How Evelynn Escobar Is Planting Seeds for the Next Generation of Outdoor Enthusiasts

Hike Clerb’s founder shares her thoughts on the importance of diversity on hiking trails, how she’s fostering community, and reveals her go-to packing list for hiking and camping.

Design by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist/Photo by @francothehuman
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Evelynn Escobar’s first introduction to hiking was at 10 years old, when she visited California for the first time. She was surprised by the scenic beauty of the mountains and how quickly she could find her way to the beach after a day of hiking. It was then that she not only fell in love with the West Coast, but that she discovered a new way of healing through nature. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles and continued exploring the local trails by herself. But it wasn’t until she started visiting national parks that she realized most visitors on the trails were white—something that felt shocking to her, considering how popular the parks were. That was a eureka moment for her, and what compelled her to start Hike Clerb, an intersectional women’s hike club and non-profit organization with a mission to make the outdoors more inclusive.

Since 2017, Escobar has been gathering Black, Indigenous, and women of color on monthly hikes and educational workshops in LA (and occasionally in other cities around the country) to equip them with resources and experiences they need to connect with nature as a form of healing. “I wanted to create a literal safe space for other Black, Indigenous, and women of color to come together and to have that space to collectively heal in nature, because it also did so much for my own personal healing journey,” she says. To her, it’s all about “planting seeds for the future generations to come.”

We spoke with the avid hiker and social justice advocate about her first memories exploring the outdoors, how Hike Clerb is helping communities, and her go-to packing list for hiking and camping trips.

Thrillist: What are your first memories of exploring the outdoors?
Evelynn Escobar: I was definitely one of those kids who grew up playing outside. But I think the most pivotal memories I have in the outdoors [are] when I was visiting Los Angeles for the first time. I was 10 years old and I visited my aunt who was living here. That was my first introduction to hiking. [I remember] just being so in awe of being able to drive to the beach to the mountains the same day. And then in fifth grade I did this field trip to an outdoor adventure park. It's a place that you go to do team building activities and things like that. So we did the zip line and there's canopy walking, we walked on a little bridge to the trees and things like that. I was so obsessed with that field trip.

Hike Clerb's hiking group/Photo by smilegoth

What inspired you to start Hike Clerb?
Escobar: Part of the reason why I moved here was because of the proximity to nature. Previous to moving, I had spent a summer out here with my aunt, so I had done like most of the major trails around LA. Once I was actually living here, I started to go out further and visit national parks. I went to Zion National Park, in the Grand Canyon, and I was so surprised by how homogenous and white the outdoors are. I think I specifically had that bewildered moment in Zion, just because I'm expecting them to be these big tourist destinations, right? These are the United States national parks. I thought I was going to see a diverse array of people, but being out there, I realize that's definitely not the case. I would get sort of curious stares on the trail. I was just so confused in the sense that I look more like the people to whom this land actually belongs to than the people who are looking at me, like I'm crazy for being out here. That sort of paired with my experience of being an avid hiker around the LA area and hiking alone was what inspired me to start Hike Clerb.

I wanted to create a literal safe space for other Black, Indigenous, and women of color to come together and to have that space to collectively heal in nature, because it also did so much for my own personal healing journey. And also just for self realization to break generational trauma. It’s important that you find the space and the healing modalities to do so, that's kind of what inspired me to actually create this organization. And I think most importantly, when you have these experiences, as a Black, Brown or a person of color out in any sort of industry, environment, whatever, and you have that isolated experience. For me personally, I don't want to be the only one. You know what I mean? I started Hike Clerb so I'm not the only one, so that when I go to national parks, I see other people who look like me. That's the whole point of this is to just empower and inspire a whole new crop of outdoorsy people or strengthen people's connections who were already going out there to continue doing so and continue to show up in different ways.

How have you noticed Hike Clerb impacting the community?
Escobar: Many people have either messaged me or come up to me during events to tell me they came on their first hike with Hike Clerb and as a result have continued to hike and are now going on to bigger trips. Now they're going out to national parks, now they're exploring in whatever way is meaningful for them, which is just so beautiful and warms my heart.

Besides hiking, what other events has Hike Clerb been hosting to foster community?
Escobar: We started out as a monthly hiking club, so we would hike a few times a month. Now our regular programming is once a month, but we also offer quarterly workshops. One of the most memorable workshops that we had was an urban gardening workshop, where we were planting crops for the houseless community on a rooftop garden in Skid Row. That was a really great day! We also do mentorships geared hikes through this program that we have called the Bio program, which stands for building inclusivity outdoors, where we'll take school aged girls and non-binary youth out to hike, meditate, eat, and talk about the outdoors. So really planting seeds for the future generations to come.

Let’s talk about safety in the outdoors. Do you have any tips and gear that you recommend to stay safe?
Escobar: I always say the buddy system is amazing because even if you are alone and say you carry something to help defend you, there's [obviously] strength in numbers. [It’s] part of the reason why we're hiking in groups. I would just recommend if you can bring someone with you or bring your dog with you, try not to go out alone if possible. But if you are alone, just make sure that you're telling someone where you are. There are different tools, like little GPS trackers and stuff, that you can bring out with you just in case you don't have signal. But that's for bigger destinations.

Design by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

Can you share your go-to packing list for when you go hiking and camping?
Honestly, I love a cargo utility vest. I'm such a vest girl. My current favorite is the Nike Ispa one I have. Also KkCo makes a really great one that I wear from time to time. I also really love that the brands we loved as kids are making a comeback in the outdoor scene—L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Nike ACG—they're trending right now and it's wild to see! When it comes to footwear, Salomon is huge right now, but even like the classic brands, the Keen, the Merrells. When I go camping, it really just depends on the season, but I just make sure I’m dressing appropriately for the weather. Obviously a great sleeping bag is key and they sell sleeping bags that you can sort of zip off layers, depending on the temperature. North Face sells this really great sleeping bag that you can use anywhere. Basically it's just an all in one, and you just zip to whatever layer you need.

You always need a great backpack. I personally use an REI backpack, but Osprey and Arc'teryx have really great backpacks, too. Also, always packing a water bottle, having your first aid kit, having fire starters—if you're going somewhere where you can actually start a campfire—but in California that could be difficult. Having your little camp stove and a cooler is key. A good tent and a little pad for your sleeping bag. You want to put something between you and the ground or else it's going to be a very stiff night of sleep for you. Even a charging bank for your phone that also acts as a lantern for inside your tent or just in the camp. I always bring that even if I don't have service just to make sure I can have power wherever we are.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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