A SXSW Guide for Lovers of Adventure and the Outdoors

Beers, maps, adventurers—is there anything better?
Beers, maps, adventurers—is there anything better? Laura Stade
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South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive music and media festival held annually in Austin, Texas, is once again upon us, beginning March 11 and lasting through March 20, 2016. SXSW Interactive, a “convergence of emerging technologies," will bring innovators of all kinds together through conferences, panels, and events hosted by both seasoned leaders and the brilliant minds behind emerging missions.

Austin itself is a city with a heavy focus on environmental responsibility, so it only makes sense these core issues have become part of the festival’s itinerary, too. With lofty, but not unobtainable, goals like achieving Zero Waste by 2040, Austin is a great example of an urban city doing its part to reduce its impact and carbon footprint, while educating residents and encouraging participation in environmental initiatives.

Environmentally focused themes at SXSW, whether centered around outdoor recreation, sustainability, corporate responsibility, or even wild feats in the wilderness are not new to the festivities. In fact, an environmentally focused spinoff, SXSW Eco, will take place October 10-12 this year. But, the growing emphasis on getting outdoors, getting in touch with nature, respecting Mother Earth, and developing initiatives to improve environmental health—both on local and global scales—is undoubtedly on the rise.

Last year, for example, The North Face debuted a virtual reality experience that would later become part of the flagship store experience across major U.S. cities, immersing users into high-octane experiences alongside professional athletes in both Yosemite National Park and Moab, Utah. Meru, Jimmy Chin’s edge-of-your-seat film about his attempted summit of Mount Meru’s infamous Shark Fin in Northern India, also screened at SXSW 2015. And 2016 has no shortage of both creative and impact-driven initiatives on the calendar. 

We reached out to Sarah Knapp—founder of OutdoorFest and Mappy Hour, and booked as a participant in two SXSW panels this year—to find out which SXSW events are not to be missed by those whose passions lie outdoors or are committed to positive environmental impact. Because of OutdoorFest’s founding mission—"to connect urban dwellers to local outdoor resources; to encourage healthier, active, and more adventurous lifestyles”— Knapp is an ideal resource for like-minded adventurers.

OutdoorFest and Mappy Hour brings city dwellers and lovers of the outdoors together.
OutdoorFest and Mappy Hour brings city dwellers and lovers of the outdoors together. Sarah Knapp

A lover of the outdoors herself, Knapp headed for the mountains of Moab, Utah, after graduating from NYU. She eventually returned to New York City seeking a means to satisfy her need for both city living and outdoor adventure.

“I decided to create a community that connects urban dwellers to the outdoors,” Knapp says. “As more people move to cities, more people find that one of the major challenges of living in an urban center is access to the outdoors. OutdoorFest has identified the challenge and is set on making sure people continue to be able to connect to nature, adventure, and each other.”

Mappy Hour, currently with chapters in NYC, D.C., and Calgary (with three more chapters “quietly forming in yet-to-be announced locations”), is one of OutdoorFest’s initiatives—a “gathering of urban-based outdoor enthusiasts around maps, guidebooks, beer, and adventure stories.” Pretty rad, right?

In the coming weeks, Knapp’s biggest focus is on SXSW. One panel Knapp is leading,"Old Sports, New Life," will involve folks_ from _Outside Magazine, Hipcamp, and The Mountain Lab, focuses on outdoor culture in urban areas. Knapp is particularly excited about the panel. "We'll be exploring the relationship between the outdoors and cities, how that has changed recently, and how it will continue to change; shaping not only how outdoor recreation is defined, but how city living is defined. People should be excited because this is something we're all living through right now as we watch more people move to cities and more city dwellers participate in sports previously seen as niche, like rock climbing, for example.”

Folks gather at one of the Mappy Hour shindigs.
Folks gather at one of the Mappy Hour shindigs. Laura Stade

If you’re a fellow adventurer, here are the events Knapp thinks you’ll enjoy (in order of their appearance) with professional athletes, adventurers, and presenters hailing from organizations including National Geographic, StoryCorps, Instagram and WWF International.

Friday, March 11: "New World of Photography and Visual Storytelling" Using Photo Ark, “Joel Sartore has set out to make portraits of as many of the Earth’s species as possible to create a visual Noah’s Ark.” The panel’s presenters will also include National Geographic Deputy Director of Digital Photography Patrick Witty, National Geographic VP of Social Media Raj Mody, and StoryCorps CEO Robin Sparkman.  

Friday, March 11: "Old Sports, New Life: Outdoor Culture in Cities" According to the panel description, "Outdoor recreation has ceased to be a fringe community of rock climbers living out of their cars and has moved into the mainstream, reaching what seems to be the opposite of wilderness: our cities (and of course the millennial culture-makers that reside there).” Outside Magazine News Editor Abigail Wise, Hipcamp CEO and Founder Alyssa Ravasio, The Mountain Lab President and Founder Scott Maguire, as well as Sarah Knapp will participate in this one.

Saturday, March 12: "Badass Female Cyclists Meetup"—SXSW Interactive publicist and cyclist, Kelly Krause will lead this meetup "for those with a passion for bikes and getting more women on them.”

Saturday, March 12: "Sports and the Sharing Economy"—Learn how the concept of ride-sharing and Airbnb is being adopted to increase the accessibility of sports equipment. Presenters will include Spinlister CMO Andrew Batey, Boatbound Director of Business Development Chris Oetting, reQwip Founder and CEO Dan Driscoll, and Speck Design/Massive Labs Director of Innovation Strategy Savannah Peterson.

Saturday, March 12: "Virtual Reality and Digital Wildlife Conservation"—How to use digital technology "to get closer to animals in the wild" and further global conservation efforts will be discussed by WWF International Digital Innovation Manager Adrian Cockle, Conservation Technology Unit Technical Specialist Alasdair Davies, Knit Creative Technologist Jack Chalkley, and Future Cities Catapult Head of Making Tim Brooke.

Sunday, March 13: "Body Art Stories: Athletes, Tattoos, and Instagram"—The impact of people sharing their ink on Instagram will get a closer look by Instagram Community Events Lead Andrew Owen, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Team Canada Olympic Athlete Kaillie Humphries, and Tattoos by Randy owner Randy Harris.

Sunday, March 13: "Citizen Science: Sensors and the Environment"—Presenters San Diego State University Associate Professor Amy Schmitz Weiss and MIT Researcher Lily Bui will examine how electronic open-source sensors can help citizens tackle persistent environmental threats.

Sunday, March 13: "Mappy Hour: Outdoor Adventurers Meetup"—Sarah Knapp invites "climbers, hikers, surfers, skiers, mountaineers, cyclists, slackliners" and other adventurers to share experiences and resources.

Monday, March 14: "Bass Fishin' Meetup"—SXSW Interactive Festival Coordinator Andrew McNeill will encourage anglers to share their fish tales and trusty gear for landing lunkers.

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