feel like they’re on the outside of some sort of club or not let in on a certain secret.”
The REI design team listened to feedback and inputs from co-op members in order to make meaningful choices so the Trailmade collection can become an instant favorite to more outdoor adventurers. For example, they removed superfluous straps from the Trailmade 60 pack (bye-bye, ice axe–carrying loops) and used color to guide pack use, so all critical fit-adjustment straps are the same distinct hue. Instructions are printed under the backpack’s top lid, offering advice about how to pack and arrange common items, noting the order to adjust the harness straps and featuring a QR code that directs users to Expert Advice backpacking tutorials for more information.
“Pretty much everyone who’s learning a new skill needs some kind of guidance,” Marks says. “We were trying to think about ways that the gear itself could help be that guide.”
And of course, making more accessible and approachable designs for some can also result in better products for all. “While we were really inspired by new backpackers, we’re creating durable products that an experienced backpacker would love,” Borne says. “The tents, the gear, the backpacks, the sleeping bags, the trekking poles … are worthy of experienced backpackers we believe will give positive reviews and really like these products.”
To ensure that the collection was hitting its marks, it underwent vigorous testing in the field. The Trailmade rain jacket, for example, saw three weeks of time in action during the design phase. “Sits well on my body and not too tight around the hips, which many women’s jackets tend to be,” one tester from Oregon reported. “The fit is great. I have full range of movement,” confirmed another, from Vermont.
Members are also noticing the collection’s performance and versatility when they hit the trails. “Put this jacket to the test in three hours of cold mountain rain at Grandfather Mountain … ,” reports one member in North Carolina. “With a warm layer underneath, it stood up to fog, mist, steady rain and 30 mph wind gusts in 30-degree wind chill.” A Wyoming-based member says that the Trailmade shorts are “perfect. They are high waisted and lightweight while still being sturdy. And they have great pockets! They don’t ride up when I walk which is rare for me.”
Beyond creating a line for all outdoor experience levels, the Trailmade team also designed the collection with a diverse range of bodies in mind. Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of gear available in extended sizes that fits correctly and safely and feels comfortable, says Marks.
As a result, every single piece in the Trailmade collection—both apparel and gear—is available in a broader range of sizes. The unisex Trailmade 20 sleeping bag comes in short, short wide, regular, regular wide, long and long wide versions. The pack comes in an extended 2X to 4X size that fits waist and hip measurements of 42 to 58 inches and is compatible with the Packmod hipbelt extender. The apparel is also available in a wide range of sizes: Trailmade fleece pants, for example, are available up to men’s XXXL and women’s 3X.
And not only does the gear fit a range of body types, it fits a variety of aesthetic preferences too (not just those partial to khaki). Many items are available both in classic blues, greens and teals as well as bold, statement-making oranges and vivid, leafy prints. “We wanted to make sure we had the right kind of styling and colors,” says senior product manager Tim Brown, highlighting the line’s mix-and-match capability so people “can express themselves through this collection.”
Of course, the Trailmade products have to meet performance and sustainability standards too. The team incorporated tried-and-true technologies like the simple-yet-effective X-pole setup system in the Trailmade 1 tent with footprint. The Trailmade shirt features UPF 50 sun protection and tear-resistant stretch fabric. Nearly all items in the collection feature bluesign®-approved materials, and many also include recycled components and repurposed scrap material. The Trailmade fleece vests, for example, are made with 100% postconsumer recycled content.
Even with all of these performance and sustainability features packed in, items in the Trailmade collection still come in at an approachable price point.
“They’re products we’re really proud of,” Borne adds. They’re affordable, conscious, intentionally designed, inclusive and exciting. The Trailmade collection is an invitation for everyone to join us outdoors.
No suffering necessary.