MIGHTY CULTURE

Best outdoor veteran groups by region

Once hardcore, always hardcore. The military crowd loves to mock civilian life for its snail pace and seemingly mundane existence. There's nothing to blow up, no surge of adrenaline post jump, and no unit to show up to or for. Post military life can suck, but there's definitely something to be done about it.


Quit reminiscing about the good ole days and start living again through these veteran groups made for rebels. Listed by region and spanning across several categories of sports, there are zero excuses to miss out.

East – Warrior Expeditions

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Become hiker trash – you're in good company. World War II veteran Earl Schaffer was the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in an effort to "walk off the war" according to his trail diary. The Appalachian Trail is just one of many long-term expeditions open to combat veterans by Warrior Expeditions, a nonprofit which provides 100 percent of gear, supplies and clothing to complete the mission.

Longer expeditions revisit the endurance and disconnection experienced while serving. Getting back to "the suck" is the forging you forgot you needed. Hike, bike or paddle knowing your focus can remain on the mission rather than the budget.

Other treks to consider are the Mississippi River paddle and Florida Trail. Nothing says grit like bunking next to gators and living to tell about it. Fill out the application and see where it'll take you.

West — Operation Surf

Losing control is gaining control over the only thing you can- yourself. That's the gist behind this next adventure with Operation Surf. Boasting both a weeklong or six-month option, this is a culture to tap into.

Operation Surf is all about overcoming. Physical or mental barriers are washed away, leaving veterans feeling capable, confident, and badass again. Waiting on waves teaches patience, falling until you stand- endurance and the high of riding towards the support waiting in the water and the shore is an experience like no other.

Nation Wide – IRONMAN Gold Star initiative

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"I will run for you" is the concept behind this subgroup within the elite IRONMAN community. During the run portion of the IRONMAN race, veteran or active duty service members can opt to carry an American flag to give to Gold Star Families waiting at the finish line.

In 2020, eight races are eligible for this program in cities spanning across the nation. What we love is the double layer of camaraderie this provides. It's training for one of the hardest endurance races, becoming a part of a tight-knit and hyper-focused group, and then finding the few within your new niche who are more like you than you knew.

The discipline necessary to complete IRONMAN races will resemble the rigidness of military life, comfort in disguise. Achieving a status, a pace of life, or simply a feat that most of us can't, reminds you to rise again to become what you forgot you could be.

North or South – Outward Bound for Veterans

Small group encounters high stakes scenarios. That's the environment Outward Bound looks to replicate for veterans within their programs. Overcoming something within a small group aims to bond, reset and refuel themselves amongst other veterans.

From a six-day boundary waters excursion complete with dog sledding to kayaking through the mangroves in Florida, there's plenty of notable treks to be had. Most excursions are six days in length and zero dollars in cost. Take a look at their interactive map to hike, sail, or snowshoe into a new hobby.

This list is a small percent of the many options, programs, or nonprofits all working to close the gap between service and solid new foundations. Nothing can replicate the experiences, good or bad while serving in the military. The best outdoor group for you is ultimately the one you join.