This research aims to address the paucity of research exploring the impact of formative experiences shaping the trajectory of young people entering higher education outdoor education programmes. Ten participants (n=10) were recruited from a college outdoor education programme this consisted of 6 male (n=6) age range 18–26 and 4 Females (n=4) age range, 18–27. The research followed a constructivist emergent approach. Semi-structured schedule guided the interviews but was open to emerging issues and involved a reflexive process where habitus became a tool around which to organise the research and the analysis. Two main themes emerged from the analysis: ‘Gender, identity and formative experience’ and ‘Capital and access to the cultural field’. For ‘Gender, identity and formative experience’ there were sub themes: ‘Masculinity, identity and place’; ‘Femininity, identity and social space’; Challenging the gendered orthodoxy’ and Women managing their identities’. ‘Capital and access to the social field’ deals with access to the cultural field of higher education and outdoor education. For the young men early experiences in the family establishes the masculine orthodoxy and cultural capital valued by the cultural field. Women provide a complex and contradictory accounts of their identity construction. Challenging the gendered orthodoxy often comes with a cost to their feminine capital and status. ‘Capital and access to the social field’ deals with access to the cultural field of higher education and outdoor education. Students from non-traditional backgrounds develop strategies based on their previous experiences to negotiate their learning identities. Students from traditional backgrounds are responsive to emerging opportunities where families provide optimal conditions for their seamless transition to higher education. Women have made gains in non-traditional career paths such as outdoor education but they are still subject to structural, institutional and gendered power relations shaping their career trajectories.