“Life is either a daring experience or nothing at all.” — Helen Keller
“The word experience has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong—that’s when experience starts.” — Yvon Chouinard
Those famous quotes don’t have quite the same ring when you replace “adventure” with “experience,” do they?
This sounds like a joke, but it isn’t: The travel division of Recreational Equipment Inc. is changing its name from REI Adventures to REI Experiences because it wants to grow to three million clients a year and it fears people will be intimidated and scared off by the word “adventure.”
In an interview with Outside Business Journal, Mark Seidl, the divisional vice president of REI Experiences, said, “We found there were a lot of people who instantly don’t think ‘adventure’ applies to them, even if they want to experience the outdoors. People hear ‘adventure’ and think that means summiting Everest or something like that, and that we’re not for them. We want to offer outdoor experiences to everyone at all levels, from transformational hikes in Sedona to summiting Mount Shasta, and ‘experiences’ conveys that.”
One of the great signs of progress for the outdoor culture is that a skinny white dude on the top of the mountain is no longer considered the epitome of adventure. An epitome, perhaps, but not the only one. Historically, the adventure recreation culture has not been welcoming to those who look different from the folks walking the aisles at Outdoor Retailer or who approach the outdoors in, say, a less sweaty manner. The fact that women, people of color, and other non-white, non-cis individuals are underrepresented in outdoor brands and their marketing is just one proof that much more needs to be done.
But…experience? Scrolling on your phone is an experience. Writing Stranger Things fan fiction is an experience. Sleeping is an experience.
In the last 84 years, REI has grown tremendously by serving and catering to the outdoor adventure lifestyle. As it notes on its blog, “It started with an ice axe.” In 2021, the brand earned $3.7 billion in revenue, opened eight new stores, and added 1.4 million members. Adventure is in its DNA, and it has introduced the joy of outdoor life to countless thousands of people. Why would it abandon the most important element of its identity—just to grow even more?
And it’s condescending, even insulting, to suggest that the millions of people it’s not reaching now can’t handle the idea of adventure. That non-REI people have to be spoon-fed experiences and treated gently. Adventure is aspirational, and anyone can have one on any given day. People just need to be encouraged, supported, given the tools, and shown the path. They don’t need the path paved.
Ah, well, what do I know? REI will probably kill it with this move, and maybe I’m making something out of nothing. There’s a reason, after all, that REI CEO Eric Artz makes $4.5 million a year and I don’t. There’s a reason that REI grew 36 percent in 2021 and Adventure Journal has to beg for subscribers. Perhaps REI sees “adventure” as a gatekeeping word that needs to be removed. Perhaps “experience” is just what the modern, Tiktok-y world wants. Perhaps it’s time for the ice axe to be replaced by a selfie stick.
But when I walk into an REI and check out backpacks or run my hands along the camp chairs, I’m not thinking, hey, an experience is in order. I’m thinking, man, I haven’t camped in months. Or I’m gonna zip home and ride my mountain bike. Or maps!—I wanna do the PCT! I’m thinking about adventure, and adventure is one of the greatest gifts of life. However you define it—bird watching or big wave bodysurfing—adventure offers novelty, challenge, and excitement. It can make you stronger, more resilient, more open-hearted. It can mold you into someone new and better and change the direction of your life in uncountable positive ways. And life, Helen Keller really said, “is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
In case you’re wondering, we are not changing our name to Experience Journal.
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