Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
This quote is a bit overused and might even be considered a cliché, but Mr. Twain wasn’t lying, even when it comes to us hikers. That’s right, you can get paid to lace up your boots, explore trails, and sleep under the stars.
And much of the time, it won’t feel like work.
So, whether you find work guiding hikes deep into the backcountry, get hired to fight fire in the wildland, or make a living through a hiking blog or YouTube channel, there’s plenty of money to be made wandering trails and exploring the great outdoors.
So stay tuned, and I’ll dive into the 10 best ways you can get paid to hike and make money living out your dream.
Let me start by telling you how I get paid to hike (and travel).
In 2018, I started traveling the world, crushed a few hikes along the way, and launched this website. My blog started off as more of a hobby than a career and I wasn’t making significant money right away.
But with experience and patience came wisdom and money. Since my blog’s launch, I’ve learned my way around the industry and turned this website into a passive money-making machine. I make a full time living doing what I love, and I’m incredibly grateful for every moment.
So, how exactly does this blog make money?
I recommend hiking-and-travel-related gear, products, and services to my readers throughout my posts. When they click tracked affiliate links for these products and make a purchase, I receive a small commission from the seller. Here are a few of my best-earning articles:
- 7.9 lb Ultralight Backpacking Gear List
- Best Personal Item Bags for Underseat Travel
- Best Ultralight Tents for Backpackers & Thru-Hikers
- Ultra-Minimalist Packing List for a Week
- Best Waterproof Backpacks to Keep Your Gear Dry
- Van Life Essentials + Packing List
I’m not the only blogger who gets paid to hike, either. Not by a long stretch. There are many other successful hiking bloggers who generate income through their websites as well.
Resource: How to Start a Travel & Hiking Blog
If you’re passionate about the outdoors and want to help protect local and national parks for a living, consider a career as a park ranger. There’s a bit of schooling involved and the job market is fairly competitive, but that’s to be expected for such a rewarding gig.
Park rangers responsibilities include:
- Leading hikes and tours of park grounds
- Patrolling parks and enforcing rules and regulations
- Coordinating park restoration efforts
- Performing search and rescue missions
- Providing first-aid and emergency medical assistance
Sure, there’s a lot more to being a park ranger than just hiking, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a daily dose of outdoor time and fresh air. As a park ranger, you’ll get paid to protect our precious lands, and hiking will be a big part of it.
Resource: How to Become a Park Ranger
Long-distance hiking and backpacking is a fascinating lifestyle, which is why many outdoor lovers have found success writing about their unique expeditions into the wilderness.
A vivid account of your hiking experience will give readers an intimate glimpse into your experience exploring the great outdoors. The more courageous, challenging, and life-changing your adventure, the better.
Here are a few of the most well-known and widely-read hiking memoirs on the market:
- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
- The Free Outside: A Trek Against Time and Distance by Jeff Garmire
- Thirst: 2,600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek
Writing and selling a successful book will not be a quick or easy process. First and foremost, you’ll need to live out a hiking adventure that excites and inspires people. After that, get ready for loads of brainstorming, long hours at the computer, sending pitches to publishers, and a thoughtful marketing strategy.
Resource: Fast-Draft Your Memoir
Though the market to guide hikes and backpacking trips is very competitive, it’s entirely possible to land a guiding job or start your own tour company.
Getting a job with a hiking company will likely take some time and a little luck. There aren’t many guiding jobs to begin with, and competition for open positions tends to fill them quickly. As with any other job, put together a stellar resume, nail your interview, and be ready to work your way up from the bottom.
Or, if you’d rather call the shots, you can always launch your own hiking tour company. Doing so will take plenty of hiking and backpacking experience, rock-solid people skills, and a strong desire to build a business from scratch. It’s ambitious, but it’s also completely doable.
I’ve guided one backpacking trip, a ten-day adventure of Patagonia’s ‘O’ Circuit, and it was an unforgettable experience. The client reached out to me through this blog, even though I wasn’t advertising guiding in any way. The power of blogging!
Resources: Find a Hiking Job Online or Start Your Own Hiking Tour Company
Do you like unpredictable travel, exploring nature for weeks at a time, and protecting the environment? If so, put wildland firefighting on your career radar right away.
A teacher of mine once described wildland firefighting as high-speed landscaping. His assessment seems to be dead on. Here are some of the day-to-day duties of a wildland firefighter:
- Digging out firelines (removing trees, brush, and other fuel from potential burn areas)
- Executing prescribed burns to firelines
- Fixing and maintaining firefighting equipment
- Backcountry navigation and route-finding
Wildland firefighters work long schedules — think 70+ hours a week! — but are usually compensated very well for their work. They can often earn a year’s salary in just one season of around four to six months. Because of this, wildland firefighting is extremely competitive, much like many of the other hiking-related jobs on this list.
To be considered for a wildland firefighting position, you must take the necessary courses, be in exceptional physical condition, and be willing to travel at a moment’s notice, for weeks or even months at a time.
Resource: How to Become a Wildland Firefighter
If hiking is your passion and you have a significant online presence — think blogging, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. — outdoor companies will often pay you to promote their brand.
These outdoor brands want to get their products in front of potential customers and use well-known online figures to do so. These internet personalities then promote products and get compensated by companies with free gear, money, or both.
Relying on sponsorships to make a full-time living isn’t realistic unless you’re a big name in the hiking community. That said, there’s plenty of free gear and money out there for hikers willing to pitch products in return.
Want to get sponsored for your hike, but don’t have an online presence? Start a blog or YouTube channel, fire up some social media accounts, and start making a name for yourself.
Anyone with a camera and an internet connection can post videos to YouTube, and hikers and backpackers from all over the world are doing so. Some of these YouTubers have become very well-known in the outdoor community, and are making a living creating videos about what they love.
Here are a few hiking and backpacking YouTubers you may have heard of:
Similar to the way I make money blogging, these YouTubers earn their livings through affiliate marketing. They recommend gear and services during their videos, viewers click the product links and make a purchase, and the creators receive a small commission of the final sale.
Getting ‘famous’ as a hiking and backpacking YouTuber won’t happen overnight, though, so expect to put in a lot of time if you intend on making a full-time living from your channel. Filmmaking has a pretty steep learning curve, so get your camera out, start filming, and begin the process sooner rather than later.
Resource: 10 Tips for Starting a YouTube Channel
Are you a passionate hiker and backpacker who also happens to be an above-average writer?
If so, there are blogs, magazines, and gear companies out there that will pay you, often handsomely, for your copy. Here are a few:
- Hiking Gear Lab
- Outdoor Sports Guide
- Switchback Travel
- Backpacker Magazine
- National Geographic Traveler
Freelance writing pay is all over the map, ranging from five cents a word for smaller publications to over a dollar a word for more well-established ones. As a general rule, the better writer and negotiator you become, the more you’ll get paid.
It just so happens that I’m hiring freelance writers to share their best trip write-ups, gear recommendations, and hiking advice with the world. Click the link below if you’re interested in writing for my ultralight backpacking and minimalist travel blog!
Resource: Write for The Packable Life
So, maybe freelance writing isn’t your thing, but you have a nice camera and enjoy snapping quality photos on your hikes from time to time.
Good news: there’s money to be made in outdoor photography, as well.
There are loads of different ways you can go about getting paid for your hiking photography, so my advice is to put your pictures in front of an audience and see what sticks. Here are a few popular methods hikers and backpackers use to get paid for their photography:
- Sell your photos on stock websites
- Reach out to magazines, websites, and outdoor companies
- Sell prints of your work online
- Create an online outdoor photography store
In the meantime, get your hands on a quality camera, explore some trails, and start snapping away. There’s money to be made in the backcountry!
NOLS, or National Outdoor Leadership School, is a non-profit wilderness-based education program that teaches by immersing students into the great outdoors.
Typically several weeks in length, NOLS programs are aimed towards teens and young adults looking to gain confidence, courage, and leadership by way of the backcountry. With courses available across six continents, there’s no shortage of destinations students and instructors can choose from.
Here are some activities you can expect to find throughout the various NOLS courses:
- Rock Climbing
- Skiing & Snowboarding
To become a paid field instructor, you must first complete a NOLS Instructor Course, which will prepare you to lead your own group of students through the wilderness while teaching them new skills along the way. After completing the course, you’ll be eligible to apply for jobs within the company.
There’ll be nonstop hiking, backpacking, and outdoor opportunities throughout your experience and, though the pay isn’t incredible, the experience you’ll gain as a NOLS instructor should be extremely gratifying.
Resource: Become a NOLS Instructor
The savvy hikers and backpackers who make money traversing trails and sleeping under the stars didn’t end up in their line of work by accident. They made the choice to pursue an exciting life in the backcountry that’ll fund their adventures for years to come.
Now, the choice is yours.
Which fulfilling hiking job opportunity are you going to go after? Will you pursue a career as a travel and hiking blogger? Will you start up your own backpacking YouTube Channel? How about getting your own guiding company off the ground?
Whichever dream hiking job you choose to chase, go for it with everything you’ve got.
Because who wants their job to feel like work, anyway?
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Last Updated on August 4, 2023