When you love the outdoors, it’s natural to want to share that love with others and help them get to experience it too. With the rise of social media platforms and outdoor news outlets, it has become easier to do so. Many weekend warriors, gear aficionados, thru-hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are finding ways to turn outdoor content creation into full-time jobs or even side gigs.
If you’ve wondered what it’s like to be an outdoor content creator, we’re here to help pull the curtain back on this experience. In a series of interviews, we’ll chat with a brand ambassador, a gear reviewer, and a TikTok influencer to learn more about their experiences. We’ll ask them about:
- How they got started in outdoor content creation
- What they enjoy about being outdoor content creators
- How they balance content creation with simply enjoying the outdoors
- Tips they have for others looking to get into the field
We’re kicking off part one of our outdoor content creator series close to home with our very own brand ambassador, Michelle Zhang!
Michelle is based in San Francisco and is an avid weekend warrior and ultra runner. She uses Instagram to share photos and inspiration from her outdoor adventures, highlighting brands she partners with in her posts. We caught up with her to learn more about what it’s like being a brand ambassador and how others can get started too!
Gossamer Gear: Can you start by telling us a little about how you got started as a brand ambassador in the outdoor industry?
Michelle: I love being outdoors and in the mountains. I’d spend my Friday evenings driving to the trailhead, then camp in the mountains over the weekend, and Monday morning I’d be back at work. Most, if not all, my trips were solo, so I’d have to carry all my camping gear in my pack, which is when I came across Gossamer Gear. I bought my first ultralight backpack, the Gorilla 50. It was life changing. Before Gossamer Gear, I was using a heavier pack, full of excess zippers and material that weighed me down before I even put my gear in it. The Gorilla weighed less than two pounds and felt like wings on my back. I could not get over how great it was—and loved raving about it to my fellow hikers. Then I got The One, a tent that packed down to less than the size of my shoe, and I was immediately hooked.
I felt invincible, being able to go longer and higher, with such a light pack. I started sharing pictures of my Gossamer Gear adventures with friends and really started building a following of fellow outdoor lovers who were interested in my lifestyle and learning more about how they can get into it as well.
I’d have coworkers come to me and be like, how do you do it? How do you find the time? And, I tell them, I have the same two days in a weekend as you do. Instead of driving home on Friday night, I’m driving to the mountains. Instead of doing laundry or going to brunch on the weekend, I’m on a trail. It’s just a matter of where you spend your time (and, yes, my laundry pile suffered). Not that there’s anything wrong with spending a Friday night Netflix-and-chilling (I very much enjoy these nights too), but I just want to show others that you can squeeze a quick hike in and still have a normal Monday through Friday job.
I love sharing my weekend adventures on my Instagram channel, and soon had strangers messaging me that I inspired them to get outside that day, or asking me what kind of shoes I’d recommend for their first trail run. I realized I could use my platform to connect with everyday people like me and make the outdoors more accessible by sharing my experiences.
What do you like about working with brands and how do you choose which ones to partner with?
I like working with brands that are genuine and care more about what their brand stands for, rather than numbers or sales. I only work with brands if I truly enjoy their products. I’ve definitely been approached by brands who want me to represent their product, but where I immediately say, well, hold on—I’ve never even tried your product. Let me use it for a bit and then if I like it, I’d be open to working with you.
As a brand ambassador, what kind of things do brands expect from you and what do you expect in return?
Brands usually offer gear or monetary compensation in exchange for photos of the gear being used on my adventures.
How do you balance product placement with simply enjoying your time outside?
Ah, this one is a tough one. Do you plan your trip around getting the right shots or ability to use the product? Or, do you plan your trip the way you want to enjoy it, and then if the product fits, then cool? I’ve definitely tried to make sure that the end goal of my trip is the trip itself, rather than being able to take shots of a product with cool backgrounds. This aligns a lot with why I only work with brands I truly believe in, and use on a regular basis. Our role as ambassadors is impactful, and you want to make sure you’re sharing authentic information with your audience.
I’ve definitely found myself asking for extended deadlines with brands because I just haven’t found the right moment or opportunity to grab a shot. Most brands are OK with this, as they want their content to be authentic and well put together, rather than just placed somewhere for the sake of it. I’ve also worked with a couple brands that have been less forgiving, and the content just comes out forced and unauthentic, at least to me.
Long story short, this is a lot easier to balance when you only work with brands you genuinely use and enjoy. For example, all of my backpacking packs are Gossamer Gear—so, it’s easy to go on a trip, and if the right shot comes along, I just take it. And if it’s a foggy trip with no views, then there’s no disappointment since the goal wasn’t to go there and take photos of products. If it’s a food or drink I like, I’m already packing it with me on my trip. I don’t want to carry excess weight just for the sake of grabbing photos of a product I don’t even use.
What has been one of your favorite things about being a Gossamer Gear brand ambassador?
Gossamer Gear is a company that is true to their brand, and the team behind it are people who love the outdoors just as much as their target audience. Every piece on the pack has been heavily thought about and designed to ensure it has a purpose. If it doesn’t serve a use, then why add the extra weight? I’ve gone on a backpacking trip with Glen, and I’ll tell you, every ounce is meticulously planned out; if it’s not going to be used, then it doesn’t make the cut! I love that. Being intentional in everything you do, so that, yes, you can take less, and do more.
Do you have any advice for others who may be interested in becoming a brand ambassador for an outdoor company?
I think my advice would just be to stay true to what you love doing. I don’t work as a content creator as my job. Getting outside, taking photos in cool places—this is all stuff I already do and have a passion for. If I get paid to highlight products I am already using and like, then that’s a plus. But if I have to do it just for the sake of doing it, or for a product I don’t even use, then it’s not as enjoyable anymore.
If you want to make it a job, then that’s one thing. You’ll have different goals. But for me, it’s just to be able to highlight products I already enjoy using, so that others can also learn about that and enjoy the product too. That’s my whole thing, is showing others how I like to live my life. I’m not a crazy athlete or successful influencer, but I am pursuing what makes me happy, and taking advantage of all that mother nature has to offer. I want to show others that they can do that too. You don’t need to quit your job or be super rich to get outside. You just need a pair of shoes (or not), an open mind, and a desire to get outside!
Follow Outdoor Industry Brand Ambassadors for Inspiration, Gear Tips, and More
Our main takeaway from chatting with Michelle is that successful brand ambassadors have to remember to keep it real. By only working with brands that you believe in, you create more authentic content for your followers and can more organically capture new content while out on your adventures.
You can follow Michelle on Instagram at @ChelleTraveled. Have some fun content of your own? We’d love to see it! Share it with us by tagging us on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.