How did 23 friends become 19 million members? To celebrate 82 years of the co-op, we asked our community to tell us their favorite outdoor stories. More than 100 of you shared memories of beloved gear, unforgettable adventures and transformational experiences outdoors. You can find a collection of your outdoor stories here.
Read how 23 friends and one ice axe started the co-op back in 1938.
Brothers Jonathan (co-op member since 1968) and Philip (co-op member since before 1968) reprised a hike at ages 73 and 70 across the North Cascades they made a half-century ago. They put on their original external frame REI packs and set out on the four-day trip. Some things they anticipated, a lot of it they didn’t. Read the full story.
“Take a 13-year-old girl on a day hike, and she’s going to want a bigger backpack. Buy her one, and you may not see her again for awhile. That’s how my first backpacking trip in 1971 on Isle Royale taught me the meaning of the word ‘goner.’ I’m horrified to recall that I hiked in a cotton sweatshirt, jeans and my dad’s itchy woolen jacket. I sported a gigantic external frame backpack and leather “moon boots” (3 pounds each). My nightly palace? A mildewed pup tent and a thin slumber party sleeping bag. Lake Superior’s pelting sideways rain, bug bites the size of dimes, nightly wolf howls that were much too close to the flimsy tent walls … these are the things the Greenstone Trail offered me on that first trip. I went home grinning but humbled, knowing I didn’t have a clue how to take care of myself in the outdoors. But I did know I wanted to find out. These days, my clothing doesn’t set me up for hypothermia. Wool doesn’t itch anymore. And my internal frame backpack doesn’t squeak (I kinda miss it). But the grin? It’s still there.”
–Diane, co-op member since 1978 and founder of @hikingforher
“Every January, my husband, Vance, and I would head out on a weeklong ski trip—1989 stands out as a particularly fun year. We started at Mazama in the North Cascades, went to Wapato Point for a day of cross-country skiing, and capped it off with a couple of nights in a yurt on Sun Mountain.”
–Rosalee, co-op member
Turns out, hiking boots aren’t just for humans. Co-op members Kelly and Henry unknowingly created a home for a new bird family. Last month, Henry left a pair of new hiking boots out on the porch after trying them on. Two days later, he went to retrieve the boots (and send them back for a different pair). That’s when he noticed a few twigs poking out from one of them. Inside he spied a small nest with three tiny eggs. Read the full story.
Co-op member Laurie still uses her 51-year-old REI down jacket to warm up during her adventures around the globe.
Co-op members Nicole and Caleb were setting up their wedding gift registry at the REI DC Flagship store when they discovered the outdoor courtyard where they decided to get married. Read the full story.
Not all outdoor stories are dreamy. Victoria from Latino Outdoors got lost on a backpacking trip while sick. But she ended the trip thankful for life—and thankful for the woman who drove her and her friend to their car.
While on a camping trip in North Carolina, Lori’s son anticipated crossing the Linville River on a small bridge that he had seen on his map. On the last day of the trip, his group discovered there was no bridge. So, the three men had to throw their packs across the river. Two made it over. Her son’s pack ended up in the rushing river. He posted his information in a lost gear Facebook page and a month later someone found his pack and met with him to return it. His sleeping bag, tent, clothes and hiking boots were fine, although dirty and a bit stinky. And the most amazing part? His phone, stored in a side pocket, didn’t get even wet! He had been devastated about losing his photos so it was a great surprise that his phone still worked and the photos were saved.
On top of their new roles as parents, co-op members Pablo and Rachel navigated 200 miles on the Camino de Santiago in 2019 with their infant in tow. “I had a fear that, once we became parents, the adventures would end,” Pablo says. “I think we did this pretty extreme adventure to subconsciously prove to ourselves that, in fact, the adventure is just beginning.” Read the full story.
“As an immigrant to the U.S., life was never easy and you always faced all types of challenges and unexpectedness. I came to Los Angeles from mainland China in the summer of 2001 for my graduate study. Around late 2004 to early 2005, almost every aspect of my life began to deteriorate and collapse in one way or another.
In the middle of all these low points, one early spring morning, not having any particular idea what a trail meant, or how long it could last, I drove myself to a nearby national forest hiking route’s trailhead and began walking. I ended up forgetting the pain from life and being completely “comfortable” from the hike. It was at this moment that the regular taste of trails became the routine of my life and it lasted all the way until today for almost 15 years of life.I have since successfully graduated with a doctor’s degree and have a loving family. I travel to national parks with them and particularly introduced the Grand Canyon and those famous trails I hiked to my little ones.”
–Tim, co-op member since 2004, on how he fell in love with hiking
In the summer of 2018, seven Indigenous women hiked across California’s Sierra Nevada via a network of trails that for centuries were used by local tribes. The route is called the Nüümü Poyo, or the People’s Trail. Some may know it as the John Muir Trail. The group’s 200-plus-mile trek was an act of cultural reclamation and marked the inaugural journey of Indigenous Women Hike. “Indigenous Women Hike represented more than a group hiking on a trail together. The journey established our connection to the land and our ancestors,” writes story author Tazbah. Read the full story.
What was once regarded as a simple camp slipper has ascended the ranks to become co-op member Ryan’s stay-at-home shoe of choice. Read the full story.
Gear that wears in is better than gear that wears out. Co-op member Whitney shares the story of her beloved blue REI sleeping bag from 1967, passed down from her dad. Read the full story.
Co-op member Nicole still remembers getting her first backpacking pack at REI and taking it on a trip with her father and sister. Read the full story.
Over the years, co-op member Kay has bought a new puffy or two. But the memories stuffed into this handsewn jacket, lovingly made by her mom, won’t let her part ways. Read the full story.
Co-op member Brianna shares how her love of the outdoors has strengthened her and her husband’s bond. Read the full story.
Michelle, co-op member since 2013, overcame her fears of hiking alone and trekked to Colchuck Lake, one of the most beautiful and well-known hikes in Washington state. “It was a day that I talked to more people on the trail than I ever had before. I enjoyed my surroundings, the beautiful blue turquoise lake, all the new people I had met, and the green, lush forest. It was a perfect day, and I am thankful that I pushed through my fear and climbed that damn mountain,” she says.
“This magical national park at the very southern end of our country had completely captured my heart and experiencing it with my sister was just the cherry on top of the week we spent there. From the not so pleasant sun poisoning (I’m a delicate flower) to the incredible late night hike to the hot spring—one leg in the hot spring and one leg in the Rio Grande—there’s something very special about that lonesome Texas park.”
–Chelsea, co-op member since 2006, on her trip to Big Bend National Park
“One of many favorite outdoor memories. It was a grueling hike to the top. How we convinced Krisna to come on a backpacking trip was a miracle of sorts. He had never backpacked before, refused to see fleece as fashion, and struggled hard to understand the mechanics of using the bathroom in nature. Through quick elevation gain, treacherous boulder fields and slippery snowfields we reach the end. At 6,500 feet we see the sun set behind the mountains. The stars slowly come out one by one, and we watch them twinkle above us in long periods of quiet awe. Then, out of the darkness I hear Krisna softly whisper, ‘I…’ He pauses. And he continues, reluctantly admitting: ‘I…, I think I might like this. You know, camping.’”
–Simson, co-op member
“I’ve always been someone who likes to push themselves to the physical limit. Do more, go harder, run faster. I’ve been lucky for most of my life to have an able body that responds well to that kind of pushing, so getting pregnant with my son in 2016 was my first experience living in a body that just wouldn’t always do what I wanted it to.
That was a hard adjustment for me, and looking back I don’t actually think I adjusted all that well. I was determined to jump back into my ‘old’ life as soon as Thorin was born, and planned a hike up Tolmie Peak when he was 6 weeks old. I tied on my #ForceOfNature bandanna, squeezed my postpartum body into some too-small hiking shorts and strapped Thorin to my chest, ready to conquer the trail.
It was harder than I had ever imagined. I huffed and I puffed and I took many breaks. All with a faint sense of misplaced embarrassment and the urge to yell, ‘I JUST HAD A BABY’ to everyone who passed me on the trail.
When we got to the top, an older woman approached me and asked if she could take my picture. She was hiking with a group of fellow retirees and they’d watched me struggling up the trail—but saw the scene in a vastly different light. While I thought I looked pitiful, they thought I looked powerful. ‘I want to email this photo to all my friends for inspiration. If you can do this six weeks after having a baby, we can do anything.’”
–Halley, co-op member
Spending time outdoors has created a unique bond between Melody and Ruby, who was born with Down syndrome. Through their goal to visit all 62 national parks, the family hopes to inspire others. Read the full story.
“June 27, 2019—the night I married my best friend. Sitting on the edge of our own personal canyon tucked away in some BLM land in Utah, we celebrated our bond with the ones we love most. This canyon will always be special to me. It’s where we got married. Where I proposed. And on the other side of this plateau, where the feeling originated. And a chill in my spine from the excitement in my soul, knowing that this is where my life is. Not in this place, but with this woman. By my side for the rest of our days.”
–Kyle, co-op member
“While hiking in Turkey, I ended up on a hiking trail with no markings or signs and I only had a crude map drawn by the owner of the hotel. At the exact moment of realizing I had no idea where I was or which path to take forward, a dog showed up out of nowhere. I was already lost, so I followed the pup and he led me down the correct trail to get a trail head. Once he got me where I needed to be, he just ran off as quickly as he appeared.”
–Shawna, co-op member
From getting caught in a flash flood in the rainforest to planning a climbing trip to celebrate their last round of chemotherapy, past guests on the Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast share their favorite outdoor memories. Listen to the full episode below.
“Usually my favorite backpack is packed with my sleeping bag, tent and a bear canister, but today was different. It was packed with a wedding dress, trail snacks and a bouquet of flowers, ready for its 7-mile hike into the mountains.
It was a mountain I had climbed several times before, but this time was different. I got to share it for the first time with my future husband and my sister, who flew in from Philadelphia 24 hours prior, to be a witness at our mountaintop elopement.
The morning was filled with rain, but as we climbed, the clouds parted, revealing the very reason I wanted to get married here. We shared our vows surrounded by a 360-degree view of the mountains, in frigid 30-degree temperatures, followed by our first dance. We witnessed the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen and came face to face with a bear in the dark on the way down. Arriving back to the cars after midnight, we were exhausted, but knew this adventure was one we would never forget. … Happy 82nd anniversary REI! Thank you for all the wonderful gear that allows adventures like this one to live in memories forever.”
–Katie, co-op member
Photo: Nick Plus Danée
“While living in an Airstream, Esther and I took advantage of our mobile home to stay in Kanab, Utah. Our goal was to stay as long as needed to get permits to see The Wave. If you didn’t already know, permits are nearly impossible to get since the demand is high and they only allow 20 people in a day. We failed to get permits for several years through the online permit system, so we didn’t have high hopes when we saw hundreds of people showing up for the in-person lottery.
On the second day of our attempt, however, we heard our number called. At first, neither of us reacted because we didn’t think it was possible. Then the reality sank in. We were going to see the Wave! The landscape of the wave did not disappoint. Although the Wave itself was smaller than we expected, we loved exploring the entire area.
The one other person we ran into was telling us how he visited decades ago and the rocks were much brighter then. It helped us appreciate how important it is to protect our lands.”
Aurora, co-op member and local leader for Latino Outdoors immerses herself in the outdoors—whether that’s an 11-mile hike or a family trip to the local park. She wishes to see more representation of women of color in the outdoor space, especially for her young niece. Here, she reflects on a particularly memorable hike