Katherine Donnelly | 07.02.2018

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 Sarah Smith.

Co-founder of The Dyrt and lover of everything outdoors, this Woman In The Wild has made a name for herself in the camping world and the tech industry. Get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Sarah Smith is.

Sarah Smith: I’m someone who loves the outdoors and loves traveling. I’ve been fortunate to dedicate my life to both of those things, living and working abroad for 10 years and now working on The Dyrt everyday. I started The Dyrt when I got frustrated with trying to find a campground online, realizing that what I wanted were campground photos, videos, reviews and the opinions of other campers.

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

Sarah Smith: I grew up in the north woods of Minnesota, so the outdoors was never NOT a part of my life. My youth was spent camping around Lake Superior, fishing for walleye in the Mississippi, and picking buckets full of blueberries in the middle of nowhere, hoping no bears were around. I’m thrilled that I’ve now been able to make a career that revolves around the outdoors and helping others get outside.

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

Sarah Smith: The outdoor industry is becoming more diverse than ever, and with that comes an increasing recognition of what an integral role women play in this space. I’m glad to see more people recognizing that there is room in the great outdoors for all sorts of people, and I hope that the positive shifts in the outdoor industry can set a tone for other fields, like tech, which still have a long way to go. That’s one reason I’m really proud The Dyrt is a female-founded, female-majority company. We can create change in the outdoor industry and tech at the same time.

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

Sarah Smith: With The Dyrt, the outdoors has played a bigger role in my professional life than I had ever imagined. Outside of work, too, the outdoors is where I go to refocus and reconnect with what’s important. I created The Dyrt to help other people access the outdoors so they can find that same sense of rejuvenation that I do in both my professional and personal lives. 

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 on outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Sarah Smith: This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the past few years, really understanding the impact that NOT protecting our lands has on our country. Once land is developed, it is changed forever, and there is no going back from that. The lands can’t speak for themselves. They can’t protect themselves. We have to be the voice for that. We have to remain vocal about conserving the public lands we have and increasing their accessibility. The more people who get to experience these wild places, the more people will appreciate them and hopefully be inspired to defend them.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Sarah Smith: I am 100% inspired by my husband and co-founder, Kevin, each and every day. He is the hardest worker I have ever met and has an amazing intuition about business. He is an absolute inspiration and the best partner I ever could have hoped for. 

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Sarah Smith: Adventure means doing something invigorating that you haven’t done before, something that makes you feel alive. That could be hiking the Grand Canyon, it could be founding a startup. It could be traveling the world or diving into marriage. Those are all examples of the kinds of adventures I’ve sought out and continue to learn from. You really just have to keep seeking out what’s new and fresh and what can teach you something about both yourself and the world that you didn’t know before.

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

Sarah Smith: I’m actually a little wary of that term, especially as it tends to be used in the outdoor industry. To me, it is a term that can be alienating, especially when it’s associated with a steady stream of messages which imply you need to climb an epic peak or go top speed down a death-defying bike track in order to be badass. Many of us will never do those things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be intrepid in our own way. 

Being badass might be getting out to do a hike after an intense week of work, camping with your young baby for the first time, or starting an outdoor tech company as a middle aged, non-technical female founder. Whatever pushes you out of the familiar past your comfort zone, and allows you to stretch yourself is pretty badass to me.

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?

Sarah Smith: They are one in the same. My passion for the outdoors lead me to found The Dyrt to make it easier to find campgrounds online. Ironically, we used to camp a lot more before we started The Dyrt. But it’s worth spending a little less time in the woods for now if we can get more people outside in general.

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

Sarah Smith: Many of the current conversations about femininity are about expanding our understanding of what women are and what they can accomplish. Women don’t experience the world the same way men do— especially women who are queer or trans or a minority. This is a good thing and something we can learn from. By recognizing that there’s no one way to be a woman, and that we don’t need to behave like men to succeed, we can start to embrace the full breadth of what women can think and feel and be and do.

I feel that I’m a stronger leader because I embrace the qualities in me that I find more feminine, like collaboration, which in turn helps me make decisions from a really authentic place. Someone who defines femininity differently might emphasize other characteristics that feel true to who she is as a woman. That’s ok, too. 

Ultimately, these conversations help more people be true to themselves, honest about what they want, and have a better idea of what strengths they can use to meet their goals. There’s no one-size fits all in the outdoors, in business, or in life.

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

Sarah Smith: You only live once. Don’t waste your time doing anything you don’t want to be doing. Don’t save up everything for your retirement. If you aren’t enjoying your life right now, there is no point. 

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?

Sarah Smith: In a perfect world, the outdoors would be a more inclusive, accessible place. As organizations like Outdoor Project and The Dyrt help get more people outside, we’ll continue to see representation in the outdoors grow. The more women, minorities, and LGBTQ hikers, cyclists, campers, climbers, skiers, etc. who see people like themselves getting outside, the fewer barriers there will be for everyone to enjoy all the benefits that come from spending time in nature. Companies and brands in the outdoor industry can help make that reality come to life sooner by embracing representation now in their marketing, in who their products are designed for, and by reducing existing barriers to marginalized people getting outside. Inclusion shouldn’t be a “someday” prospect. Show people what a diverse outdoor industry looks like.

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

Sarah Smith: Chapstick! 

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?

Sarah Smith: If there’s gear women want, they should be able to get it. One of the biggest barriers right now is sizing— sometimes it feels like everything is for a size four woman who has a really athletic build. That’s great for women who are that shape and size, but outdoorsy women come in all kinds of bodies. They also have all kinds of aesthetic preferences. I look forward to when we see diversity in gear that matches the diversity of the people who are getting outdoors.

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

Sarah Smith: I would say just keep plugging along. Don’t listen to the doubters or your own inner fears. You just have to try. Honestly, going from an idea to actual doing was the hardest part of The Dyrt. I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen when I started, but just trying was so important. Going from nothing to something was harder than any other step along the journey of The Dyrt. But I had to trust my instincts. I had to trust my gut. When I didn’t know something, I asked other people to share their expertise and opinions. I wasn’t afraid to say I needed help. Even when I was unsure, I just kept giving it a shot.

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?

Sarah Smith: Social media isn’t life. It’s just one little window into what people are living. You can’t get hung up on this curated, filtered peek into what other people are up to. Of course life isn’t that perfect. That’s why one of my favorite aspects of The Dyrt is that it’s about real people doing real camping. We are not looking for the epic photos of unrealistic spots you probably didn’t really camp at. We want the grit, the dyrt, if you will. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. We want to hear about how your trip really went, whether it was a bucket-list worthy adventure that resulted in a hundred perfect photos or the kind of hilarious disaster you’ll be laughing about for years to come.

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

Sarah Smith: Obviously, a big focus of my life now and for the future, is growing The Dyrt. My role at the Dyrt is the product, so I will remain heads down working on growing and loving our tech and community. We are seeing a lot of growth with over 30,000 campgrounds listed on The Dyrt, and our extremely active user base has already submitted nearly 100,000 campground reviews. We’ve had more people sign up for The Dyrt in the past month than in the entirety of 2017, so we are growing quickly.

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

Sarah Smith: A dog! They have great lives. They hike and frolic and snooze. 

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

Sarah Smith: Well, I wouldn’t say nobody knows this, but I broke my arm trekking in Nepal and had to hike down the mountains for 10 hours before having middle-of-the-night surgery. And then I lost my passport and wallet...but that’s a whole different story. 

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

Sarah Smith: Don’t just wait for some magic thing to happen in your life. Make it happen for yourself. I meet people every day who are waiting for something. “Someday I’ll move to France.” “Someday I’ll buy a van.” Who says you can’t do these things now, or that you can’t be the kind of person who accomplishes your dreams? Life is too short not to give what you want a shot.

Just look at me— I am the most unlikely founder of a tech company out there, but I didn’t let that stop me. I founded the Dyrt because I was tired of dealing with trying to find a campground online, and I realized that I could be the person who changed that. I didn’t know many other tech founders who looked like me, but I didn’t let that stop me from thinking I might be the right person to make this happen. So I didn’t wait. I started The Dyrt, and didn’t look back.

Learn more about Sarah and her work with The Dyrt by checking them out online, on Facebook, and on Instagram.


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