By: Amelia Roland
Those of us who have spent time outdoors know there’s much to be gained from it. Whether you’re hiking, camping, mountain biking or just simply going for a walk in the park there’s something to be gained from being close to nature. Perhaps john Muir said it best – “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
The issue we face today though is a disparity between genders and their involvements in outdoor activities, but there’s change in the air! You may have seen REI’s most recent campaign aimed at showcasing women from all walk of life and the stories of “adventurers, makers and rule breakers.” Or Outside Magazine’s latest all female cover Titled “The New Icons: The Future of Adventure is Female.”
I may have shed a few tears when I saw these…I mean huge companies like these actually care about women getting outdoors? And not only do they care, but they’re making it a goal to bring gender equality to the outdoors?? I’ve never been so excited!
According to REI’s research here’s the brass tack of what we’re up against:
“This year we commissioned a national study and the results showed something we’ve long believed: More than 85% of all women surveyed believe the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being, and 70% reported that being outdoors is liberating.
But there are striking obstacles in the findings as well:
- 63% of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model
• 6 in 10 women say that men’s interests in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s”
Here at Lasting Adventures we’re doing our part to bridge the gender gap through our Young Women’s Program. This all female 13-day backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park dives deep into leadership training, confidence building and questioning what it mean to be a girl in the outdoors. Just hear what one of participants had to say about last year’s program:
“…this was a very empowering experience. I got to push myself both physically and mentally and learned a lot about myself and my limits. I cannot CANNOT recommend this trip enough for any young women even slightly interested in the outdoors. No matter how much outdoor experience you have, you will certainly get so much from this trip. This trip was without a doubt the BEST experience of my life.”
OK enough bragging about ourselves – let’s get down to business. Here are the top 5 reasons to get young women involved in the outdoors:
1. Change Minds and Break Stereotypes
Melissa Arnot, is a mountain guide and has been to the summit of Everest 5 times. Even with these accomplishments under her belt she’ll be the first to admit she battles stereotypes about women in the outdoor regularly, as quoted in Backpacker Magazine,“When people look at me with a group, their first assumption is that I’m not the leader. When they realize I am—and a good one—it completely expands their expectations of who can lead. I love that moment. If we can get the idea across that women are leaders, in 10 years, it could just be normal.”
I myself have received a quizzical look when I’ve gone to meet clients and they see a female approaching. I know I know, you wanted a bearded lumber jack to carry you over river crossings…It’s only after assuring them that yes I can carry this heavy backpack, and yes I enjoy being out here and no my parents do not fear for my safety every day that I see their gears start turning. They no longer think of the outdoor industry as only employing men and thus are more open and encouraging to their daughters to find their place in an outdoor setting.
It may take time, but as the saying goes “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Let’s hope that Melissa is right and we continue on this trajectory of involving women in the outdoors so that in 10 years no female has to experience that quizzical look.
2. Build Confidence
Being outdoors, whether it’s hiking or backpacking etc. shows us what we’re capable of, physically. An adventure doesn’t have to be an all out expedition. Any outing can help us open our eyes to what we can accomplish! Through our Young Women’s Program, we impress upon or participants the need to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements.
A recent article in the Atlantic titled “The Confidence Gap” discusses particular challenges young women face in society, namely a startling lack of confidence compared to their male counterparts. As Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University notes, “Confidence is not, as we once believed, just feeling good about yourself…Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into actions.”
Climbing peaks, hiking for miles, even just carrying a heavy pack farther than you thought you could will live on in your memories as an example of the strength you possess. This sense of empowerment can not only be applied to outdoor activities but also facets of their everyday lives.
No it’s not a cheesy self-help book title – it’s the real deal. Going out of your comfort zone, especially in an activity you’re unfamiliar with opens you up to new experiences and friendships.
It’s hard being a kid, especially a growing young female. You can feel limited to what you already know, or the friends you already have. However, if we never open ourselves to new opportunities, we’ll miss those chances for special connections along the way. Perhaps you’ll discover a new passion for backpacking, or that the outdoors just isn’t for you, but as my mom used to tell me, either way you’re learning about yourself and that alone is always worth it.
4. Inherit Positive Values
Mother Nature has many lessons to teach, you just have to be willing to learn. Unfortunately, our younger generations are spending more time on their phones and less time out exploring.
Science is showing that when we spend time in outdoor spaces, it can be tremendously helpful for our sense of self, for problem solving, and social bonding. By disconnecting from our technology and reconnecting with nature we decrease the value of materialistic objects and create stewards of nature.
5. Healthy Body and Mind
Exercising outdoors has proven to have countless benefits. For young women who struggle with body image issue, this can be invaluable. Instead of focusing on a scale or a mirror, they are able gain confidence by learning what their bodies can achieve. A healthy body is something to take pride in, not just for the way it looks in clothes, but for its ability to carry your backpack, hike for miles, and climb to a summit!
As stated in Women’s Health Magazine, The 7 best reason to exercise outside: ‘”Humans were hunter-gatherers and farmers for some 300,000 generations; have been industrialized for only six to eight, so we are outdoor animals living largely inside,” says Jo Barton, Ph.D., the lead author of a 2011 study that analyzed the mental health of 53 people who were involved in indoor or outdoor activities for six weeks. “Closeness to nature increases our well-being—it has an immunizing effect by protecting us from future stresses and helping us concentrate and think more clearly,” she says.’
Ok Ladies now let’s get in formation!
(Sorry, couldn’t resist a Beyonce quote) Let’s get outside and show them what we’re made of! There’s no right or wrong way to be nature. Whether your finger nails are painted or chipped with dirt under them, the outdoors is a place for you.