Top 5 outdoor jobs

Jobs you can do outdoors

When David Mizejewski gets tired of fielding phone calls on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, he can always get out in the sun.

As NWF spokesman, he's also a media personality. That means he spends time outdoors taping TV segments, whether it's in a grove of evergreens or outside a home in Jacksonville, Fla., where the homeowners have turned their yard into a wildlife refuge for birds.

"I love being outdoors and getting away from the chain that keeps my tied to my desk and my cubicle," said Mizejewski, a lifelong naturalist. "I feel really lucky that I get to spend a lot of my time doing my job outside the four walls of our headquarters building."

With spring in the air, it's easy to share that sentiment. Not everyone wants to toil the soil 40 hours a week, but there are plenty who would be glad for a job that lets them divide their time between fluorescent lighting and grass underfoot.

Fortunately, a range of such jobs does exist.


Remember what Indiana Jones does for a living? That's right: He's an archaeologist. So that's already a cool career.

This is very much a job that lets you work both at a desk and in the open air.

Archaeologists literally dig into history, spending time at the scene of an investigation either with shovel in hand or overseeing a cadre of underpaid grad students. They unearth evidence of past civilizations and ways of life.

Then it's back to the university for time in the lab analyzing the find, and time on the computer writing up scholarly papers.

As with most social scientists, archaeologists typically need a master's or PhD (Hat and whip optional). They earn a median income of $53,910 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the job outlook is strong. Major construction projects around the nation require the presence of archaeologists who are mandated by federal law to protect historical sites and artifacts.

Agricultural engineer

Despite the title, agricultural engineers don't necessarily spend all their time out on the land. For many, though, the nature of the work opens up the door to occasional stepping out.

These professionals design farm machinery; everything from power systems to crop storage systems. They'll spend a lot of time at the drawing board, literally, drafting new means to conserve soil and improve the handling of agricultural products.

But they also get out in the sun. They may need to examine firsthand the requirements of a given situation, or they may want to view their own solutions in action in order to make further improvements. They may work directly with growers, too, in order to determine their specific needs.

Entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree, typically in one of several branches of engineering, although math and science majors also may quality. Median income is $68,730 according to BLS.

Urban planner

Urban planners can do some of the job at their desks, reviewing documents and drawing up proposals. But much of the real work is done at street level. In order to lay out schemes for urban development, professional planners often will visit firsthand the area under development and meet with neighborhood people.

Planners help to mediate between multiple parties, forging common interest between government, private development and community interest groups. While research and report-writing are integral tasks, they also are apt to pound the pavement, giving flesh and bones to plans that might otherwise lie flat on the page.

For those looking to move into the field, you'll need a master's degree with an emphasis on urban design or environmental planning. Students may start out their academic careers by pursuing a bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science or environmental design. Median income is about $59,810 according to BLS.

Environmental scientist

Environmental scientists need to have first-hand knowledge of the subject of their inquiries. That's good news for those looking to balance life at the lab bench with a bag lunch in Birkenstocks.

These professionals protect the environment by analyzing and observing air, food, water and soil. They help to advise those who make the rules that keep land, air and water habitable. They'll spend time writing up those recommendations, but they'll also log hours in taking those measurements. They may work on behalf of federal or state governmental agencies, or private industry.

Entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree in an earth science, although many companies would rather see a master's degree in environmental science or a related natural science, including biology, chemistry, physics or the geosciences. Median annual wages of environmental scientists and specialists are $59,750 according to BLS.

Private detective

Yes, you'll probably spend a certain amount of time lurking outside motel windows in search of wayward spouses. But there's a lot more to the private detective business than that. Detectives may take on personal work a la Sam Spade, but they are just as apt to conduct corporate investigations or work on behalf of attorneys.

Either way, there is ample opportunity to embrace the great outdoors. An insurance case for instance might involve scoping out an alleged victim for potential fraud. Missing-persons cases may call for extensive legwork, while child custody cases can put wear on shoe leather as a gumshoe seeks out fugitive parents.

While there are no formal education requirements to get into the field, many detectives have post-secondary degrees. They often will have taken courses in criminal justice and police science at the bachelor's or associate degree levels. The median annual income of a salaried private detective is $41,760.

While most of today's jobs won't keep you totally out of the office, these careers can offer a good balance between the office cube farm and the great outdoors.