Katherine Donnelly | 07.24.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Allie Kresen.

For this Woman In The Wild, it all started with growing up in beautiful West Virginia and leading freshman orientation trips into the outdoors while in university. Now she's hooked on sharing the wonders of nature with those around her and she is now the Grassroots Program Director for Outdoor Women's Alliance. Get the full scoop below.

Just taking in all this desert beauty! Photo by Devan Perdue.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Allie Kresen is.

Allie Kresen: I was born and raised in the rolling hills of West Virginia, where I still currently live. I feel very lucky to have grown up around a culture that shows younger generations the value of spending time outdoors. West Virginia gets a pretty bad rep from the rest of the world, but everything I am today I owe to the forests, rivers, and mountains of this wild and wonderful state.

I love to backpack, hike, and paddleboard. I am always on the hunt for new swimming holes and consider myself a rope swing connoisseur!

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Allie Kresen: I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child, but I didn’t realize at that time that I could make a career out of it. After my freshman year of college, I worked for a program called Adventure West Virginia through my university. Hired on as student leaders, we led freshmen orientation trips around the state that included rock climbing, backpacking, hiking and whitewater rafting. I worked for that program for two years, and it greatly impacted the path I was on. I finally had a moment of clarity when I realized I could connect passion with career — and the rest is history.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Allie Kresen: I think it’s necessary to pay tribute to the amazing women who have come before me who have made this possible in the first place. Emma Rowena (also known as Grandma Gatewood), who was the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone, paved the way for the many who came after her. Clare Marie Hodges, the first commissioned female national park ranger, let women know they they, too, could find a career in the outdoors. There are a million more, but for the sake of the length of this article, I’ll leave it there. I feel honored to get to follow the trail they blazed and carry the flame onward!

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Allie Kresen: I’m not able to explain all of the things the outdoors has done for me. It has given me confidence, introduced me to true beauty, and given me a freedom I would otherwise not have known. It would be pretty impossible to pay that back, but I try! I obviously do my best to follow Leave No Trace principles, but I also try to show others the beauty in the world and explain why it is important to treat it well. I do a lot of volunteering in my local community as well, which helps me to feel like I am making a small difference. 

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Allie Kresen: I am incredibly blessed with insanely strong women to look up to in my family. I have my mother, who has set a shining example of what it means to live meaningfully and put as much good out into the world as is possible. I also have my sister, who has shown me to never be scared in the face of adversity, to stand my ground in my beliefs, and to know myself above and through all. I can’t say enough amazing things about those two.

Outside of family, Shannon Arbogast, who always let me complain before lighting a fire under my butt, has been a guiding light on my journey to a career in the outdoors. (Forever thankful for you three, if you’re reading this!)

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Allie Kresen: Luck! Just kidding (sort of). Perseverance. There will be days where you question everything and think, “Why am I putting myself through this,” but if you stick them out, you look back on those days fondly.

I sent my resume in to Outdoor Women’s Alliance probably three times before it stuck; keep trying until you find the right fit and until it pays off. I know I have a long way to go, still, and hopefully with that perseverance (and luck) I can continue to make it happen!

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Allie Kresen: “Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong. Keep your mind set. Keep your hair long,” from the song “Keep Your Head Up” by Ben Howard. I listened to that song for the first time in the car on the way down the mountain following a pretty rough backcountry experience. It still resonates with me just as much when I hear it now!

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Allie Kresen: In a perfect world, the outdoor community and culture would be as welcoming as everyone pretends it already is. As thankful as I am to be a part of the outdoor world, there is certainly a feeling of elitism surrounding outdoor recreation. I wish this would fade away going forward so that more people feel like they have the ability to dip their toes in the water. I think, to achieve that, it is important to see a wide diversity in people participating in these activities — ethnicities, genders, skill levels, size, etc. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without? 

Allie Kresen: A water bottle. 

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products? 

Allie Kresen: Oh man — mostly hate it. I am an active woman, which means that I need pants that fit the thighs that carry me up mountains and shirts that fit the shoulders that pull me up rock walls. 

One company that I really think nails it (especially when it comes to hiking pants) is Prana. I am obsessed with the pants I have from there — so comfy and practical. For base layers, mid-layers, and basic shirts I usually go with REI’s brand, which is a good fit for me. 

When it comes to clothing, I wish more companies would just think about the bodies they are trying to outfit. It is funny to see gear that is totally unnecessarily gender-categorized, like headlamps and chalk bags. It feels like companies think, “Oh let’s throw some hot pink on this one so the ladies know it’s for them!” 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Allie Kresen: Kind of corny, but being told that “it’s never too late to change your mind” has been really helpful for me as I navigate through life. I changed my major in undergrad probably five times, and having the support of my family made those transitions a lot less daunting. Just knowing I always have the ability to sort of say “Nevermind, this isn’t for me,” has been powerful and helped me keep looking forward.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Allie Kresen: For me personally, I try to keep it pretty real on social media. My life is absolutely not all high-res pictures of amazing things I’ve accomplished. It is cooking dinner with my fiance, playing with my cats, spending time with the people I love and getting to do awesome stuff outside. I get frustrated sometimes because I get in my own head and think I’m a “poser” outdoorswoman because my Insta doesn’t look as perfectly curated as some of the women I follow. I have to remind myself that I can’t compare my life and love to anyone. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years? 

Allie Kresen: Who knows? Not to sound too cliché, but I really do enjoy living life as it comes. The only certainty right now is that I am getting married next year and we are making the move out of West Viriginia — but we still don’t even know where yet! If everything continues leading me in the direction I’m headed now, I will continue to be blessed to work in the outdoors and grow my passions! 

OP: The title of your autobiography would be... 

Allie Kresen: First Backpacking, Then Burritos.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Allie Kresen: Probably a cat: They have little spurts of being hyper and crazy running back and forth and then sleeping in sunny spots. Sounds like the life for me! 

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Allie Kresen: Pretty embarrassing, but in the spirit of being truthful, I have the worst guilty pleasure in the world! I love reality TV shows. I really revel in the mess that is fabricated drama made to look real. Give me a bowl of popcorn and a season of Real Housewives of New Jersey and I’m set for the day! 

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be? 

Allie Kresen: Don’t feel pressured to change or grow faster than you are able to! Be happy and proud of where you are and what you’re doing and the growth will come naturally.

Learn more about Allie by following her on Instagram, and check out Outdoor Women's Alliance both online and on Instagram.


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