Guide to Awesome Careers Out in Nature

It’s rarely about the money. Ask someone with a job that keeps them outdoors why they’re there, and very few put “earning a steady, sizeable paycheck” at the top of their priority list. Instead, these people likely place a premium on their ability to be closer to nature and not be trapped inside all day. They might like the physical connection, the sense of contentment, and the subsequent igniting of creative energy that our brains crave and nature can provide. They might like having plenty of space to explore beyond the finite boundaries of a typical office.

Working outdoors affords people the opportunity to enjoy the sun instead of artificial or fluorescent light, to feel fresh breezes over stale, ventilated air. Some people simply like being physically active, which is obviously good for the body. In comparison, more sedate occupations can increase the rates of disease and certain cancers, plus raise one’s risk for anxiety and depression. In short, working outdoors is a choice that may not be financially motivated, but it can be healthier and more meaningful than a typical cubicle environment.

There are various advantages in nature-based jobs, which can make them meaningful on average than being office-bound. They can provide the optimal amount of stress (but not too much) and a milieu of supportive colleagues who share a similar appreciation for nature. Financially, serious nature-lovers also may find ways to do more with less, especially for seasonal work. A winter job at a resort, for example, will typically include a ski pass and a place to stay—a boon for anyone who is willing to make a modest income in order to experience something joyful.

Of course, getting paid well can allow outdoors enthusiasts to fund future trips and better equipment, vehicles, and supplies to get anywhere easier and more comfortably. More money can potentially add to one’s overall job satisfaction, especially when it comes with other perks, such as a National Park Service job, where employees regularly can transfer to other parks, potentially for more money with each position commensurate with one’s experience and responsibilities.

This guide explores outdoorsy careers which hit the sweet spot of a decent expected salary, career outlook, and opportunities to be in nature.

Methodology: Careers in Nature

In addition to providing ample opportunity to work outside of the confines of an office, all of the following careers have the following characteristics:

  1. They enjoy an average annual salary of at least $62,037 (25 percent above the national average of all occupations in the U.S., $49,630)
  2. They’re expected to have a higher-than-average increase in positions nationally between 2016 and 2026 (seven percent growth or more)
  3. They provide opportunities to exact positive change in the world through environmental impact, research, exploration, or other initiatives.
  4. They don’t require graduate degrees for entry-level work.

Please note that this list of suggested outdoors occupations draws data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, and other sources.

The List of Rewarding Careers in the Great Outdoors

Marine Engineer or Naval Architect

Some people can’t get enough of being on the water, whether it’s helming a tiny fishing boat or being a crew member or passenger on a massive ocean liner. Others have similar passions for designing water-worthy vessels and the systems that power them. Marine engineering can offer an opportunity to be creative but also to follow certain rules to make sure everyone aboard remains safe. The positions can be for the military or private companies. While the job does require time in an office for planning the look, performance, and stability of future vessels or evaluating ones already on the water, engineers and architects also head out into the field to watch or board vessels during testing. This position can be appealing to those who are excited to get out on the water and ensure people are safe.

  • Mean salary: $48.01/hourly, $99,860 annually
  • Industry outlook: 12 percent growth, from 8,200 positions in 2016 to 9,200 in 2026
  • Common employers: Federal government, architects, oil and gas extraction
  • Highest employment levels by state: Virginia, Texas, Washington, D.C., Washington, California
  • Related jobs: Related engineering specializations include electrical, design, or mechanical
  • Requirements: Having a bachelor’s degree in an engineering field is helpful, whether it’s in college or through the military; experience assisting others in the building process can be vital

Cartographer or Photogrammetrist

Assisting people with physical directions is invaluable, whether it’s providing correct coordinates in their hometown or precise measurements for a municipality’s legal records. Proper geographic data is more than just providing accurate directions from point A to point B; it can affect legal boundaries and property deeds or help keep track of a municipality’s growth. People in this occupation gather details about specific locations, using data from photos, aerial surveys, and satellite imagery to create digital and printed maps. This information can coordinate with Geographic Information Services so people—including emergency responders—can benefit from the subsequent organized databases. Accurate map-making skills can be in demand for surface, underwater, or air operations. Note that this profession does require time in an office, but there is also the opportunity to visit and evaluate sites.

  • Mean salary: $31.81/hourly, $66,160 annually
  • Industry outlook: 19 percent growth, from 12,600 positions in 2016 to 15,000 in 2026
  • Common employers: Architectural services, oil/gas distribution, local/state/federal government, computer systems design
  • Related jobs: Senior cartographer, CAD/GIS, urban planner
  • States with highest employment: Texas, California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina
  • Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in a topic such as surveying, geography or cartography

Camera Operator

While it’s easy to think about film work as something steady in a studio, the reality is that camera technology has improved and the weight has decreased, making the machines much more portable. Today, operators can film from just about any location, even using remote drones. That means people can find satisfaction from being able to document virtually anything outdoors. A wide variety of employers can request quality camera work in nature, from public agencies needing information for research purposes to private film companies wanting footage, such as sports teams or recreation companies. Even amateur filmmakers can shoot their own projects and pitch to established TV stations, media companies, and others who may be willing to pay for the best recordings.

  • Mean salary: $30.38/hourly, $63,200 annually
  • Industry outlook: 12 percent growth, from 59,300 positions in 2016 to 66,500 in 2026 (Includes film/video editors)
  • Common employers: Motion picture industries, media, advertising, government, sports
  • Available positions: Producer, editor, studio operator, audio/visual specialist, videographer
  • States with highest employment: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Washington, D.C.
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in film, communication or video production

First-line Supervisor, Construction or Extraction

The construction industry is great for those who don’t want to just be another paper-pusher in a dim office. Workers can focus on using their skills to create something tangible and long-lasting, such as a home, commercial building, or other structure. If you have the skills and interest, construction can be something that lets you visit different job sites and spend your days in the outdoors. Supervisor positions come with more responsibility than general contractors; they are tasked with making sure the staff and any subcontractors are doing what they’re supposed to, including accomplishing certain project goals and following correct regulations and procedures. They also may have to create schedules and inspect work.

  • Mean wage: $32.71/hourly, $68,040 annually
  • Industry outlook: 13 percent growth, from 602,500 positions in 2016 to 678,800 in 2026
  • Available positions: Foreman, field supervisor, construction manager, project manager, estimator
  • Employment opportunities: Specialty trade contractors, utilities, residential/non-residential contractors
  • States with highest employment: Texas, California, Florida, New York, North Carolina
  • Requirements: A high school degree is usually the only academic requirement, although a bachelor’s degree in construction or construction management may help with leadership qualifications, along with professional experience

Hydrologist

Someone seeking a position where they can demonstrate valuable skills, help others, and get outside as much as possible may find this occupation especially stimulating. Their primary task is conducting research into locations, quantities, and qualities of water, including the effects from natural processes like erosion and flooding, as well as human-made situations such as contamination or low reservoir levels due to drought or development activities. Hydrologists can work for public agencies or private companies. The position can require work in labs and in the field collecting samples. A hydrologist’s recommendations, research, and predictions also might influence decisions by government or companies.

  • Mean wage: $40.26/hourly, $83,740 annually
  • Industry outlook: 10 percent growth, from 6,700 positions in 2016 to 7,300 in 2026
  • Employment opportunities: Local, state and federal government, architectural/engineering firms
  • Available positions: Environmental analyst, environmental specialist, environmental specialist, project hydrologist
  • States with highest employment: California, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Texas
  • Requirements: At least a bachelor’s degree in environmental science for entry-level tasks, but a master’s degree might be more attractive to employers and provide more responsibility/leadership opportunities

Environmental Scientist or Specialist

When given a choice of visiting a beautiful beach with crystal-clear water, or one that’s been trashed and contaminated, most people would be pick the first. But environmental scientists might pick the second: this way they can figure out what the damage is, what caused it, and then what can be done to improve its condition. This profession is responsible for investigating environmental hazards that can affect life, working with environmental engineers and other professionals to figure out solutions to make improvements. This can include heading into the field to take samples of air, water, and soil, and creating any health advisories. Government agencies at all levels have these kinds of scientists, as do private companies that want to minimize any damage such as petroleum companies.

  • Mean salary: $36.23/hourly, $75,360/annually
  • Industry outlook: 11 percent increase, from 89,500 positions in 2016 to 99,400 in 2026
  • Common employers: Local, state and federal government, architectural/design firms, environmental consultants, oil/pipeline companies, social advocacy organizations
  • States with highest employment: California, Florida, Texas, New York, North Carolina
  • Available jobs: Environmental consultant, project manager, environmental manager
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in natural sciences plus professional experience

Civil Engineer

At first glance, this occupation may not seem as hands-on in nature, as a park ranger or an outfitter, but civil engineers do have an important role in making the outdoors accessible to other people, including helping create and repair infrastructure so the rest of us can safely get to our favorite places and back. The profession includes office time, as well as time in the field surveying different locations and checking conditions of buildings, roadways, or other structures and features. Public agencies or private companies may ask these engineers to find ways to make improvements and make predictions about future activity, such as National Parks that see more visitors every year, which causes more wear and tear on their facilities. Beyond roads and buildings, engineers can look at sewage systems, power plants, pipelines, and airports.

  • Mean salary: $43.14/hourly, $89,730/annually
  • Industry outlook: 11 percent growth, from 303,500 positions in 2016 to 335,600 in 2026
  • Common employers: Local, state and federal government, heavy construction firms, design firms, transportation/pipeline firms, oil/extraction companies
  • States with highest employment: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania
  • Related jobs: Structural engineer, transportation engineer, road/bridges engineer
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or related discipline; states also may require engineering license/certification

Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineering, a growing subfield of civil engineering, involves striking a balance between human projects and activities while protecting delicate ecological balances. These skilled professionals take on responsibilities such as creating environmental reports; designing systems (e.g., air pollution control, water reclamation) to protect the environment; maintaining all necessary credentialing and permits for projects in compliance with regulations; gauging the success of protection efforts; advising companies, governments, and others about how to mitigate environmental disasters; and inspecting various facilities to ensure they’re not damaging various ecosystems. These engineers may specialize in areas such as wastewater treatment, hazardous materials, urban planning, and other fields.

  • Mean salary: $42.56/hourly, $88,530/annually
  • Industry outlook: 8 percent growth, from 53,800 positions in 2016 to 58,200 in 2026
  • Common employers: Local, state and federal government, heavy construction firms, design firms, environmental protection agencies, research institutes
  • States with highest employment: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts
  • Related jobs: Environmental scientists, civil engineers, urban and regional planners, hazardous materials removal workers
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or related discipline; states also may require engineering license/certification
Joe Butler
Joe Butler
Writer

Joe Butler is an accomplished writer and editor in the Northwest with more than 20 years of experience publishing in newspapers, magazines, and specialty websites. He graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in mass communications and has worked with a variety of clients nationwide. Joe lives near Spokane, WA, where he writes, reads, and collects spoons as well as the cheapest, plastic snow-globes he can find.

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