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Why Feminism Belongs Outdoors

How trying to buy a backpack reminded me of the difficulties of being female in the outdoor world.

By: Tara Stamnes + Save to a List

Unfortunately for us gals, the patriarchy is alive and well in the outdoors.

The other day I was looking into buying a new hiking backpack that was specific for toting a camera. After an hour or so of research, I found some sweet companies who make outdoor-specific bags for photographers. I was pumped to finally have a bag that provided me protection and easy access to my cam, while climbing up the local mountains here in Vancouver. That was when it dawned on me: Wait, these are all bags for dudes… Back to the drawing board. I started again, this time with my keywords including “for women” at the end of my Google search.

By the end of my hunt, for the thirty-something packs I could find specifically for male photographers in the outdoors, I found one for girls (the Kashmir UL by f-stop), and while the thought and effort was there from the company, it seemed to have some major drawbacks for such an expensive pack (not enough pockets, etc.).

What’s the big deal? Why don’t I just use a bag made for a dude and live with it? These were my initial thoughts, until I saw a review by Nicole Young where she pointed out the mega discomfort and ludicrous notion of wearing a guy’s pack on a girls’ body.

I started to do some simple math. If 50% of the population is female, then roughly 50% of hiking photographers must be female, and shouldn’t that then mean that about half of the packs made for this purpose should be made for chicks? Not just 3%?

I realized something: this frustration was unique to my female experience in the outdoors.

Then my mind jumped to all the other things we, as women, have to deal with when we go out to play or when we interact with the outdoor community. I reflected on a time this year when a friend and I received an unwelcome visit from a guy in our campsite late at night - it lasted far too long, even after we’d explained we wanted a peaceful night to ourselves. I also remembered coming out of two nights at the 2017 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival and feeling underwhelmed and underrepresented as none of the ~8 films I watched featured women.  

And this is why, my friends, feminism belongs outdoors. 

And at risk of being labeled a Whiny Feminist, this stuff bothers me. A lack of backpacks is a fairly harmless issue, but the patriarchy has some very real consequences outside. Similar to the current societal movements like #metoo and the ongoing deconstruction of sexual assault in the entertainment industry, these stories have been told before in the outdoor world (click here and here for more). And they will be told again and again until something changes – it’s our imposed duty to make sure we are heard in our experiences. Trust me, it’s not what I want to be writing about.

So, what can be done? Well first, celebrating badass women and inspiring female stories in the outdoors always helps. Why? Simple. Accurate and equal representation reinforces the idea that girls and women can interact with the outdoors, too.

So here’s some exciting female projects, groups, companies, and individuals who are killing it at what they do outdoors:

1. AndShesDopeToo

This badass “adventure collective” based out of Utah aims at bolstering the female experience in the outdoors by empowering and supporting women all over the globe. Their projects include films (https://www.theoutbound.com/jennifer-killian/moksha-nepalese-women-find-freedom-through-mountain-biking), a film festival highlighting women (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2nd-annual-lady-wild-film-festival-2018-tickets-41099100516), and putting on meetups for ladies to get outside. 

#killingit much?

2. Wylder Goods

This female-friendly shop, blog, and marketplace is an amazing group of ladies who created a business built on the vision of empowerment and sustainability – pretty cool, right? Not only are all their products for women, they curate the most sustainable goods that match their values.

Check out their shop and website here.       

3. Endless Amazing Local Explorers

Instagram is an easy place where we can control what we see, and there are so many rad ladies getting outside that can inspire the rest of us. Check out the article here for an awesome list of badass women who get their fun-fixes outdoors.

And don’t worry guys, you haven’t been forgotten. There are also some easy Do’s and Don’ts for fellas that can help y’all become female allies in the outdoors:

  • DO take a stance.

Spread awareness in your communities and let your fellow adventurers know that harassment is not cool outdoors. Wanderung, an adventure group that created meetups in Vancouver for people who want to be outdoors, sent out an e-blast recently and had the following to say:

“It must stop. A woman should never feel endangered by the presence of a man. There is simply no place for harassment in the backcountry (or anywhere for that matter). If you see it, speak out or be willing to support someone in their stand against it. If you witness or experience harassment on a Wanderung trip, let us know at info@wanderung.ca. All communication is treated in the strictest confidence by the board, and remember we are a group composed 50-50 of women and men. As we wrote in the newsletter back in September, there is no place for harassment of any kind in Wanderung. Like Outside, we say that there is no place for you in Wanderung if you consider such behaviour acceptable.”

Go team Wanderung!

  • DON’T enter womens’ campsites uninvited.

Asking if it’s cool is not enough for this to be okay. Even if you ask, women often feel obliged to say “yes”, in fear of what nonsense may occur in the case they say no. A simple alternative if you really want to mingle at camp is giving a no-pressure invite to co-campers to come your own site, giving us free reign of our decision.

  • DO offer to lighten the load if your female co-adventurers are menstruating.

A friend of mine did this for me recently on a long trip, and it was a simple gesture that said “hey, I understand you are suffering because you are a female, let me help” and really helped while I was struggling with lady pains.

  • DON’T always assume the role of instructor.

Girls know how to chop wood, too. Sometimes it’s cool for you to let ladies do campsite tasks without giving them a 10-minute instructional beforehand – we all know what assuming does!

And thus exhausts my ability to preach what shouldn’t have to be said. While the patriarchy is out there, so is our ability to be aware and fight it.

Now, let’s get outside ladies!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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