15 years ago a group of men were planning a camping trip in the middle of winter. Whilst they may have realised they’d need a four-season sleeping bag and plenty of thermals, they didn’t know they were about to embark on a journey that would change the lives of thousands of men in the UK.
This is the story of OutdoorLads, an inspiring charity on a mission to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of gay, bisexual and transsexual men, fuelled by a sense of adventure and a passion for the great outdoors.
The charity arranges over 1,500 outdoor events every year that range from camping and climbing to hiking and mountain biking. Dan Byrnes, an OutdoorLads’ member and employee, has just returned from one such event – a camping trip in the Peak District where he and 79 others celebrated the 15th Birthday of the charity. Reflecting on the milestone event, we caught up with him to discuss why the charity exists, what they’ve achieved so far and what the future holds.
What inspired the creation of OutdoorLads?
“OutdoorLads was started on an online forum, with a small group of guys talking about, and then going camping in the middle of winter. As the number of campers grew, the founding members decided to set it up as a charity to get more gay, bi and trans guys interested in outdoor pursuits, with the ultimate aim of improving physical and mental wellbeing. Since then it’s grown into its 8,500-strong membership!”
52% of LGBT people said they’ve experienced depression in the last year. Source: LGBT in Britain – Health (2018), Stonewall
OutdoorLads Danny, Adrian, and Bryan climbing in Borrowdale back in 2008.
Tell us about your favourite OutdoorLads event so far
“Well, my favourite event each year is an event we usually run in January, at YHA Skiddaw in the Lake District. A couple of hour’s walk from the nearest road, halfway up a mountain, alone with around 20 OutdoorLads in a really cosy hostel. There are great wintery walks to be had up Skiddaw and Blencathra, and in the evenings we all come together in the lounge, play board games, listen to some talented member play the almost-tuned piano, and really get to know one another.”
“The most popular event we run is our BIG Spring Camp on the late May Bank Holiday, where 500 guys camp in a rugby field in Snowdonia, and we have all sorts of activities going on around the campsite, and around Snowdonia. It’s got a real festival vibe about it.”
If you could arrange an OutdoorLads event anywhere in the world, where and what would you do?
“Well… We kind of already do that! We’re partnered with Pride Expeditions, a small company that organise and lead expeditions all over the world for LGBT people. One of their most exciting events is coming up in a few months – 6 days trekking in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal, followed by a 3-day white water rafting trip on the Kaligandaki river. I think this is along the lines of what I would arrange – so thankfully, it’s already been done!”
Some lucky OutdoorLads will be trekking the Annapurna Mountain Range in 2021.
How did the pandemic impact your charity?
“The pandemic has obviously been tough for the charity, but our members have really shown commitment to keeping OutdoorLads alive, and we’re so proud. During the first lockdown, loads of volunteers put their heads together and put on some amazing and innovative online events to keep members engaged, and to keep donations and membership coming in.”
OutdoorLads’ pop-up pub picthed and ready at their 15th Birthday camp.
What’s next for OutdoorLads?
“We want to reach every corner of Great Britain. There are still pockets of areas where we have fewer members than we’d like. Every gay, bi and trans guy into outdoor pursuits needs to have heard of OutdoorLads before we’re happy. Maybe then we’ll expand to Northern Ireland. Maybe then, the rest of the world. But… baby steps.”
“As we expand we’re always looking for more and more Leaders, and this requires a level of expertise, whatever the event type, whether it’s a leisurely bike ride along a canal or a Winter mountain walk. We’re always looking to expand our partnerships with training providers like our existing partners Plas Y Brenin and Pride Expeditions, to ensure our volunteer Leaders are as skilled as they want and need to be.”
"Since I joined OutdoorLads, I’ve found new confidence after previously feeling like an imposter in the Gay community. This has enabled me to step-up to both plan and lead events that allow other people the opportunity that I had to make new friends and learn new skills - or even uncover ones hidden by doubts!" Andy, OutdoorLads member since 2011
With every trail, crag and summit in the UK set to be conquered by OutdoorLads, we’ll be keeping a close eye on their progress as they strive to help more men improve their mental and physical health by, as their slogan suggests, ‘Getting Out More’. You can follow their journey on their Instagram and find out more about the charity and how to get involved by visiting their website.