To Geo-Tag, or Not to Geo-Tag: My Take.

One look at the recent geo-tagging debate.

By: Tara Stamnes
November 22, 2016

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Go onto any semi-famous landscape photography Instagram account right now and you’ll find an undertone of debate in the comments section. From “keep it secret” to “why don’t you tell everyone where this is?!”, the line between in the know and in the dark has seemingly been drawn. But is geo-tagging bad?

Those against geo-tagging have some valid points, which, from what I’ve seen, are twofold. First comes the need to keep special or dear places secret and/or “untouched” - avoid the hordes from flowing into favorite spots at all costs. I get this. No one would argue that there’s nothing like reaching the peak by yourself or with your team, and having that celebratory made-it meal without a soul around. These are the moments outdoor enthusiasts live for. Second though, comes the argument that irks me in this debate: “well, I found this spot by exploring, ergo everyone else should too.” This presumption rubs me the wrong way for a few reasons. Let me explain.

 I’ll start with my doubt for the genuine reality of the statement above in most cases. Sure, maybe you did find that one small pond in the backcountry by venturing out on your own, going off the trail, or bushwhacking and, if so, kudos. You’ve earned that secret. But, for most urban adventurers like myself, you probably heard about that outdoor spot through some form of media, be it a magazine, guide book, an ad, The Outbound, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Therefore, this sense of entitlement seems false to me. Now, of course, not all media was created equal by the Internet Gods. Social media is highly accessible, and makes it easy for practically anyone to see content about outdoor spaces. This, I believe, has stigmatized it in the outdoor community, allowing for an air of desired exclusivity from the masses. But can we make nature exclusive? I’d argue not.

Nature is not just for those who’ve been raised in an outdoorsy household, where the love of hiking or cross-country skiing has been passed down through generations. Not everyone is born into this life, but that shouldn’t mean that they’re less entitled to experiencing the joy that comes from being on top of a mountain. Personally, I wasn’t always an outdoorsy person, but inspiring photos I saw and things I read led to me now spending as much time outside as possible, and when I can give this experience back to others, I feel whole. From guiding, to hiking, to posting photos on Instagram, some of the most joy in my life has come with sharing the outdoors with other people. Sharing the trail has helped me build meaningful relationships, learn new skills, and become healthier physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Mix a little inspiration with a pinch of enablement and you’ve got the recipe for getting people outside and I’m convinced that more people outside will create a better world. The enablement aspect of this formula is where I think geo-tagging comes in. Knowing where something is gives you the option of going there. That doesn’t mean everyone will head out. There is still planning and packing and motivation involved. And sure, spreading the word may lead to a few more people on trails, but even after living in one of the busiest hiking meccas in the world for six months, with hundreds of thousands on the trail every day, “they” still didn’t ruin a single adventure for me - it was all magic. I hope that, in the supposedly democratic world we live in, more interest in and demand for trails will lead to more being built, and for a deeper societal integration/care for our environment, but maybe I’m just a hopeless optimist. Regardless, I will continue to tell those who want to know where I’ve been, and where I’m going. 

Happy trails!

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.