I am a hiker. I enjoy spending my outdoors, taking in fresh air, and usually pushing my limits on the trail. Hiking is a simple activity and one that just about anyone says they like to do, but at different levels. No one questions this. No one bats an eye. This is until they learn how I (like many other women) spend my time in the woods.
I like challenges. I enjoy steep climbs where I earn my views. Sometimes I hike knowing I won’t get a view. Sometimes I don’t have a trail to follow. Sometimes when I hike it’s snowing. Or windy. Or there’s already feet of snow on the trail. Many times I hike alone.
I am repeatedly questioned. Too often I’m judged.
There are dozens of scenarios, but there’s two that most of these interactions generally follow. They look like this:
I am interacting with a person who isn’t a hiker. They start out by asking a couple of general questions such as “have you hiked _____ mountain” or “what’s your favorite part?” Somewhere in the conversation they learn that my kind of hiking isn’t in line with the types of hiking they are comfortable with. They learn about my “extreme” hiking and are shocked. I am usually told I should carry a gun, pepper spray, a large knife, or (and I’m not joking) hike with a man.
“You mean your husband doesn’t hike with you!?”
For far too many women, hiking has been something they got into with a significant other and for some reason can’t be their thing. My husband has hobbies that I support and join him on at times (when he feels like waiting for me on bike rides). Sometimes he joins me on hikes, but I go much more often. It’s my thing. I encourage all couples to have activities and interests they enjoy apart from each other. If you enjoy hiking with someone, please continue to do so, but know that hiking isn’t a “man’s sport” and that you should be able to enjoy it with whomever you choose, even (or especially) if that’s alone.
I had hiked as a kid, but got really interested in hiking again in my early twenties. When I rediscovered hiking I was exploring solo. For me, it has never seemed odd, but to just about everyone else, I was insane.
Many times in conversations people (both men and women) ask who I am hiking/hiked with. When I respond with “just me” I usually am faced with silence. The person often doesn’t know how to react and will change the conversation completely and not want to hear anything else. Sometimes I get the advice mentioned above. And this is from people who don’t hike. When I receive this unsolicited advice I respond with why I don’t carry a gun or why I’m not worried about getting raped or murdered on the trail. It’s frustrating, but I explain in hopes of educating someone.
Before I set foot on California’s 220 mile John Muir Trail, almost everyone had this response as I was hiking it solo. To me, this seemed nuts as I’ve hiked the New Hampshire 4000 footers in every season (that’s 192 peaks!) and have done over half of them solo. When I wasn’t solo I was often leading groups, many of them were made up of all men. Yes, I was the one responsible for making decisions on trail. I had done my research, trained my butt off, and was very happy with my final gear list, but these factors didn’t matter simply because I am a woman.
When I returned from the JMT I was still faced with questions of why I didn’t carry a gun. I was even told how “lucky I was nothing happened to me” as if I should have been waiting for something terrible to happen to me on trail.
I am on trail hiking solo. A couple or group of hikers comments on the fact that I am hiking alone. Some are shocked and tell me it’s dangerous while others are surprised, but encouraging.
How many solo men do you notice on the trail? How many of them do you think should carry protection? I find it ludicrous how many people make snap judgements and give out unsolicited (and uniformed) advice to female hikers only.
Now I am not encouraging all women to hit the trail solo in order to feel empowered. I advise any one to make sure to properly prepare both physically and mentally before taking on a new challenge. As a woman you have the right to hike as you please. Go with your girlfriends, your husband, your dog, or go at it alone. Take a leadership and first aid course. Learn how to set up your shelter, build a fire, and mend a wound. Become confident in navigation. Teach others and encourage all hikers.
Women have a place on the trail and shouldn’t be patronized or judged. The only thing our boobs change is the need for a good sports bra!
If you’re new here at Trail to Summit, I’ve dedicated the month of October to providing resources that support women on the trail after Backpacker Magazine attempted to do the same. Some articles include:
Hygiene basics for female hikers: dealing with your period, a serious guide on using the bathroom in the woods (it’s super simple and should not keep you from hiking!), and general tips for women.
Books for Adventurous Women! Some of my recommended picks.
What can you look forward to?
The ins and outs of solo hiking
Hitting the trail: Looking to take your hiking up a notch? Learn from one woman who did just that.
A look at menstrual cups and why you should make the switch
Hiking gear picks for women: my favorite gear that I’d recommend to my fellow lady hikers. Many can be used by men too!
More Wild Women!
I hope you’ve been enjoying this month’s content. You can participate by tagging #trailtosummit on Instagram, Twitter, and facebook on your hikes. In the description, tell me the best or worst hiking advice you’ve ever received! Your photos and stories will be featured on a future Trail to Summit article! Let’s knock down this trend of fluff stories and educate people.
Do you have a burning question? Leave a comment and I will cover it in a future post. Thank you all for your continued support, inspiration, and encouragement throughout the years. Hike on!
Last modified: September 1, 2017