While the great outdoors might conjure up images of grizzled mountain men, crunchy hippie dudes and studly park rangers, more women are hiking than ever before, according to a recent survey by The Outdoor Foundation. In 2011, 48 percent of adults exploring America's trails were women, but by 2014, that number jumped to 60 percent. The influence of author Cheryl Strayed's Wild (and the recent film adaptation detailing her experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail) can't be discounted, but female hikers and mountaineers aren't anything new.
As someone who grew up spending summers hiking in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park and in Yellowstone, I know the hard won victories that come from long, strenuous hikes. I owe my outdoorsman father for forcing me to scale rocky hills and trounce down treacherous valleys as a young woman, since I was definitely not having it for most of my childhood and teens. While hiking may not seem like an inherently feminist exercise, the more I return to the same trails I have traversed for decades, the more I find that one of the most empowering acts is being out in nature and forging ahead on paths unknown. Here are 6 feminist reasons to hit the hiking trail this summer:
1. Take Time For Yourself Away From Technology
One of the best/worst parts about being out in the middle of nowhere on a gorgeous hike is that as much as you want to share that scenery or that wildlife you've stumbled upon, it's for your (and your hiking companions)'s eyes only. Sure, go ahead and snap a picture with your phone, but there's no way you're gonna have the service to post that baby until you're back at the base. Removing yourself from the digital world and the need to be online at all times can be a radical act of self-care and drastically improve your mental health. What could be more feminist than that?
2. Compete With Yourself, Nobody Else
At first, I had to resist the urge to compare strides and stamina on the trail, because at its core, hiking is about competing with yourself and nobody else. Now, I keep my own pace and realize that each experience is about what I can get out of it. Privileging your individual experience as a woman is a vital part of feminism to me, particularly when you can share it collectively at the end of a long day.
3. Focus On How Your Body Works, Not How It Looks
I used to hate hiking because the outfits were terrible, my makeup ran, and sweating sucks. Then I realized how radical (and healing) it can be to stop worrying about what your body looks like and focus on what it can accomplish instead. At the end of a 20 mile trip through meadows, mountains, and waterfalls, the absolute last thing on my mind is how sexy I look, but how fantastic (and exhausted) I feel. Suck it, patriarchal beauty standards.
4. Put Your Survival Skills To The Test
Forget mountain climbing or backpacking, even the most basic hike is about navigation and planning. One wrong move may actually cost you your life — the wilderness cares not about your wellbeing. Getting in touch with your innate (and learned) survival skills brings a great feeling of independence and accomplishment that can't be beat.
5. Get Eco-Friendly With Mother Nature
Some argue that misogyny and the destruction of the earth are intimately entwined (have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road?) and, honestly, without Mother Nature, we're all fucked. A challenging journey on foot with stunning surroundings will always make you appreciate and want to care for the earth, which is in itself a feminist act.
6. Escape Sexism — In The Woods!
Unless you choose terrible hiking companions, being out in nature is one place where the sexist bullshit on the internet and IRL can't get to you. Gender becomes a bit less meaningful in the middle of nowhere. Your humanity comes first, and the rest is what you make it. To me, hiking is a feminist exercise because it is first and foremost an exercise in self-reliance, and if the movement taught us anything, collective empowerment starts with the individual.
Images: Grand Teton National Park/Wikipedia