Camp Yoshi: empowering the black community outdoors

Rashad Frazier, co-founder of the adventure brand, gives us the inside track on helping people of color reconnect with the wilderness.
Camp Yoshi 16x9 hero

Growing up, Rashad Frazier and his brother Ron spent lots of time at a lake house in North Carolina, not far from the city of Charlotte. Their summer days were filled with hiking, swimming, fishing and sleeping under the stars. As time went on and the brothers became adults, they both wanted to get back in touch with the outdoors and also introduce the lifestyle to those unfamiliar with it.  

In the summer of 2020, Camp Yoshi was born with the tagline: ‘We take black folks (and allies) to the wilderness. Grab your crew and book an adventure.’ In the year of its launch, Camp Yoshi carried out six camping and gourmet-cooking trips to off-grid and under-explored places. For 2022, it already has more than 20 planned. 

Here, Rashad runs us through his love for the great outdoors, why he and his brother started the business and what's coming next.

What camping was like growing up

‘At first, we were uncomfortable. Taking us out of our urban comfort zone… and then, suddenly, we're hearing these new sounds and seeing stars for the first time? The mountains and the peaks looked so Jurassic! The first few days, it was like: OK, take me home now. We quickly recognized that this outdoor space wasn't being used by us. 

‘Our parents are very articulate about the history of outdoor spaces and the wilderness; often, when black and brown folks go to some of these spots, they may not come back. Driving around country roads carried a lot of fear for my parents. They would have to think about what time of day they were driving, how to avoid the police, how to keep people up to date on where they were at. They needed a strategy to navigate the outdoors. Their stories still cut deeply, and we carry them with us. It's why it's so important for us to make the outdoors feel safe and accessible for everyone.’

On demystifying the outdoors

‘Our parents are buying into us starting this business, but they're still pretty apprehensive. Ultimately, it's two black dudes running around in Land Cruisers with tinted windows, going to remote locations. When we get gas, we sometimes get: “Can I help you guys? Are you lost?” So it's understandable why they have concerns. 

‘I used to work in banking, then I quit to become a chef. My parents weren't happy about that career move, either. They wanted me to become a lawyer, a doctor, a banker. So, camping is a real stretch for them. But they're coming around. 

‘We're showing them how we're opening up a whole new space for black people. We're demystifying what it means to make a living for black people. That's the coolest thing about it all. We're demystifying what it means to pursue your passions and to monetize those passions and, more importantly, in spaces that typically haven't reflected us, ever.’

What a typical trip looks like 

‘Our trips are turnkey. Show up and everything is taken care of: provisions, food, cocktails, the vehicles (which are really important, because our trips are totally off-road), the routes, the guides. 

’The first day is mainly hanging out, introductions, a little walk around, and we'll also talk safety. There are no barriers or gates where we are. If you get too close to the ridge, you will fall and you will perish. So, if you're going on a hike, there's a buddy system. 

’We have daily activities. Typically we get up, we have coffee and breakfast and we have the wheels up by 9.30am to go on our first excursion. One day might be 4x4ing. Other days we'll go on a hike to the summit of a mountain, alpine lake or hot spring. Some days will be water days – kayaking or rafting. But what will happen also depends on the energy and morale of the group; we play it by ear. The group's feeling a little lazy this morning? OK then, we'll go for a drive. No problem.’

On good food

‘We usually do lunch on the trail. I'll bring some hot plates or some burners, with little propane canisters, to cook something fresh. It could be something as simple as stir fry, or something a little more ambitious – maybe yakitori. But we really flex our feathers at dinner time. 

‘We're trying to break down any social discomfort. It's cool sitting down and having a meal, and someone saying: “Hey, pass me more rice,” or “Pass more sauce, pass more butter chicken.” It helps to lead the conversation – like, what's your story, where are you from? We like to bond with people.

‘The food component is so important, because we're mostly focusing on non-campers; we're trying to really lure them into spaces they wouldn't usually go. The food could be fresh-fried rice over the wok or braised short rib. Once your belly is full and the cocktails are good, it disarms those campers who might previously have been fearful about coming out. 

’It's all pretty vibey, too – being out in the desert, looking at the stars for the first time, while drinking an Old Fashioned or sipping on a Paloma. What's better? I don't want to give you a lot of crap or shitty food. You know, a shitty camper is a terrible camper. So, there aren't a lot of sugary drinks. We're not doing Margaritas. I'm sorry for the folks who love Margaritas; here, it's fresh ingredients only!’

Favorite places

‘Idaho is a really special place. Sun Valley to Stanley: that drive is epic. The Sawtooth Mountains are to your left, headed west, and to your right, you have massive, beautiful rolling hills. The texture, the color – it just screams adventure. Idaho isn't the most attractive place, in terms of branding, to our community. So it's probably one of those spots where most of us have never been to, but it has some of the best gems in the world. I also love the Snake River; it's probably got the best fish I've ever had.

‘Places like that are really, really rare; I want to get to those spots more often. Canyon Country in Utah, which is mostly around Moab, speaks for itself. It's busier than ever right now, but you can get away from the popular spots and focus on the little forks in other canyons in the area. There are some sacred spaces that are just off the beaten path. Sometimes, you get into certain places like Southern California, which is a great spot, but the terrain isn't as diverse or as beautiful as northern Arizona, southern Utah and Idaho.’ 

Rashad's three best pieces of camping kit 

1. ‘NEMO Equipment sleep systems. If you're not sleeping well when you're outdoors, then you'll have a shitty experience. So, I took a little bit of time and invested in this great sleep kit. It's expensive, but it'll make your camping experience way better. I also love NEMO's sleeping pads. You have your sleeping bag, which you get inside of, and that's important, of course; but, equally important is that you aren't sleeping directly on hard rock. So, that's where the pads come in.’

2. ‘The Takibi tarp from Snow Peak lets you have a live fire directly under a tarp. It's waterproof and also UV-blocking. It's a game changer. If it rains, no bother; put the tarp up and make your fire, then get cooking. And if it's windy, it won't blow away; the Takibi has been designed with so much flex in it. You peg it into the ground and it's not moving anywhere. Pull that out in your backyard and watch your neighbors' faces!’ 

3. ‘Gaia GPS. It's one of the best adventure tech tools available and we use it religiously. Our adventures draw us to remote and sometimes uninhabited places, to enjoy the scenery and solitude. So, we need comprehensive mapping systems to find our way. Gaia GPS allows us to navigate easier, save locations and download maps for offline use, out on the trail when your signal is non-existent. We can also easily share our routes and maps among our staff. It's honestly one of the best tools that helped to build our confidence and demystify the wilderness.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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