Women, The Largest Growing Segment of Outdoors Adventurers, Are Here to Stay

How many women do you know that would probably imagine Meredith from The Parent Trap with a big ‘ol lizard on her head if asked about what camping is like? Though this perspective is funny and refreshing, and not all ladies need to like to get muddy, some of us do.

Parent Trap

Their face might look something like this gem I found on Flickr. Courtesy of brianteutsch.

Though it may have been quite a few women in the past, women are moving past this stereotype, just as Lindsay Lohan ahem…moved past her adorable 11 year old twin characters. Women are moving into outdoors recreation more than ever before. Even women that may have previously chosen indoor activities may be giving outdoor activities a try.

According to John Hayes of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “the fastest growing segment of outdoors users…is comprised of women.

Woman hiking in snow storm

Creative Commons image courtesy of Kees Smans

Though Hayes’ articles cites mostly from the sports of angler fishing, hunting and shooting–it is clear that these previously stereotyped “male” activities are becoming more and more attractive to women. Though the percentage change in participation  of women in outdoor activities may not be more than a couple additional percentages, these numbers are significant when polled from across the country.

The Outdoor Participation Report of 2013 groups information about outdoors activities and participants by varying categories, including age and gender. The Report hopes to find out who’s going outside, what it is they’re doing, whether it be hunting, walking, or kayaking, and whether or not they’re likely to continue going outside.

Since 2006, females aged 18-24 participating in outdoor recreation has increased from 51% to 56%. It has been rising ever since 2009, when the number was pulled out of a low depth of 48% up to 53% in a single year. According to another report provided by Southwick Associates, a rise of almost a whole percentage of women involved in angling and hunting.

11.15.09 006

Creative Commons image courtesy of Renee V.

So excited to read an advance...

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild! Creative commons image courtesy of Tammy Strobel.

Not only have lady huntresses and fly fishers joined the ranks of the outdoors world. The idea of women taking on the wilderness has started to populate the mainstream media, thanks especially to books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The Oprah Book club selection recounts the biographical tale of a 22 year old woman named Cheryl and her quest to hike a large portion of the Pacific Crest Trail–the less tamed West Coast cousin of us East Coaster’s more familiar AT (Appalachian Trail).

Though Strayed’s (a name she chose while on the trail) journey could have gone terribly, horribly wrong–it ended up being an inspirational tale of recovery, personal development, resourcefulness, hardheadedness, and the kindness of strangers. On the thousands of miles she walked alone with a too-heavy pack, little food, almost no money, and a determination to just reach the next leg of the journey–I definitely fell in love with her spirit.

Woman pausing to look at landscape

Creative Commons image courtesy of Jared Wong.

Even as an outdoors instructor and a Wilderness First Responder who knows just how terrifying it would be to lose an entire boot, be without a trustworthy water source, or not have the proper equipment–I can’t deny the charm of Strayed’s tale. Though I’d advise readers to prepare a little bit more if they wanted to repeat the venture.

The Outdoor Women’s Alliance, a blog for women who are active outdoor athletes to share their thoughts and experiences, offers up a lot of commentary on the gender issue in outdoors recreation. Its mission is “promoting women in outdoor adventure”, and many organizations like this exist across the country such as Adventures for Women, Awesome Adventurous  Women,  Untamed Adventures, and more.

These groups or blogs encourage women to get outside, and to celebrate each other. However, women as adventurers in the media may still have a different role than what may be ideal.

A post by Gina Bégin  on The Outdoors Women’s Alliance discusses the prevalence of female climbers in a sport that seems to be dominated by men, interviewing some of her acquaintances on the topic. She discovers that women are more often than not portrayed on magazine covers for sports like climbing, though they do not dominate the category. Shop owners and people in charge claim this is for aesthetic reasons, and feature women climbing less challenging routes to look good and sell copies. Bégin wields the weapon of women’s self created media, like the above mentioned websites as well as Strayed’s book, to fight against this traditional objectification of women in mainstream media. Women want to be in the outdoors, climbing and shooting and fishing and biking and more. But they don’t want to do it to sell magazines.

crazy roof sequence on tonsai playboy, 5.12a

Creative Commons image courtesy of Maria Ly.

This article, called The Problem with Female Athletes, gets to an angle that I subconsciously must have been thinking when I started this blog: that women adventurers seem like a more endangered species and that we need a place to talk about who we really are. Bégin writes “To climb, to train, to write and make adventure content is just as important for those women out there doing it as it is for men. No more, and no less. It’s time to help women in this pursuit with fair and balanced media that inspires women toward athletic, not aesthetic, goals.”

She’s right. Women are beginning to populate outdoors adventure and recreation…but we need to continue to talk about who we are and why we’re there–to have fun, develop ourselves, whatever it might be.

P.S.- Even if you’re not an outdoors adventurer, I have nothing but respect for you!


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