Outdoor Lads is a friendly group of gay, bisexual and trans men who get together to enjoy adventures and activities in the great outdoors. Their events are run by volunteers all over the UK as well as organising expeditions worldwide. Chris Jepson went along to meet some of its members and hear more about Outdoor Lads’ mission to help gay men ‘Get out more!’.
Special report: Words and photos by ChrisJepson.com
With over 2,000 members and some 1,500 events a year across the UK, OutdoorLads (ODL) can truly lay claim to the moniker ‘something for everyone’. Founded in 2006 by a group of guys in the north west who found they had limited opportunities to mix and mingle with other gay men interested in outdoor pursuits, ODL soon spread nationwide to become the huge network it is today.
With a mission to support gay, bisexual and trans men to get together and enjoy outdoor pursuits, OutdoorLads is a haven for men who have a shared love of the outdoors or just want to #GetOutMore whether their interest is sailing, climbing, walking, cycling, forming new friendships or just a shared mutual passion for the outdoors.
Christian moved to the UK from Cologne in Germany and went on an ODL outdoor hike with a friend. Eleven years later he is their social leader, has hiked, cycled, climbed, camped, skied and even found himself on a surfboard in Snowdonia. Travelling around the UK with OutdoorLads on hostel and hiking weekends has truly contributed to him making the UK his home and a place he loves to live in. Things he loves about ODL include, “the people, everybody is very welcoming”, the variety of events, “in a swimming club you do just swimming, [in ODL] you can find a large variety of activities suitable for everyone from a gentle leisure walk up to climbing a mountain”.
Neil, a member for 9 years, discovered ODL on a boiling hot day at Manchester Pride when he received a soaking from one of their members’ water pistols and has since been hiking, camping, on hostel weekends, kayaking and bouldering (a form of rock climbing without the use of ropes or harnesses). He cites OutdoorLads as being particularly formative in his adult life, “I remember when I was younger not having the confidence to do these sorts of activities. D of E [the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme] was something the other kids did, not me as I didn’t have the confidence. The biggest impact ODL has had for me is to get me to do those things now as an adult. It stretches me in new ways as I try things I never thought possible, or possible for me. It’s given me confidence, encouragement and a lot of fun.”
For Dom, a keen bouldering and climbing event leader, he wanted to get back into climbing after a break of several years and he finds other LGBTQ sports clubs to be more competitive, taking part in leagues and other competitions whereas ODL, he says, “is more for people who are looking to try out new hobbies and activities, and if you are interested in taking it to a higher level there are members who can help you progress or advise you further”.
One positive, and unexpected benefit he mentions, is that “sport and ODL has helped me through some difficult periods of my life and I am grateful of the support that has been provided.” Surely a raison d’etre that any community group should aspire too?
In just 4 years of membership, Philip has been bouldering, climbing, camping, canoeing, cycling, hiking, to hostels, kayaking, mountaineering and overseas expeditions, and finds ODL has provided an opportunity go get back out there and enjoy things I hadn’t done for 20 years.
“It’s had a positive impact on my life as I’ve become more active doing things that I enjoy,” while adding, “it’s friendly and provides a wide range of activities and a social network not just locally but nationwide.”
OutdoorLads is a registered charity with objectives that include the promotion of equality and diversity and to eliminate discrimination in relation to gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender persons by advancing education and raising awareness of issues affecting said persons.
As a member of 7 years and now a trustee, Matt joined ODL to carry on the climbing he had done at university and counts other members as some of his best friends.
Fellow trustee Neil is responsible for 300 volunteer leaders and keen to point out that ODL is “an organisation that is successful because of all of the amazing volunteer leaders who give up their time to create great events for our members be that a walk, a climb or a weekend away. The leaders are the life blood of the organisation and we couldn’t do it without them, so a VERY big thank you to all of them.”
Academic research has been published which evidences the positive impact of the outdoors on individual’s wellbeing and those who are living with depression, and OutdoorLads has been at the forefront sharing these evidence-based resources which may encourage more guys to sign up to get outside, make new friendships and boost their wellbeing.
Christian sums up another perfect reason to try OutdoorLads when he says, “being a member at ODL taught me it’s never too late to try something new. If you ask me in 10 years again about ODL I am sure I can add a number of other things I did with ODL I haven’t imagined doing.”
With Neil adding, ODL has “the same common purpose as all of our other LGBTQ organisations – to bring members of our community together to try new things, meet new friends and enjoy things that are different to just a bar or a club.”
If you fancy some OutdoorLads action, their BIG Summer Camp is on 23rd August. You can find them online at outdoorlads.com or on social media: