Last month Backpacker Magazine came out with multiple female specific articles aimed at getting more women outdoors. Can’t complain about that, right? Well you can when they get women completely wrong.
I never really gave Backpacker Magazine too much thought before. I have found some really great articles, but like most magazines, it is filled with tons of ads. I actually get the magazine free with an outdoors club membership. Oh you do too? You may not realize magazines practically give their subscriptions away because the money is in the ads. The more subscribers you can claim, the more companies pay for their full page spreads. Along with the introduction to women specific articles was this ad for adult products which I had never seen before.
Back to the articles for women. I was actually looking forward to getting the September issue as a few hiking friends had been interviewed for an article on solo hiking as a woman. I was disappointed to find this article didn’t appear in the magazine but just on their website. What was even more disappointing was how flimsy it was being they talked to six badass women. Women who hiked thousands of miles solo and have so much to say on the subject. They did eventually edit it to include 18 quotes vs the 7 they started out with.
Now I am not saying all the articles were terrible. I thought 4 Reasons We Need More Female Outdoors Leaders was a good start. I hope they follow up with a focus on exceptional female outdoor leaders in future issues.
The problematic trend I saw was how the subsequent articles were worded. First the series is titled “Curves Ahead.” Really? I read on trying not to prejudge. Between the articles in print and the promo videos on social media, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Here’s just a glimpse:
I know first hand that social media requires eye catching photos or an attention grabbing line, but “how not to pee on your shoes” is ridiculous. There are many women who are curious about backpacking and need some basic information to have a successful trip, but can we act like grown ups here?
Note to any guy who is trying to introduce his significant other or any female friends to backpacking: don’t demoralize her or baby her through the process. First, this advice should be geared to both men and women. Maybe titled “Help make their first trip successful” or something along those lines. This advice says not to do everything for “your honey” but hold her hand through it all. When I lead hikes I provide lots of information beforehand so every member is knowledgeable and that in itself helps people feel empowered. Instead of “let her hold the map and compass” and “show her your route” why not plan the trip together? Discuss what your goals are. Do you want to pack in that gourmet dinner and do a few miles to a great waterfall or are you bringing an experienced day hiker who wants to expand his/her skills to backpacking? If you’re bringing someone who is used to hiking 12 mile days, shorten it to two 8 mile days. Let them take part. If your future backpacking buddy doesn’t know how to use a map and compass, take a course together! There are plenty of organizations like Appalachian Mountain Club and the Sierra Club that offer this. Let her (or him!) be your partner in planning and executing the trip, not your pet.
After my frustration I decided to do my own survey and make my own women’s focused series. This month isn’t a huge change from what Trail to Summit is all about. As a female hiker and backpacker I feel a responsibility to represent other women appropriately and help educate them so we all feel confident to hit the trails. This month you will see some great features, but at the moment you can check out 13 inspirational female hikers I interviewed this past year.
In my survey I asked the same questions Backpacker Magazine featured in their articles. Some of the responses were consistent while others were very different. So how did I get these responses? 1000 women answered who were in various online communities. All facebook groups which included: Women of the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail Women’s Group, Northeast Peak Baggers (NH), Ladies of the JMT, Nature Girls, Outdoor Women, Sisters with a Traveling Backpack, and Women of Wonderland. The women in these groups have an interest in hiking and backpack (the reason for joining these groups) but also have an advantage because they know about these communities. These groups are made of both brand new and very seasoned hikers who day, section, and thru hike various trails across the United States. Backpacker Magazine (I assume) surveys their readers who range from across the United States and who are interested enough in backpacking to sign up for a subscription.
Some results and commentary:
Like Backpacker I also found that women sometimes had issues finding clothing that fit right. An overwhelming number of women wrote in they had issues finding pants that fit right. I began hiking in skirts, leggings, or shorts because of this.
Backpacker Magazine should have enough sway to partner with a company to resolve this problem or at least write an article involving real women and what would make for ideal hiking pants. Wouldn’t that be a treat?
What isn’t? This image backpacker created for their survey results.
Another question I had very similar responses for was “what age did you take your first backpacking trip?” The results were spread out but the largest group- 20% answered 35-44 years of age. According to Backpacker men had responded with a much earlier age range (before they were 18).
So how do we get more girls and women outdoors for longer periods of time? The answer is complicated. I would like to see Girl Scouts and other organizations for girls implement more outdoors skills training. It would also help if the entire world could stop telling women (when it doesn’t apply to men!?) that the woods are dangerous, especially going at it solo. We also need to redefine what it means to be a feminine or a woman in general. In today’s world girls play nice. Girls don’t get dirty. Girls let boys take care of them. In reality there is so much benefit to getting outdoors, especially for longer periods of time. Imagine what confidence a third grade girl would get after spending her summer backpacking with her family? But we can’t do that, it’s too dangerous.
This is the end of where my and Backpacker Magazine’s results correlated.
Let’s take a look at solo backpacking:
In my survey a mere 14% said they’ve never backpacked solo and never want to. 38% said they haven’t yet, but would like to. An overwhelming 48% said they had before. This could be a single overnight or long distance trip, but what matters is there are women doing it and more importantly women who would like to do it.
So why haven’t some? I provided the ability to write in answers as Backpacker only provided “safety concerns” and “I like the company for social reasons”. 29% chose safety concerns which can vary depending on your location or experience. For example, someone who backpacks in Grizzly territory may feel safer backpacking with others. Some enjoy solo hiking, but like to camp with others for safety or comfort.
Women who wrote in answers had unique reasons why they have never solo backpacked. Here’s a sampling of what they wrote:
I have only day hiked because I don’t have proper backpacking equipment, yet.
My husband has issues with that and he loves to go also
I just haven’t tried it yet
Haven’t had the time/money since I got up the courage to do so!
My friend would be upset I went without her
Still learning about required gear. Starting an exercise program to develop more upper body strength
Are these responses justifiable? I think so! Does less solo backpacking experience make women inferior to men? Not at all. We’ve learned that many women are eager to backpack and some are also eager to go at it alone. What we can conclude is:
- There needs to be more education, information, and resources available for those who would like to start, especially women.
- We need to change the perception others have that backpacking and solo hiking is dangerous for women. It is dangerous only if you don’t have the knowledge and skill set required.
- Backpacking is expensive and can be difficult to get into without some guidance.
- Solo hiking is merely a preference and not an elitist identifier. Some people have great hiking buddies to share the adventure with. Some don’t or (for many varied reasons) prefer to go solo.
The biggest pitfall Backpacker Magazine made is asking women what their “Backcountry Beauty Routine” was. Now would men be asked that question? Hell no! They’d be asked (obviously) what they do for backcountry hygiene. For women hygiene is important for overall health but also include some important tips to prevent issues like getting a yeast infection. Instead of addressing these concerns many new backpackers have, they strung together a video of women talking about simply washing their face at night and wearing tinted lipgloss.
When I asked 1000 women about their backcountry beauty routine many of their responses looked like this:
Face wipe, brush my teeth, and taking out my contacts
That’s not a thing- hygiene’s a thing, but there’s a reason this got people into trouble. It’s an obnoxiously gendered question.
beauty routine? Sounds like this question is out of the 1950s. Same as at home. Put contacts in, brush teeth,wash face, brush and re-braid or bun hair if needed.
What? Seriously? You think I pack in Mary Kay? If my smell gets to me, I’ll wash my clothes and me by pouring hot water into a dry sack with a little soap. I cut my hair before going on long trips and comb it with my fingers. I do carry deodorant in a baggie.
That’s a joke right? Basically I check every night to make sure I don’t have a tick, that there is no fungus anywhere and my feet are clean and dry.
Lol. Not sure I understand the question, but I generally do not have one. The glow of completing a tough hike is enough.
I don’t even really have a front country beauty routine.
So much good could have come from these articles. Women who didn’t have others to discuss personal hygiene on the trail could experts in the field sharing their advice instead of a fluff piece. The data about solo hiking they provided was good, but there’s so much more that could be done. Where do women find out about skills and get real experience in the outdoors? Here are some great resources to help you get started:
Learn new skills. Take a course such as navigation, outdoor leadership, or wilderness first aid through outdoor organizations. Here’s just a sampling:
Appalachian Mountain Club
The Sierra Club
National Outdoor Leadership School
SOLO Wilderness Schools
Next Adventure (Oregon)
Nantahala Outdoor Center (North Carolina)
The Mountaineers (Washington State)
*College Bound? Some offer great outdoors clubs
If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce your kids to hiking and backpacking, National Parks are full of great programs and offer things like mileage booklets to keep your kids excited.
Looking for hiking partners? You can find a group on facebook (such as the women’s groups listed above that I surveyed) or by simply using the search bar to find a local group in your area.
You can also join hikes through organizations like AMC or the Sierra Club as well as Meetup.com! Looking for a female only group? Check out Trail Dames! There are chapters across the US.
I hope Backpacker Magazine will continue to have female focused articles but learn from their blunders. I don’t think they were malicious in their intentions, but just didn’t use the resources they had properly and didn’t hand the articles to women to proof. Women belong in the outdoors just as much as men and there’s so much you can learn from them.
I have a challenge for you. Let’s redefine what beauty looks like on the trail. Share a photo with us by tagging #trailtosummit and tell us what makes you feel beautiful in the outdoors. Without mirrors on the trail, beauty means so much more. What is it for you?
See you on the trail, ladies!
Last modified: September 1, 2017