Larry Burke kayaking
Larry Burke kayaking

The Man Behind the Outside Brand

Larry Burke wins a lifetime achievement award at Outdoor Retailer

Larry Burke kayaking

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Forty-three years ago, Outside’s founder Lawrence “Larry” Burke essentially created an entirely new type of media brand, which would go on to change the outdoor industry forever—a feat for which he won a lifetime achievement award at the Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards last week in Denver.

“It’s everything I could have wanted to do with my life,” Burke said in his acceptance speech. “If I had to start over again, I would do it exactly the same way.” 

Given all the outdoor influencers, travel blogs, websites, magazines, podcasts, and such dedicated to everything from bikepacking to kayak fishing, it’s hard to believe that a world ever existed where it was hard to find inspiration for your next adventure. But that’s the reality in which Burke found himself in 1973. After five years exploring remote regions of Africa, South America, the Middle East, Russia, and many more, he came back to America and realized there was no magazine that covered the adventurous lifestyle that had come to define him.

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So he started his own. Nevermind that he had no experience as a writer, editor, or publisher. The first issue of Outside appeared in 1977, and while it quickly gained a passionate readership, it wasn't easy convincing the publishing world that the outdoor craze was for real.

Burke sent writers to the top of Everest and to the bottom of forbidding river gorges, and they came back with the stories that have inspired all of us, establishing a tradition of literary heritage here at Outside that we’re proud to carry on to this day. He essentially bushwhacked the entire outdoor media category to life, a Herculean feat for which he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award—and subsequent standing ovation—at the biggest annual gathering of the outdoor industry.

While a lot has changed over the past four decades, much hasn’t. Outside Integrated Media is now a global brand that, between all of its platforms, reaches nearly 40 million people every month. But the company is still independently owned, and still based in Santa Fe. And at 75, Burke is still as involved as ever.

More impressive than anything, perhaps, is that neither the brand nor the man show any signs of slowing down, as Outside continues to realize Burke’s original vision: to promote the active lifestyle through award-winning storytelling.

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