Today's outdoor veterans are competing for sponsors with a new breed of tech-savvy adventurers who can offer carefully curated online identities, with snappily edited videos and beautifully filtered photos offered to legions of devoted fans and followers. It's a compelling mix for the outdoor gear brands who want to make as big a splash as possible for their products. But are outdoor survival skills effectively being sacrificed for social media smarts?
"Authenticity and ambition used to go hand in hand on professional expeditions. Now, some wonder whether authenticity has been usurped by accessibility—the need to invite the world aboard, or risk being left at home" - Devon O'Neill.
An incident in Iceland just before Christmas highlighted the tensions. Four friends from the UK set off to cross Iceland on lightweight alpine-touring skis, with a film crew in tow but without any other support. A series of storms and misadventures followed, and they had to be airlifted to safety. General condemnation followed. They got slated in the local Icelandic and international press and even received death threats for what was seen as their irresponsible attitude. "Grand ambition is no substitute for common sense," sniffed one editorial in the Times.
Devon O'Neill has been exploring some of the tensions in the outdoor community between old school adventurers and this new breed of explorer for Outside magazine.