Katherine Donnelly | 06.27.2018

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 Justine Nobbe.

There's a lot to be said about the power of tenacity and passion, and this Woman In The Wild is living proof. And if you've ever thought that a pregnant woman or mother wouldn't be able to keep up come adventure time, think again, and check out her nonprofit, Adventure Mamas. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Andrea Laughery.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Justine Nobbe is.

Justine Nobbe: Wife. Mama x1. Born in the Midwest. Nomadic but base camped in Utah. Rock climber, bike tourer, backpacker, and outdoor shenanigan seeker. Founder and Executive Director of Adventure Mamas Initiative, a nonprofit organization supporting maternal wellness through adventure.

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

Justine Nobbe: Growing up in the Midwest, I literally had no idea that spending my life as a semi-nomadic, dirtbaggin', outdoor enthusiast was an option. When I was in college, I read Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” and it blew my mind. It was my first real exposure to an outdoor-oriented alternative lifestyle, and it provided me with a novel framework to assess my goals and trajectory. After reading that book, I was sold. I was entirely committed to pursuing the outdoors…even if I had no idea where to start.

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

Justine Nobbe: To be honest, early in my outdoor career, it never occurred to me that it was an anomaly to be a woman in the outdoor industry. Where I come from, this lifestyle as a whole was an anomaly—making gender irrelevant. I was also fortunate to have a lot of strong women surrounding me as I built my life around the outdoors. But, after becoming a mother (a uniquely woman-centric experience), I realized that there were acute barriers that kept me from feeling like I still belonged. So much had changed and felt foreign: my body, the available time and energy I had, my responsibilities, my sense of responsibility, society's expectations surrounding my new roles. Plus, there were few role models demonstrating that you can be a mother and a serious outdoor enthusiast. But motherhood has left me more empowered than ever. So for me, being a woman and a mother in the outdoor industry means bringing new, under-considered perspectives into the conversation.

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

Justine Nobbe: Self-efficacy, at its most basic, is a compounding belief in your ability to overcome challenges. Each time you work hard to accomplish a big goal, you grow efficacy. Spending time outdoors in adventure-based settings has developed my self-efficacy exponentially, and this translates into all areas of my life. I’ve proven to myself over the years that I can summit big mountains, cycle thousands of solo miles, climb cruxy pitches, brave subzero temps and more—I know that I can do really hard things. That efficacy has enabled me to be a better parent, partner, and business woman because I know that I can do really hard things. This is what the outdoors has done for me.  I pay it forward by encouraging other women to have similar experiences through my nonprofit, Adventure Mamas Initiative. I invite them to grow their own self-efficacy by overcoming challenges outdoors.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts - and outdoor parents, in particular - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Justine Nobbe: In my opinion, being an outdoor recreationalist comes with the responsibility of conservation activism. Those of us who play in nature need to function as advocates for the protection of our public lands. As parents, that role is amplified because we are trying to demonstrate sustainable practices for our children and ensure that they have access to the places that we love, along with clean air and water.  

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Justine Nobbe: When I first started rock climbing, there was this woman, Carol Fittell, at the gym…she was a brilliantly graceful, elegant climber who possessed an energy of resounding tenacity and confidence. All I wanted was to emulate her. She became my first climbing mentor and was an assertive yet patient teacher. Carol continues to inspire me (and many more people) to this day and probably has no idea of the lasting impact she had on me.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Justine Nobbe: Adventure is subjective. It changes from person to person, from year to year, even from day to day. For me, the consistency is challenge—adventure is the intentional undertaking of a challenge. It’s about pushing past perceived barriers and redefining what you thought possible. 

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Justine Nobbe: I view it similarly to adventure: badass is subjective. When my kid scrambles up a low angle section of slick rock—that’s badass. When an uber-pregnant woman is top-roping at the gym—that’s badass. When a mom hauls her three squirming, screaming, giggling kids to the trailhead by herself and proceeds to hike for half a mile—that’s badass. When a woman goes backpacking for the first time at 50 after raising a family—that’s badass. Badass also transcends an outdoor context. Pregnancy—badass. Adoption—badass. Birth—badass. Pushing back at stereotypes—badass. Pursing the life of your dreams—badass.  

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?

Justine Nobbe: I aligned my passion for the outdoors with my career through humility, tenacity, and sheer persistence. My first job in the outdoor industry was as at a small outdoor shop in Kansas City, Missouri. When I initially inquired, they weren’t hiring. I wrote a comical, if not desperate, cover letter that made it clear that I would sweep the floors, scrub toilets, fold all the clothes, and fulfill any writing or editorial needs that they had…whatever it took. And then I followed up…several times…until they brought me on as a Sales Associate and Editorial Asset. That experience catapulted me into the outdoor industry in a very real way. It eventually led me to working as an adventure therapy guide and field director, which eventually led me to starting my own adventure-based wellness nonprofit organization.

If you are serious about professionally entering the outdoor industry, first off, do away with any notion that you don’t belong—you do. Passion and tenacity can go a LONG way. Secondly, examine how you can leverage your unique skill set and expertise and apply it to the outdoor industry. For me that was writing and editing, but it could be graphic design or photography or technology or interior design or accounting or management. Assess your skills and bring them to the table. 

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Justine Nobbe: In a lot of ways, womanhood and femininity feel irrelevant to me. I am a human and I follow my inclinations, I don’t feel boxed in by external gender expectations. Honestly, woman is simply my biology. It doesn’t dictate my actions, interests, appearance, parental role, or professional endeavors. 

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

Justine Nobbe: Joy. I want to live joyfully. I smile, I laugh, I encourage shenanigans. As a business woman, as a parent, as a partner, as a friend, as a stranger, I want to project joy. 

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?

Justine Nobbe: I think change starts with humble curiosity. That means asking questions without an agenda; starting conversations and recognizing that you might get answers that make you uncomfortable. And then taking that beta and exploring how to make meaningful change. I think that would be a good start to entering a "perfect world" where all feel welcomed, represented, and heard. 

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

Justine Nobbe: Snacks and water. I like food, like, a lot, and I’m always ridiculously thirsty.

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?

Justine Nobbe: I think unisex gear is often very applicable to women. The problem, in my opinion, is the marketing. Gear is rarely marketed as unisex, it’s marketed as men’s. Footwear and technical layers are one place where I see a non-negotiable need for women’s specific gear.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Adventure Mamas, what would it be?

Justine Nobbe: Take your time and trust in your mission. In the beginning of AMI, there was this constant, excited urgency to push, push, push. If I were to do it all over again, I would be sure to take things slowly and trust in the fact that we have a strong mission and we’re the right people to be pushing that mission 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?

Justine Nobbe: Just be f*cking authentic. On social media for both my business and my personal life, I try to talk and engage similarly to how I talk and engage in real life. That usually means keeping it light, disregarding strict editorial/grammar rules, and including a great deal of vulgarity.   

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

Justine Nobbe: Being in the startup phase is grueling, and I hate feeling like my to-do list is infinite. I don’t think there’s anything sexy about being “busy.” My goal for the next year is to transition into a place of stability, which means being highly strategic about the endeavors I choose to pursue with my business. We are planning some rad expeditions and events, hosting a family adventure festival, reaching more women than ever, further enhancing our website, and just getting shit done.   

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

Justine Nobbe: That’s hard! Perhaps: “Not So Subtle” or something vulgar… 

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

Justine Nobbe: A big, floppy, drooling, puppy

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

Justine Nobbe: I have a huge birthmark above my naval that’s a perfect replica of Africa, and I went to prom with my husband.

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

Justine Nobbe: Don’t be afraid to call bullshit. At AMI, our tagline is Redefining Motherhood because we decided to call bullshit on the existing parameters and stereotypes surrounding motherhood. I’m not saying be an asshole, but if you see room for improvement, be professional, assertive, and persistent. 

Learn more about Justine and follow along on her adventures through Instagram, and check out Adventure Mamas online, on Facebook, or on Instagram

Featured photo by Sykarri.


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