Brainard: The outdoors awaits on Black Friday: #OptOutside

I took this photo of the sunset reflecting on Mississippi River backwaters close to Black Friday. But it was actually taken on Thanksgiving Day itself, Nov. 24, 2011.
By : 
Lisa Brainard

Thanksgiving is almost here. We all know what that brings – an overabundance of good food with family and friends.

In the past that may well have been followed by an overabundance of crazy people shopping the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally known as Black Friday.

But these days, just spending some time outdoors is promoted as a great option for Black Friday. Get some exercise after the big meal, avoid the shopping frenzy, maybe bring some family and friends along, and reconnect with the beauty and marvels of the natural world.

Thanks REI

The outdoor gear co-op REI started this welcome trend. Here’s a history of #OptOutside from REI’s website blog,

REI STAFF//OCTOBER 29, 2017 – How a small idea had a huge effect

“REI is a purpose-led outdoor co-operative of 16 million members. Together, we believe that a life outdoors is a life well lived.

“Within that simple statement is the genesis of #OptOutside, the idea to close our stores on Black Friday, pay our 12,000 employees to spend time outside and invite America to join us.

“#OptOutside first launched in 2015. No other large retailer had been shut on Thanksgiving and Black Friday before. The response was incredible: more than 1.4 million people and 170 outdoor companies, nonprofits and organizations chose to spend their Black Friday outdoors. In 2016, #OptOutside quadrupled.

“To date, more than 700 organizations and 7 million people have chosen to #OptOutside instead of fighting it out in the aisles.

“And so, while #OptOutside began as an idea to do the right thing for our employees, it has become a movement far larger than us. The concept links directly back to our beginnings as a co-op. REI was founded by 23 climbing friends in the shadow of Mount Rainier in 1938. They came together, imagined new ways to get outside and changed the way people access the outdoors forever.

“More than seven decades later, that same passion for a life outdoors is at the core of everything REI does. By leading with our values, by putting our employees and our members first, by creating an opportunity for people to pause and choose a different path, together we have created something bigger than we ever dreamed was possible.

“ #OptOutside isn’t just about Black Friday. It is a mindset. It is about choosing life outdoors. And it has become a way for people to share who they are and what we believe in…”

For 2019 and beyond, REI has expanded its message to encourage opting to plan for ways to help our planet, take on climate change, and more. Read the message from Eric Artz, president and CEO of REI, at:

I should note I’ve been an REI co-op member since 2003, when I paid the lifetime fee of $20, still that same price.

Check the website for membership benefits like classes and special offers.

I haven’t shopped there at all this year, so am set to get a member dividend amount of $0. But I continue to appreciate the co-op’s commitment to the outdoors.

Free Park Friday

For one way in which #OptOutside surely has affected Minnesota, where REI has a number of stores, let’s turn to the DNR for a press release.

“The tradition continues! Admission to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas (regularly $7 for one-day vehicle permit) will be free on the day after Thanksgiving again this year.

“The goal is to encourage families to extend their holiday by spending time together with a walk outdoors. Research shows that walking offers multiple benefits, from increased creativity and better brain function to more flexibility and stamina. So, you won't just burn calories, you'll also improve your well-being.”

Get more info at: Free Park Friday, Nov. 29! - Minnesota DNR. Whitewater State Park – east of Rochester and north of Saint Charles on Highway 74 – will have a turkey hike from 10 to 11 a.m.

Learn the fascinating history of the wild turkey in the Whitewater River valley. After a short presentation, hikers will look for clues and signs of wild turkeys in the park.

Wherever you spend the holiday, get outside for Black Friday! Plan to make it a habit.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.