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
Thank you thank you thank you!! My experiences definitely mirror yours. It’s tough — even when faced with unassailable logic, people still cling to the idea that the wilderness is fully stocked with rapists & murderers.
This is such a frustrating issue. I hike & backpack solo most of the time — the reactions I run into are all over the place. I was recently admonished by a woman horseback riding with a male partner — they were tearing through the woods at a near gallop, around a blind curve. Fortunately they made so much noise I was able to easily step off the trail well in advance. When they saw me and slowed, the woman asked if I was backpacking alone. I acknowledged in the affirmative and she told ME to “be careful out there” (to which I responded “You too!” Ha!). I thought to myself, I’m a heck of a lot safer walking this trail on my own than riding it recklessly on a thousand pound prey animal. (I also have many years of trail riding experience — nearly all of the injuries I’ve seen on the trail have been due to riders falling off their horses and a couple of those were quite serious).
Some people are surprised to find me solo but receptive to the idea. It’s like it’s just never entered their consciousness that going solo is a possibility for a woman. They are usually people who aren’t experienced hikers. They ask a lot of questions and I’m able to explain some of the ways of staying safe out on the trail — filtering water, having good maps & a compass, first aid kit, etc. In some ways, I think being out there solo & being female makes it easier for people to talk to me. It can be difficult to approach a group, even if that group only consists of two people.
The hikers/backpackers I run into who don’t generally seem to bat an eye at me being solo are guys in their 20s-30s. They just seem to assume that I must be competent. We talk trails, gear, wildlife we’ve seen, etc. I love that.
I do agree that it’s really easy for folks to approach me on the trail when I am solo which is great! I love hiking a few miles with someone interesting. I will say that no one has ever doubted my leadership skills that has hiked with me which is nice. Now if only those non-hikers would be a little more open minded!
Thank you so so much for writing this! I feel like I have seen so much critical information about female solo hikers in the last year, especially the absurd gun stuff, and it’s really disheartening! Your post really squashed that feeling; thank you.
I especially found this line, “I find it ludicrous how many people make snap judgements and give out unsolicited (and uniformed) advice to female hikers only,” to be accurate. People (men) are very quick to give very critical feedback to women in what they perceive to be predominantly male sports that may involve some sort of danger, like backpacking.
Your photo with four burly men was especially inspiring. I think I may go on my first solo hike, soon!
Thank you!! Sadly it’s not only men giving this poor feedback and judging. A lot of females who don’t hike think I’m insane for solo hiking. It’s just one of those things people don’t get because they don’t do it. I’d LOVE to hear how your first solo hike goes! Shoot me an email trail2summit(at)gmail(dot)com after you do!
It seems like there has been a lot of media over the past year from both sides of the political spectrum pushing the idea that women are constantly at risk. Add in the scary, deadly outdoors that constantly is talked about on basic cable and you have a recipe for irrational fears for female hikers.
Which is why I don’t have cable… oh and no commercials is nice too 😉
I think once you have hiked enough to feel confident in your skills. Everyone should do a solo hike! Mine was 2 years ago (my B-day, 46) and I did Cabot, Bulge and the Horn. I did my home work and made sure I had everything that I should have in case of whatever. As it was, the day was perfect with no hitch. It was good for the mind to know I was prepared. The one thing that surprised me was I liked the solitude. There are no expectations. Only you own. I did run into a few people. 2 men hiking separately. It did surprise me when they barely said “Hi” I welcomed being left alone. There was this couple who did have to put their 2 cents in. Saying the typical of what you have mentioned. There was one thing that struck me later. They said I was brave. Thinking back on it, I guess I was. Hiking solo for the first time is kind of a leap of faith totally on your part. I was never scared, maybe nervous. definitely excited! I now hike by myself, I would say 75% of the time. I finished my 48 and have decided to go for the N.E. 100! My Husband is very encouraging! He does not hike, he has his own hobbies. It is a healthy relationship. Be your own person. The woods are calling, get out there!
That’s doing it right Vicki! And isn’t it funny that it takes another person to tell you something like what you’re doing is brave before you realize it yourself? Keep trekking!
I think the instant communication we have these days is somewhat responsible for the amazing amount of fear some folks carry around. They focus on all the bad happening in the world and relate ( unfortunately ) it to themselves and their world. The attitude you and the others in this post have faced from men and women is all too common in all aspects of our society. I’m a happy, bold, positive kind of guy and I want to be around the same type of people. I have found those traits more often in women than men, maybe that’s why most of my friends are women. Al, as you can see , writing about this type of thing has already brought positive responses and encouraged others to get out and live. You are an amazing communicator! Don’t stop and thanks, Michael
I agree Before constant news streaming we didn’t hear about most incidents that happened outside the community we live in so this fear is spread far and wide. It is a shame when others’ fears are pushed onto a potential hiker and they decide not to pursue a new hobby because of it. I’ve been really happy with the response and glad to hear from women who have decided to go for it and go on their first solo hike, plan that backpacking trip, etc. Thanks for your positivity. Hope to run into you on the trail some day!
Love your blog and getting ready for my JMT hike next year.
I’m a man and people routinely ask me the gun protection / what if you get eaten by a bear – questions as well and I routinely tell men and women that they are safer 20 miles in the mountains than near a highway. Miscreants don’t go 20 miles into the hills, they hang out near highways and possibly on short day trails. I tell them it is not so much a male vs. female question but one of location and I do tell anyone regardless of gender not to camp solo at open “campsites” near any easily accessible roads.
My routine answer is to worry more about falling or not carrying enough rain gear than anything else.
Great advice. I agree 100%- you’ll find the nicest people on the trail but do have to be cautious in town. Thankfully the JMT doesn’t cross any roads! You’ll have the best time! I’m a little jealous. It was such an amazing experience!
Haven’t experienced any of these when telling people of my solo excursions. Only reaction I’ve ever received is the, “You’re a beast.” Maybe because I usually hike with my German Shepherd. On a side note, I’d LOVE to come along and photograph your hikes!
Lucky you! I hear it far less often now but I do know many rather outspoken people 🙂 I’d love to get together for a photography/hike session. That sounds like a total blast! Send me an email- email@example.com
I hike and camp solo often and was in the process of trying to write my own blog about the reactions I get to those activities when I discovered yours and your experience definitely mirrors mine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “You’re doing this ALL BY YOURSELF?!? [look of horror]” as if I’m 3 years old instead of in my thirties. It alternates between being amusing and demoralizing, but I don’t let it stop me from pursuing my passion. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I pass someone on the trail who just acknowledges me as another hiker, nothing different, nothing special, or when a ranger cheerfully checks me into a campsite without commenting on my solo status. I’m really enjoying your blog and wanted to thank you for your awesome posts!
Just found this post while doing some research to pick a mountain to hike. I hiked Mt Jefferson in NH by myself just before my 51st bday, but didn’t get to summit. The reason I went by myself is that my two brothers, nephew and their friend decided to turn an annual family hike into “men only”. I was so mad because my dad, who started this annual hike, NEVER would have done such a thing, but he’s too old to go now. I was so mad I decided to go alone, knowing they would see my car in the lot and wonder where I was since I was taking a different trail from them. I did my research, knew how to pack from years of experience, left a detailed itinerary at home and went for it. Due to stuff beyond my control, I ended up camping in the traditional family spot, beating the boys to it. They were fine once they saw me there. I went to bed early and left before they got up. Enjoyed myself immensely. My dad’s reaction was “Promise you will never do that again!”. My answer was no, not as long as my brothers exclude me because of my gender. I am a tomboy and cause no drama, so I don’t see what the problem is. I was told the next time wives and children were included, I could go then. Well, my four kids are grown and I don’t want to do hikes with little kids anymore, it’s a completely different hike. I haven’t been in shape mentally and/or physically to go hiking up mountains since then, but have been getting there. A broken collar bone due to a bicycling accident has set me back right now, but once I am back in shape, I will not hesitate to go out alone. The most dangerous thing out there is injuring yourself and that is not sex specific! I’m glad I have other women to follow. Will be searching the web now!