How Outdoor Afro Celebrates Black Connections and Leadership in Nature


As an outdoor enthusiast and conservationist, Rue Mapp often found herself being the only person of color on scheduled outdoor excursions like guided hikes. Though there has been a recent push to make the outdoors more accessible and more welcoming to groups that aren’t traditionally thought of as outdoor enthusiasts, getting involved in a hobby where no one looks like you can be incredibly daunting. 

Mapp had grown up living an outdoor lifestyle and knew firsthand that Black communities often struggled with gaining access to outdoor spaces and activities, due partially to the cost of purchasing gear.

In 2009, Mapp founded the not-for-profit group Outdoor Afro, a group that “inspires Black connections and leadership in nature,” located in Oakland, California. What started as a blog has now become one of the leading organizations for black individuals to meet in nature. With year-round opportunities to get outside, Outdoor Afro offers learning opportunities through education, conservation, and recreation. Outdoor Afro has grown significantly since 2009, now offering over 1,200 outdoor programs a year and having networks in 32 states and Washington D.C.

Since founding Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp has participated in America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, as well as former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative. In 2019, Mapp was a National Geographic Fellow, as well as a National Wildlife Federation Communication Award Recipient (alongside Bill Clinton). In 2022, she published her first book, Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors

Image by Outdoor Afro and REI Co-Op

In 2021, Mapp revisited her fashion, art, and design background and began the for-profit side of Outdoor Afro, Inc. The creation of Inc. was to inspire Black community connections to the outdoors through products designed to give users a premium outdoor experience. Mapp had noticed that it was hard to find fit, fashion, and functionality all in the same garments and outdoor gear. In partnership with REI Co-Op, Mapp has created two lines of technical hike apparel with insights from the Black community. Many of the products that Mapp used were designed in part by other members of the Black community, creating solutions to problems Mapp had found with existing products on the market. Outdoor Afro Inc. has partnerships with Keen, SmartWool, Parks Project, ENO, as well as REI

Mapp’s work has now reached over 60,000 people, creating new connections between people and the land and creating safer and more sustainable environments. With her launch of Outdoor Afro Inc., Mapp is hoping to address cultural and financial barriers to getting Black communities outdoors, such as the purchasing of gear and outdoor equipment. 
Outdoor Afro’s 2023 collaboration with REI Co-Op offers 16 original pieces focusing on meeting the needs of the Black community in ways that outdoor gear hasn’t in the past. With items for both men and women, this collection offers a variety of vibrant colors and comfortable-fitting items that don’t compromise style. REI and Outdoor Afro have now been working together for 15 years and have widely advocated for and discussed the  Black outdoor experience.

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