St. John, USVI

New Project: Launching ‘Roars Outdoors’

If you’ve read the “about me” section of this blog, you know I’m not a professional guide, nor do I have any special training when it comes to backpacking.  I started this blog because I felt there was a need for useful, everyday advice for people new to the hobby.  Plus, it’s fun for me and I look forward to helping the backpacking community grow!

What I didn’t realize was that writing this blog would, in part, unleash within me a pent-up passion for the Great Outdoors that is powerful and intense.  This blog, combined with other factors in my life, led me to make the decision that I no longer want to work my normal 9-5 desk job.  I have struggled to find passion in every career I’ve had – and there have been many – but I’ve always felt that pull to do something different, and something more meaningful to me.

Boundary Waters Backpacking
An idyllic spot canoe packing in the Boundary Waters wilderness of MN.

I ignored that pull time-and-time again, and waffled in various unfulfilling careers and jobs that made me money but did nothing for my psyche.  I am tired.  Tired of trying to be someone I’m not and tired of trying to conform to what, I believed, was expected of me.

And so I launched Roars Outdoors.  Roars Outdoors is my new blog and the platform I will use to reinvent myself and launch a new career(s) – and you all are invited to watch!

As fellow adventurers, I’m sure some of you have also felt that pull toward something … different.  Something outdoorsy and adventurous and dynamic.  But, let’s face it: these types of career moves can be really tough, so tough in fact that we often declare them “impossible”.  Not to mention, the older you are, the harder it gets.

I’m turning 39-years-old next month, May 2017.  I have a husband, a young stepson and a mortgage.  I work full-time and bring in almost half of my household’s money.  The idea that I could drop everything that I know and embark on an entirely new path … that I could reinvent my entire professional being and completely re-jigger my life … seems next to impossible.  But I’m not getting any younger and my creative juices are flowing like crazy!

St. John, USVI
It’s hard not to be exuberant in the Caribbean!

I truly have no idea what I’m doing or exactly how I will get there.  I’m not even entirely sure it will work – but I’m more than willing to try.  I want to become a life coach, a part-time wilderness guide and a writer.  My hope is that these three endeavors will, eventually, sustain me spiritually as well as financially.  It’s going to be tough.  I’m going to have many ups and downs.  But I know I can do it if I work hard and continue to fuel the passion I have right now.

I invite you to join me.  I invite you to watch as I build and reconstruct the new “me”.  I also invite (and plead for!) your encouragement and support as I struggle, learn and grow.  I’ll share how the process affects not only me, but those around me.  I’ll be open about what steps I’m taking, what works and what doesn’t.  And I’ll provide outdoorsy inspiration to those of you pondering similar pathways for your own life.  Please follow along in three ways:

I appreciate your support and hope I can inspire some of you to take that leap and do something different, or to embrace the more creative side of yourself and tackle that project you’ve always told yourself that you’ll tackle someday!  If nothing else, I hope you get outside more and enjoy that “nature effect” we all know and love.  And if none of that is up your alley, fear not!  I’ll keep posting in Beginning Backpacker as well.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

Women in Backpacking, Part VI: But, I’m a Man!

If you are of the male persuasion and follow my blog, you may have ignored my Women in Backpacking series. Or perhaps you read the posts and thought to yourself, “Hmmmm – what can I do to help the situation?” If so, then Bravo! If you have not read the five-part series, I encourage you to do so now.

Today I want to focus on how men can be a part of the solution. That’s not to say you are part of the problem, because, for the most part, you are not.  Many of us women have been conditioned over time to fear strange men, especially if we are all alone in an isolated place.  That’s not YOUR fault, but the fault of society, our culture, poor parenting, prior experiences, the one-in-a-million really bad guy and more.  No matter how you slice it, though, many women fear striking out into the wilderness alone because they might run into, well … you.  After all, how many female rapists and serial killers have you heard of?

Stanislaus national forest
A lone male hiker. Also my husband!

There are things you can do (or not do) to help ease your female fellow backpackers’ fears. I’m not suggesting your run up to the nearest solo female and explain that you aren’t a rapist, because there are subtle ways to show the women you run into that you are who you are: a kind, like-minded compadre out in the wilderness for the same exact reasons as women are.  Some helpful tips:

  1. Do not hit on her! At all. Ever. She doesn’t want that and it will creep her out. This might seem self-explanatory, but it’s not.
  2. Do not compliment her appearance. This will also creep her out. You certainly may compliment her gear choices, though!
  3. Don’t be overly pushy about trying to make camp with her for the night. You yourself might be feeling a bit lonely or apprehensive about backpacking solo, but be sensitive to her feelings.
  4. If you are going to be setting up camp in the same area, make sure you place your tent as far from hers as you can to give her space and privacy. If you get there after her, ask her if she minds you setting up camp there. Just asking first shows a level of respect and politeness.
  5. Try to gauge her feelings and read her cues. Does she basically say hello and then move on to making camp and cooking dinner? She is probably not interested in companionship. Or is she chatty and conversational? Then she might be more willing to hang out for a bit around the fire or eat a meal together.
  6. Watch your body language! Don’t be a close-talker. Do not touch her in any way, even if that’s just the kind of guy you are. Even a simple pat on the back from a stranger can be off-putting to many people.
  7. Do not tell her you are hoping to find a woman out on the trails! I know that male backpackers often times would like to date female backpackers – and vice versa – but this is neither the time nor the place.
  8. Don’t ask overly personal questions, like, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Again … creepy.
  9. Do not take pictures of her. Also falls into the “creepy” category.
  10. If you are with a group of men, all of the above pertains to each of you individually, and as a group.
Arroyo Seco River
Forming groups in the wild.

Women account for over 50 percent of backpackers now, and we are entering the wilderness solo more often than ever before. A modicum of extra sensitivity and empathy for how your fellow female backpackers might perceive you would go a long way towards alleviating those fears! The problem of women mistrusting strange men is often due to misconceptions and myths, but sometimes reality, too.  A perception problem is a problem, nonetheless.  The good news is that it can be increasingly combatted by men being cognizant of their actions and how they might come across AND by women checking their overblown fears at the door.  My favorite encounters with other backpackers while out solo have primarily been with men – men who either naturally or purposely made me feel safe in their presence.

Next Up: My Big Announcement!

The old school of thought would have you believe that you’d be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn’t what being in nature is all about. Rather, it’s about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.” – Ryel Kestenbaum

Women in Backpacking, Part V: But, I Might Feel Lonely!

In the last post, I discussed the fear of getting lost or injured while backpacking alone in the wilderness.  Today, I tackle my own personal fear – the fear of loneliness.

Yes, you will probably feel lonely from time-to-time while backpacking solo.  If you’re like me, it’s the biggest challenge of them all and I rarely end up solo, even though I may have started that way.  My purpose with this post isn’t to try and convince you loneliness won’t happen, but rather that it probably WILL happen, and that you shouldn’t let it stop you from getting out there.

There are levels to loneliness, ranging from extreme, depressing feelings that no one in the world understands you, to just a minor feeling of wishing your friend was available to have a movie night when she already has plans.

IMG_0596.jpg
A tired selfie on a solo stretch of the John Muir Trail.

The type of loneliness one feels when backpacking solo is not the deep, scary kind (Note: feeling alone is somewhat different from feeling afraid of bear attacks or being assaulted, which tend to elicit strong fears).  For most people, myself included, it’s more of a longing to share stories at the end of an amazing, but tiring day.  It’s a manageable feeling.  For most people, it’s entirely beneficial to spend some quiet, quality time alone with your id, your ego and your superego.

When I backpack, my magic formula is hiking alone most of the day, but meeting up with people for lunch and also to make camp at the end of the day.  I’m extremely extroverted and enjoy storytelling over lunch and dinner.  I like hearing what others saw during their hikes and marveling at their stories.  I also like being with others to watch the sun set and the moon rise.  A refreshing dip in an icy alpine lake is more fun, to me at least, if there are others there enjoying it, too.

But other times, I head out into more of a no-man’s land; places where I know I will likely be entirely alone.  It’s not creepy, per se, but time seems to drag a little slower after I set up my camp and sit down to eat and wait for night to fall.  The first night is the toughest, although “tough” isn’t really the right word.  It’s more that I’m a bit bored.  And yes, the strange sounds of the forest do somehow seem louder when it’s just me out there.

Camping in Ventana Wilderness
Just me, myself and I camping before a solo trip in search of lost hot springs in the Ventana Wilderness.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of people who find that they absolutely love being solo – entirely solo – for days on end.  That might be you! But you won’t know until you try it.

No matter how you think you’ll feel about backpacking solo, you shouldn’t let any concerns stop you.  I’ve rarely heard of a woman who backpacked solo and regretted it.  I’ve written in other posts how to do your first solo trip: start out short; stay close to home; pick a place with cell coverage; try listening to music, etc.  Those tips apply here.

But other tips also apply:

  • You can choose trails that are known for being popular.  Sometimes you can tell a trail is going to be popular based on the permit application process, if there is one.  Permit processes usually indicate a trail is popular enough that the park has limited the number of people who can go in each day to minimize damage to the areas on and around the trail.
  • You can do research online or in books to see how popular a trail is.  Most resources will list that information.
  • Call a park ranger and ask!

Once you’ve chosen a more popular trail, you can at least camp in the vicinity of others if you want.  But more than that, you will likely meet people and make fast friends along the way.  This is a phenomena of backpacking that is widely known: making friends is easy and happens fast.  One day spent with your fellow backpackers on the trail can feel like an eternity and bonds can become very strong in a short amount of time.

Lower Cathedral Lake
Amongst new friends met on the John Muir Trail. Photo cred: David and Steve Szmyd

Case in point: I met two brothers on my second day of the John Muir Trail in 2015.  I was solo and had just had a very scary bear encounter as I was packing up camp that morning.  Needless to say, I was feeling a tad stressed and very alone (and very small).  I met these two brothers just after I set out from camp for the day and they invited me to hike with them.  By lunch, we were fast friends.  By dinner, we had made a lasting bond.  By the next morning, when we parted ways, we were practically lifelong friends!  Fast forward two years – we’ve kept in touch and I’ll be joining them for their annual brothers’ trip to Wyoming this August.

Even though I was supposed to be solo for parts of the John Muir Trail, I never once spent a night completely alone.

Another tip is to bring books or podcasts.  These give your mind something to do if it’s feeling restless and lonely, and they help pass the time.  You could also do guided meditation or bring along a deck of cards for a game of solitaire.  Try bringing a journal and writing down your thoughts as they happen.  If you have cell coverage and feel extra lonely, call a friend or loved one for a quick check-in!  Consider exploring the area you are camping in (if you aren’t too tired).  Walk the perimeter of the lake or climb up that close peak.  Lastly, go to bed! Backpackers need lots of sleep, so don’t be afraid to hit the sack way earlier than normal.

As with everything, preparation is key.  You can’t rely on anyone else when you’re solo, so be prepared with the necessary gear and essential items.  And consider carrying a satellite messenger like a Garmin InReach (formerly Delorme InReach).  If you have the right mindset, are prepared to confront minor to moderate feelings of loneliness, and understand that’s not a bad thing, you’ll have a wonderful time filled with scenery and adventure that is all yours, and only yours.  Try it!  You just might like it!

Women in Backpacking, Part IV: But, I Might Get Injured or Lost!

In the last post, I addressed the fear of animal attacks in the wild. Today, I cover the concern of getting injured (or lost) while solo backpacking. This is not a concern borne just out of the female mind; men fear getting injured or lost, too! We are all only human, after all. But, anecdotally, women seem to let that fear bother them more. And they seem more likely to let it prevent them from doing the things they think they might love (like backpacking solo).

Fear is not a bad thing! It helps us, literally, to stay alive. It keeps us on our toes and helps us recognize danger. But the level of fear can easily get out of control when we allow our imaginations to run wild. And we sometimes allow that fear to dictate our actions, even when we know those concerns are blown way out of proportion.

Backpacking isn’t inherently dangerous, but it isn’t inherently NOT dangerous, either! Something bad, like falling off a cliff, could happen – but it’s not likely. Twisting an ankle, however, could happen very easily and could be quite serious. If nothing else, it will likely ruin your trip. Getting lost also isn’t super common, but it does happen!

Henry Coe State Park
My sister walks carefully, especially given the heavy pack!

Battling the fears of getting injured or getting lost comes down to simple preparation. If you are going to enter the wilderness alone, you need to be ready and have a Plan B. Being prepared means being physically able to tackle the trip you’ve planned. It also means you carry the important essentials and you know how to use them. You need to have researched your route and have exit strategies should you need to get back to civilization using the quickest route possible.

I carry a wilderness splint when I backpack, solo or otherwise. Some people think this is silly extra weight (it’s only a couple of ounces!). But when you consider that ankle injuries are probably the single most common injury, having a splint makes sense. If I’m alone and suffer a sprain, I’m not going to call 911 for a helicopter rescue. Instead, I’m going to slowly, painfully, limp my way back to my car. Perhaps I’ll find some people to help me along the way, but perhaps not. The splint will help ease the pain substantially.

For the same reason, I also carry KT tape, antibiotics and pain narcotics. If I need to get off the trail due to a simple injury or common illness, I want to have some items to make things easier and more comfortable!

John Muir Trail Bridge
My friend walks carefully across a rushing creek.

I also carry a compass, a good map and a whistle in case I get lost. I’ve taken classes on reading topo maps and how to effectively use my compass.   This summer, I’ll be practicing those skills for real as I head off-trail for some cross country backpacking in the Gros Ventre Wilderness Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

For most injuries, if push comes to shove, you could self-rescue and get yourself out. It might not be fun and painless, but it’s usually very doable and beats the $100,000+ fee for being rescued.

But what, you ask, about serious injuries? What about the proverbial I’ve-fallen-off-a-cliff-and-there’s-no one-around type of injury? That’s where technology comes into play.

I carry a Delorme InReach two-way communicator. Much like a satellite phone, my device uses satellites to communicate with other people. But unlike a sat-phone, I can’t make phone calls. I can, however, email and text with it. When I backpack – solo or with others – I always take my Delorme. First and foremost, it will summon help if I have a major emergency. It doesn’t just summon the help, though; I can also text back-and-forth with the first responders to provide information about my condition and help them find me. Additionally, the device will keep pinging my exact location to the responders, so if I’m on the move, they can still find me. This would happen, say, if I got bit by a rattlesnake and needed to be rescued, but continued to hike in the direction of civilization because A) I physically can, and B) it puts me closer to where the first responders are coming from.

I can also use my Delorme to text or email with friends and family! And it even synchs with my Facebook account. When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2015, I texted back and forth with my husband at least once a day to let him know where I was and how I was doing. Peace of mind for both of us. I also sent at least one Facebook message each day telling my wider group of peeps what I was up to. The cool thing was that people could actually see exactly where I was on a satellite map when I sent the message. They could actually follow my trip in almost real time – pretty cool!

Boundary Waters Canoeing
Photo taken just before we capsized in frigid waters. But everything worked out fine!

At the halfway point of the John Muir Trail, I decided I had to get off the trail and go home. The fires were horrendous that year and my lungs were decidedly not happy with all the smoke, and they were getting worse each day. I was able to use my Delorme to coordinate with my hubby exactly how and where I was going to exit the trail and how and where he could meet me. Without it, I’m not sure what I would have done.

Having a device like the Delorme provides incredible piece of mind in the event of a true emergency. Combine technology like that with all of the preparations you undertook before you left and you can feel downright safe! Don’t let the fear of injury or getting lost prevent you from backpacking solo. Neither is likely to happen, and if you are prepared, you can handle pretty much anything thrown your way.

Next Up: Women in Backpacking, Part V: But, I’ll Feel Lonely!

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. – Helen Keller

Women in Backpacking, Part III: But, An Animal Might Eat Me!

In the last post, I discussed the fear of rape and how to put those fears in perspective.  Today, I address another common fear: animal attacks!  For some reason, we women feel that there is safety in numbers.  And when it comes to animals, that notion is partly true, but also quite incorrect.  Let’s be clear here, when we talk about getting attacked by animals, we aren’t talking about squirrels and raccoons.  We are clearly talking about the predatory big guys – bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, wild boar, rattlesnakes and moose (should I add Bigfoot to this list?).  If you fear squirrels, I can’t help you!

All too common in my neck of the woods.

In all reality, animal attacks are extremely rare.  I think we all know this; we just seem to lose sight of that fact when thinking about lying awake at night in the woods, alone and hearing “weird” noises.  When was the last time you heard of a human being ripped apart by a pack of wolves?  And has a coyote EVER maimed a human?  Most people living in mountain lion territory go their whole lives without ever actually seeing one.  Bear attacks, although sensationalized in the media and by Hollywood (have you see The Revenant yet?), are also ridiculously rare.

To understand where our irrational fears come from, you first have to remember that we, too, are animals! Like all animals, we have a fight-or-flight response.  But unlike other animals, we rarely use these responses anymore because we live in relative comfort.  Heck, for many people, their most likely association with fight-or-flight arises when they are about to do some public speaking! How nice is it that, as THE apex predator of the world, our biggest collective fear is the fear of speaking in public!

Worth it to wake up to this in the morning.

When we are alone in a tent in the dark of night and we hear strange noises, that old, dusty, fight-or-flight response kicks in! And that’s not at all a bad thing.  It’s our best survival instinct.  It tells us we are alive.  It feeds our bodies with necessary adrenaline should we need to fight.  But just thinking about it starts to make it happen – shallow breaths, sweaty palms, panicky feelings.  Even when we are sitting in our living rooms, just contemplating backpacking solo, our fears can start to trigger that response.

A classic fear but not likely to happen.

“But”, you protest, “animals are a legitimate threat!”  True…ish.  Animals may be a real threat, but not to the extent that we shouldn’t enjoy the outdoors on our own terms.  Here are some stats the may ease your fears:

  • Bees cause more deaths in the U.S. than any other creature.
  • Mosquitos kill more people world-wide than any other creature.
  • Bears kill LESS than one person in the U.S. per year.
  • Mountain Lions kill, on average, one person per year (and unfortunately it’s often a small child, not an adult)
  • There hasn’t been a wolf-related death in the U.S. since 1888.

So, how do we keep these fears in check and prevent them from determining how and when we enter the wilderness? One way, many assume, is by backpacking in groups of two or more people and staying on well-travelled trails.  But this plan provides a false sense of security.  Traveling in groups and sticking to busy trails can actually attract the big predators!  It is well known that black bears in the Sierra Nevada Mountains frequent the places with the most backpackers. More backpackers = more delicious smells. More delicious smells = more chances for free food.  The bears tend to hang out along the busiest trails and most-frequented camping areas.

While it is true that you are more likely to survive an attack of any kind if you have others to help you, it is also true that your best chance of avoiding predators is three-fold: don’t travel with others, avoid the most popular routes and practice stealth camping!  Additionally, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to always follow best-practices when it comes to your food and general safety.

Practicing food safety in bear country.

Another way to get over those fears is to just do it.  Plan an overnight trip to an area not far from civilization where you can still get cell service.  Make it an easy, quick hike not too far away from your car.  Bring a knife and pepper or bear spray if you want (know your local laws or park rules about these things first!). Heck, if it makes you feel better, bring a small hatchet! Another tip: load a guided meditation app on your phone so you have something to lull you to sleep.  If there are others at your camping area, do not give in and join their group – in fact, camp as far away from them in the camping area as you can. If it won’t bother other campers in the area and you have a backup battery for your phone, play music on your phone all night if you must.

As nighttime falls, your fears will probably start to surface.  Squash them!  Remind yourself of the unlikelihood of an attack and simultaneously remind yourself that you will NOT let your fears dictate your relationship with the wilderness.  Do not let your mind wander down a road that ends with you being ripped apart by a group of ravenous mountain lions.  You are stronger than your irrational fears.  You can control them.

If you do this, chances are you will come out of it not only alive, but also feeling a real sense of accomplishment!  Each foray into the solitude of solo camping will increase your comfort level.  Before you know it, you’ll be setting off solo on the regular.

Next Up: Women in Backpacking, Part IV: But, What if I get Injured or Lost?

You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe. – Leymah Gbowee

Women in Backpacking, Part II: But, I Might Get Raped!

Women don’t usually articulate this particular fear with these exact words.  It’s almost always stated in more “washed out” terms, like, “What about strange men?” or, “What if I get attacked by a man?”  But what they are really worried about is getting raped.  It’s a sad fact that many women fear men, or some men, when they are alone.  All women fear the worst-case scenario.  And those fears are exploited via shows like CSI, Cold Case Files and Podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Somebody Knows Something. And don’t forget the news!  These nightmarish crimes really do happen on occasion, and so the news feeds our fears as well.   Add a dash of social media to turn things into viral fear-storms.

Finding peace and solitude is easy in a place like this.

Now throw in extreme solitude.  Feeling like you’re all alone in the world.  Being far from civilization where no one can hear you scream.  Vulnerability.

It’s no wonder so many women have concerns about being alone in the wilderness.  We also know that at least half of backpackers are men, so running into them is pretty inevitable.

But how realistic is this fear of sexual assault?  How do we put things in perspective so that this fear doesn’t hinder our ambitions, goals and joys?

You’re never REALLY alone on the trail!

I was a sexual assault/domestic violence detective in California in the past.  Stranger rape* is so incredibly rare! If you don’t include date rape, rape is rarer than even murder.

*The vast majority of rapes are either a “date rape” or an “acquaintance rape”.  In both cases, the victim knows the attacker in some way, sometimes quite well, and is with him by choice before the assault occurs. Stranger rape is when someone you do not know on any personal level suddenly attacks you. I want to be clear that I am not minimalizing the trauma that date rape victims experience, but rather trying to minimize the debilitating fear that many women have about stranger rape.

Our wilderness areas are incredibly safe.  Take a look at crime stats and you’ll notice an obvious trend: the higher the population, the higher the number of crimes.  Think LA, NY, Chicago, Miami – these big cities experience more reported rapes because there are so many more people.  So many more opportunities for an attacker to find a victim.  So many places to blend in and go unnoticed.  So many women carrying on with their business and paying zero attention to their equally-busy surroundings.

Not many people and not much going on. Peaceful!

Put yourself in the mind of a serial rapist.  What are rapists looking for when they stalk their prey? They’re looking for an easy target.  They’re looking for someone who isn’t paying attention to her surroundings.  They’re looking for a woman who appears weak, and perhaps meek.  Someone who doesn’t have the confidence to make eye contact with strangers.  They’re looking for someone who they think won’t fight back.  Or will succumb easily.

Now think about what rapists want to avoid.  They don’t want to attack a strong, confident woman.  They don’t want to attack someone who they’re relatively certain will fight back – and fight back hard!  They don’t want someone who exudes confidence.  They don’t want someone who appears to be athletic and strong.  THIS type of woman is their worst enemy.

Think about how a serial rapist finds their prey.  Would they hike 13 miles into the wilderness to find a victim?  Or do they stand outside of a bar and watch for solo, intoxicated women to come stumbling out?  Does the rapist hike for days just to find ONE solo woman, or does he cruise around the most marginalized areas of a major city in his car to find down-on-their luck street workers?

Strong. Capable. Confident. And armed with an oar!

Think of who you are, as both an outdoor adventurer and backpacker.  You are strong; you carry a 35 lb pack on your back for miles and miles!  You are remote; you’re off the beaten path and away from the masses of people.   You are confident and independent, and even if you don’t feel that way, that’s how strangers will perceive you.  To get to you would be difficult.  Taking you without a massive fight would be impossible.  You are probably armed; hiking poles make great weapons and most backpackers carry a knife of some sort, not to mention that massive bag you carry around (it’d be like swinging a massive purse at a bad guy’s head!).  You, my friend, are the opposite of what a rapist would be looking for!

With all this in mind, here are six steps you can take to lessen your risk and increase your own confidence:

  • Get out there!  Just doing solo trips increases your confidence.  Start small.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings (easy to do in the wilderness).
  • Make eye contact with every stranger you come across and say hi (if you are new to backpacking, this is also basic trail etiquette – we are a friendly bunch!).
  • Be aware of possible weapons you have, like hiking poles, folding knives and tent poles.
  • Take a self-defense class.
  • Always keep your fears in perspective.

Listen to any woman who has done a solo hike and she will tell you the experience was entirely worthwhile.  She will also likely tell you that the first one was a bit tough, and it got easier from there.  It’s hard to find like-minded people to backpack with, and when you do find a crew, coordinating schedules can be next to impossible.  So take matters into your own hands!  Become one with nature, and with yourself.

Next Up: Women in Backpacking, Part III: But, An Animal Might Eat Me!

I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” – Lucille Ball

 

Islesboro Maine Coastline

Women in Backpacking, Part I: Lions and Tigers and Bears (and Men)!

*Note for male readers: Sure, this post is geared toward women, but you can definitely learn something, too! It’s a reality that most women have a least a little bit of fear of men while out backpacking. Simply being aware of these fears and understanding them can make you a more empathetic, female-friendly stranger out on the trails!  I encourage you not to skip these posts. And pay attention, because my final post in this series will be geared toward you!*

At the half-way point of the John Muir Trail is Muir Trail Ranch. It’s a very remote outpost accessible only by foot or on horseback.  It’s a haven for weary backpackers who can resupply there, as well as soak in their hot springs, sleep in a REAL bed, do laundry and have amazing meals cooked for them, but only if they are willing to shell out a pretty penny.  And shell out those pennies I did when I was there in 2015 (trust me, it’s worth it)!

Muir Trail Ranch on the John Muir Trail
Muir Trail Ranch: A needed respite for weary thru-hikers on the JMT

In the ranch’s library is a whole host of old books. In one of those old books I found a chart listing how much weight men, women and children should carry in their packs, respectively.  Women were instructed to carry less weight than an eleven-year-old child! I almost snorted when I first saw it.  But that was how we women were viewed back then.

1950's recommended pack wieghts for women.
A 1950’s book showing recommended pack weights for men, “wives” and children.

Women were not historically big backpackers. John Muir didn’t exactly have women shouting, “Pick me!  Pick me!” when he was putting together his exploration groups (though he frequently explored alone).  And even in the 1950’s, when women did go backpacking, they were often considered meek and weak. A double whammy!

Fast forward to today, and women are now dominating the entire outdoor arena!  Don’t believe me? Just check out the latest issue of Outside Magazine (May 2017 issue), with all those strong, independent female icons on the front cover. Women like Melissa Arnot Reid are not just killing it “for a woman” but killing it across genders!

May 2017 Outside Magazine Cover
What an inspirational group of women!

Women are now taking over backpacking. Well, maybe “taking over” isn’t the right term, but our numbers are growing at astronomical rates. We make up 51% of the outdoor industry consumers now.  More and more companies are making women-specific products. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve made huge strides since the 50’s.

But I still can’t believe how often I hear women say they could never backpack solo. Or that they constantly worry about men and/or animals attacking them if they are alone.  Every time I hear these statements, I practically shed a tear.

And you know what’s worse? When I tell non-backpackers that I’ll be heading out solo, I get WAY more statements of worry and concern from women I know than men I know. Seriously? Men are less concerned for my safety than women?  Oh, the irony.

Perhaps it’s because I was formerly a sexual assault detective and have a firm grasp of the realities of sexual assault, or perhaps it’s because my parents raised me to be entirely unafraid (or maybe it’s even genetic, who knows?). Regardless, I’m unafraid to backpack alone.  Of course I have fears that occasionally enter the picture, but they never get in my way.  I’m also not oblivious when I’m out there and I take precautions and work hard to stay safe.  I remain aware of my surroundings and I make a point of looking strong and confident when faced with an unknown man on a remote section of trail.  But isn’t that the picture of a backpacker anyway? Aware, strong, confident; that’s what we backpackers are!  So why do we let ourselves forget it so often?

Solo Selfie
Entertaining myself on a solo backpacking trip.

Here are the concerns I hear most often from women on the topic of backpacking solo:

  • I might get raped (they don’t always say it exactly this bluntly, but this is what they mean).
  • An animal might attack me in the middle of the night.
  • I’ll be too lonely.
  • I’ll get hurt (or lost) and no one will be there to help me.

To help combat these fears, I’m going to do a series of posts tackling each one of these concerns individually. None of them should prevent us from chasing our dreams, accomplishing our goals and enjoying the Great Outdoors on our own terms.  But we also don’t have to be complacent, and there are things we can do to boost our own confidence and make the chances of any of the above ever happening even more remote.

Next Up: Women in Backpacking, Part II: I Might Get Raped!

Marry an outdoors woman. Then if you throw her out into the yard on a cold night, she can still survive. -W. C. Fields