A post of this kind has been brewing in my head for a while now and after reading something infuriating this last week, I decided to put it to words. If you came here just to learn how to hike with others, you may need to scroll down to when the ranting wears of a bit…
If I see one more blog post about “How To Hike Solo” or “Be A Solo Female Hiker” I think I will pop my lid. I’ve even seen “Don’t Read Another Article About Hiking Solo,” written by a female hiker that was still all about how to hike solo.
When I started my blog, I gave serious thought to its direction and purpose. I (and friends) spend a fair amount of time encouraging other women to get out and hike/backpack whether it be solo or in groups. We talked about starting women’s hiking groups and leading women only hikes. And we do do these things.
But when it came time to start writing and talking about what I love, I didn’t want to be a female hiker.
I JUST WANT TO BE A HIKER.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some really great blogs out there about how to hike like a woman (or girl) or about hiking for her. All designed for women who need encouragement or resources to feel comfortable in the outdoors, and more specifically comfortable with not being attached to a MAN in the outdoors. I get it. Where else can you talk about your period on the trail? I am the first person to say having a group of women to hike with is a true gift.
But I am resentful that there is an accepted conscientiousness that women need to be catered to this way. Don’t think I am naive to institutionalized gender bias. The fact that GQ can still write articles like THIS one and Outdoor Research has done one like THIS to rebut it demonstrates how reality is not reflected in marketing and advertising. And thus misconception is reinforced.
You don’t see any blogs called, “Hike Like A Man” or “Hiking for Him” (and if you do IT’S SATIRE). And you most definitely do not see anything like “Hiker Hunks” And if you do, it’s gay porn. You were warned.
I want to just tell my story for what it is, a hiker who happens to be a woman. A middle-aged woman. A mom. And a large list of other characteristics that have NOTHING with my ability to hike. SOLO. I don’t hike solo to prove I don’t need a man, I hike solo because it’s just what I do. Well, and maybe because it took so long to find a man who could keep up.
I hike to challenge myself, for the solitude, the time to think undistracted, and a million other reasons that have nothing to do with being a woman. They have to do with being a human being who longs to be outdoors.
It doesn’t occur to me that I can’t hike on my own. I realize I have the privilege not everyone does to have a parent (my mother) who hiked on her own like IT WAS A NORMAL THING TO DO. Or to be surrounded by lots of women hikers. I am truly blessed.
I see all those trendy posts about how to be a solo female hiker and I thought about writing something myself. I’m a woman. Shouldn’t I be writing post about how to hike as a woman? I’m sure it will get lots of clicks. But I couldn’t ever seem to find the words because it just isn’t my story.
What IS my story? After spending so much time out in the wilderness BY MYSELF and learning to love all that affords me, the truth is that it became increasing hard to hike with others. Like annoyingly hard. Like I wouldn’t have wanted to have been the people hiking with me because I was most likely difficult to hike with. Not because I am super fast or anything but simply because I had found my own rhythm in the woods. I liked the simplicity of JUST GOING without planning or coordination. I love the solitude and setting my own pace. The self-sufficiency and self-reliance. It also appeals greatly to my introvert side that just often craves to not have to deal with people.
I wrote on my post Do You Meetup? about wanting to find more friends that hike like I do. Now, why would I want to hike with others when I my preference is to hike by myself? The honest truth is that I had outgrown hiking with most of my hiking friends and I would only grow frustrated hiking with them. I went on a backpacking trip with my favorite women hikers and the pace drove me out of my mind. I’m sure I was no fun to be around.
But, I didn’t want to be that way. I would see pictures and stories of people having a wonderful time in the outdoors with others. I remembered how much fun I used to have when I was just a novice and didn’t know any better. I saw this an opportunity for growth. I really didn’t want to be antisocial. Plus, I love sharing nature with others.
Okay, I’m a little calmer now. So for those of you who clicked on this post because you want to know how to hike with other people, here’s how you do it. First, do what I did and make a list of all the pros to hiking with others. It might look something like this:
- Carpooling to trailheads saves money. It’s a LONG drive.
- You could have someone walking in front of you to walk into spider webs first.
- Likewise, you could have someone walking in front of you to break trail through snow.
- You can have more than selfies to show after your hike.
- You could learn about hikes you didn’t know about.
- You can have someone who knows how to name flowers, trees, birds, berries, peaks, mushrooms, etc. that you don’t know the name of.
- You know that joke about only having to be faster than the last person when being chased by a bear? Hard to do when you are solo.
- You don’t look as silly when you talk to yourself.
- When you aren’t sure which way to go, you could have a second opinion. If only to make yours sound correct.
- But most importantly, you have someone to share all those wonderful experiences you are having outdoors with someone as it happens. Like when you come to a beautiful waterfall or lay under dark starlit skies during a meteor shower.
Yes, sitting alone on top of a summit it the most amazing thing. But equally amazing is having someone next to you who appreciates it just as much as you. One is not better than the other.
Now with your list to help you see the advantages in hiking with companions, try some of these ideas on the trail to set your rhythm to others:
- Remind yourself that hiking can be more than just being in the wilderness. It is a way to share the wilderness with others through friendship, trust and teamwork. It isn’t always all about you.
- Set yourself to a pace somewhere in between the fastest and slowest person in the group. If you are hiking with just one other person, let them lead.
- Relax and remember you are out on a social event.
- Bring food to share. Food is love. Everyone loves food, especially while hiking.
- Whether hiking or backpacking, have an agreement that you will wait at junctions or viewpoints for each other. This allows each of you to have your alone time and no one feels like they are slowing anyone down. And when they catch up, wait before taking off again. They might need a break, too.
- Ask other people about their stories and why they like to hike. Find a common bond.
Start by making yourself friends who hike like you do. Maybe even people who challenge you! Join a Facebook or Meetup group and hike with lots of different people until you have a group of folks you feel comfortable hiking with. It’s like dating. But WAY better. And cheaper. And easier on the self-esteem.
Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I hope this advise will help you have a more enjoyable time out in the wilderness when you choose to hike with others. I know it did for me. And as for my frustrations above, well I can still hope that some day there won’t be a need for hiking advise geared for women. But I understand why it exists and if it helps you than I am glad. Yes, I do have one little page for hiking as a woman on my site and I have written about great hiking women. I am a part of several women only hiking groups on Facebook. There is a certain camaraderie. I would be hypocritical not to acknowledge that. But I don’t want to be just a female hiker. I want to simply be a person who loves adventure and being outdoors. Period. I love learning from and giving advice to both men and women hikers. I love celebrating all kinds of hiking achievements, irregardless of gender. I think we should all aspire to inspire others, whether man or woman.
A woman should just be able to do what she loves to do and have that be enough. Without feeling like there is something to prove. A woman shouldn’t need to have another woman to emulate, she should be able to strive to be like anyone she wants. Especially if that someone is herself.
P.S. What spurred on this rant? Two things. One, I was reading a post on Facebook about a missing hiker (a man) and someone commented insensitively about how you should follow the first rule of hiking, “Never hike alone.” Seriously?? How about something more CRITICAL like “Never hike without your 10 essentials”??? When did hiking solo become something to fear? Talk about preconceived notions. It is this very thing that leads most women (and the people who love them) to think hiking is dangerous.
And second? A popular hiking website designed for woman was offering local hikes that you PAID for. She was charging women to hike with her. Now, I’m all for earning a living but something about this seems SO wrong. I wanted to comment all over her stuff telling women they shouldn’t have to pay money to feel comfortable to hike. I don’t think it’s that much different than paying more for pink razors. I’m still hot about it…