Spend five minutes scrolling through Instagram and chances are you’ll encounter at least a few photos (if not dozens) of people on mountaintops. We all know the image — hands spread wide, ear-to-ear grins and truly breathtaking horizons spilling out behind the subjects.
It’s no secret that social media invites us to put our best foot forward, to pick the most flattering angle. But Tyler Lau would also like us to consider what’s unseen in those images. How did that person get there? What sacrifices did they make?
“Nobody plops up on a mountaintop without being sweaty and dirty,” he says. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices, but it’s different what each of you has to sacrifice.”
The level of sacrifice required for each individual depends on a host of factors, including socio-economic status, access to mentors and gear, and time availability, among others.
Historically, outdoor recreation has been reserved for those with wealth and leisure time, reinforcing a stereotype that the people who belong on mountaintops are white cis gendered males.
It’s essential that this narrative gets changed, say Tyler and the other founding members of a new nonprofit, @unfiltertheoutdoors.
Beginning with $400 microgrants for current and aspiring BIPOC hikers, @unfiltertheoutdoors aims to advance diversity and equity, and narrow the financial and mentorship gap for underrepresented individuals.
The microgrants can be applied toward any multi-day adventure, from a series of local day hikes to someone’s first overnight backpacking trip to a longer trek.
“If we’re trying to change the narrative, it doesn’t have to be this big hike across the country,” says Tyler. Maybe a recipient will use the microgrant to visit a local state park for the first time, he offers by way of example, and use the funding to pay for gas, food, a tent and a park pass.
So far the response to the microgrants has been overwhelming — both in the positive sense and also in revealing the extent of the need.
@unfiltertheoutdoors initially announced the availability of 10 $400 microgrants (in part funded by Garage Grown Gear and several of the small brands sold on our platform). In the intervening week, private donations have made another 11 microgrants possible, bringing the total number up to 21. But with 800 plus applicants and counting, the need still heavily outweighs available resources.
“This microgrant doesn’t solve racism in the outdoors, it doesn’t solve inequity in the outdoors, it’s one step,” says Tyler, in the same way that every thru-hike begins with a single step.
For Tyler, the first person of color to complete the calendar year Triple Crown, the lack of support and understanding shown to BIPOC hikers is personal. Whether thru-hiking, working on conservation projects, teaching trail building classes or fighting wildland fires, he’s often the only person in any given group who looks different.
“A lot of the conversations I want to have, I can’t have because people don’t understand. It’s a culture of white supremacy,” he says. “It’s important to have different stories, different narratives, different perspectives and to have a safe space for people in the outdoors.”
Tyler grew up two hours from the Pacific Crest Trail, but without role models in his community. He didn’t become aware of the trail’s existence until he was an adult. “Wait?! What?!” he remembers saying to a friend. “This thing goes from Mexico to Canada. I’ve never heard of it.”
Tyler first hiked the PCT in 2016. To pull it off, he worked 3 or 4 jobs throughout the winter and lived a very frugal lifestyle. As a seasonal worker in the conservation field, taking a summer off to thru-hike meant foregoing the lion’s share of his annual income. “I had to choose between making a living and … living,” he recalls.
Eventually, @unfiltertheoutdoors hopes to fund longer thru-hikes for people from underrepresented communities, as well as facilitate workshops and training retreats.
“We want to make the right impact and I think microgrants right now is one answer, a method to move the conversation forward and help provide opportunities to people. But three years from now, it would be great to have a full thru-hiking scholarship,” Tyler says. “We don’t want to just throw money at an issue. We want it to be genuine and have meaningful impact. We want it to be for the community.”
“We’re humanizing this,” Tyler adds. "This is us unlearning and learning, this is about listening, about answering a call for change and this is us telling human stories."
How to Get Involved!
> Click here to donate to the microgrant program! For every $400 raised between now and July 10th, an additional microgrant will be awarded!
> Click here to apply for a microgrant and learn more about the program! The application deadline is July 3rd, and recipients will be announced July 10th.