Kendall Oakley

My cousin Nathan is an undeniable expert outdoorsman and hiker. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and if he’s not in his graduate school classes he’s on the trails. Last summer he hiked the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail by himself (!!!!). Obviously, being a proud cousin, it’s my job to (humbly) brag about Nate’s crazy accomplishments to my friends, especially those who also share an affinity for the outdoors. During one instance, my friend Eliza called Nate a term I had never heard before. She said he was “granola”. Granola?? What the heck does that even mean? Is she comparing him to the sweet, crunchy clusters people put on top of yogurt and smoothies?

My investigative nature and genuine confusion led to me doing minimal research (aka a Google search of the term). No, being granola does not mean that you’re anything like the sweet, crunchy clusters people put on top of yogurt and smoothies. I concluded that a good part of the granola lifestyle simply means being visibly outdoorsy. People who are perceived as granola have Instagram feeds full of beautiful landscapes, Pinterest boards filled with camping/fishing/climbing/etc. trip plans, and may or may not frequently wear Chacos or Tevas. They’d rather do a visit to a National Park than a day at the amusement park. As a college student, I hear the term granola being thrown around more often than not. “Look at that girl’s Nalgene! She must be sooooo granola…”. “OMG you have an Eno hammock? How granola of you!”. “I really want to go on a hike. It’ll be such a good granola experience.”. On the exterior, people like to present themselves as granola or brag about being granola because it’s apparently cool to be an outdoorsy millennial. It shows that you have some grit and that you care about something greater than yourself. It’s no coincidence that brands like Patagonia, LL Bean, and North Face that are considered granola (due to their outdoorsy ethos) also happen to be wildly popular among college students too. Owning a lot of products from an outdoorsy brand is associated with being (wait for it…) granola. Being granola is kind of… trendy… I mean, think about it. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a human who chooses to prioritize getting outdoors over binging hours of Netflix?

Muesli with fruit

Reflecting on my minimally extensive research, my cousin Nate is truly granola. Aside from fitting the aesthetic appearance (digitally and physically), he also embodies an often overlooked aspect of being granola. Nate has an insatiable yearning to be outdoors. He doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk. He’s all about facing challenges and trying new things from mountain biking, to hiking the entire AT. Nate isn’t afraid of going back to the basics of living off the land and separating himself from his hectic grad student life. Most importantly, Nate doesn’t strive to be granola for the recognition or compliments on his aesthetic. He genuinely loves and appreciates the land around him and wants to help other people experience all the benefits of the outdoors. Last month, he emailed me a very comprehensive starter’s guide to hiking trips filled with links to helpful products and anecdotes about his own experiences.

However, Nate’s expertise and experience isn’t mandatory for being granola. Living the granola lifestyle is as easy as acting on your intentions. Practice what you preach. Want to go on a day hike? Gather some friends, do some research and do it. Love brands like Patagonia and Eddie Bauer? Start thinking about buying their items with a functional mindset rather than for brand recognition by others (think of that as a bonus). This doesn’t have to be done in one day. It takes time to explore the land around you. It’s tempting to get caught up in the materialistic side of being granola, but as long as you possess the desire to pursue more, to explore more, and to appreciate something bigger than yourself, then you’re on the track to being granola.