If you are a female thru-hiker, backpacker, or outdoor adventurer, I will bet on the fact that you have heard this exact sentiment: “You’re doing this alone? I could never do that. You’re so brave”.
While well-intended every time, this phrase gets under my skin. Don’t get me wrong; it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate the courage and independence of women who choose to venture into the wild on their own. The phrase “You’re so brave” is often used to commend women for deviating from societal norms. It implies that stepping out of one’s comfort zone, particularly for women, is an act of exceptional bravery.
Katie at the top of Redcloud peak in Colorado
Furthermore, when we repeatedly emphasize bravery in this context, it subtly underscores the idea that there is something inherently risky or dangerous about solo female outdoor adventures. While it is crucial to be aware of potential risks and prioritize safety, we should not amplify these concerns to the point where they deter women from exploring the outdoors independently. Solo backpacking, when well-prepared and informed, is a reasonably safe endeavor for anyone, regardless of gender.
While this recognition is well-deserved, it can unintentionally reinforce the idea that solo female backpacking is an extraordinary- and almost reckless- feat, achievable only by the exceptionally brave few. This perception can be discouraging, as it places solo female adventurers on a pedestal, creating an intimidating standard that many may feel they cannot meet.
So, how can we reshape this narrative to empower women without downplaying their courage and independence? Instead of focusing solely on bravery, let’s shift the conversation to highlight empowerment, self-reliance, and personal growth.
Solo female backpackers aren’t just brave; they are individuals who have embraced the opportunity to connect with nature, test their limits, and discover their own inner strength. They plan meticulously, adapt to challenges, and become confident problem solvers.
Katie putting in miles on the John Muir Trail
I have met so many impressive, accomplished, generous, and kind women on my thru hikes of the Colorado Trail and John Muir Trail. Particularly the Colorado Trail, which boasts more solo women thru-hikers than any other long trail in America, introduced me to many women that continue to inspire and motivate me to this day. Several of us have reflected on how we as women face far more discrimination and are in far more uncomfortable and unsafe situations back home in the city than while on the trail or in a trail town.
When you venture into the great outdoors, you become part of an extraordinary community – one that is supportive, accepting, and helpful beyond measure. This community not only provides a haven from the challenges and prejudices of everyday life but also serves as a powerful reminder of the incredible strength, resilience, and kindness that women possess.
We should encourage women to explore the wilderness at their own pace, comfort level, and group size, free from unnecessary stereotypes and barriers. If you are a woman reading this, and want to do a thru-hike, you should feel empowered to do it alone without the extra stress and anxiety that comes with doing something as a woman that society tells us is unsafe or risky.
The outdoors may evoke fear and uncertainty, but it is also where you will uncover your most profound strengths. So, to all the women out there contemplating their next adventure, remember that it is okay to be scared by something and do it anyway. The trails, the mountains, and the wilderness are waiting, and within them, you will find not just nature’s beauty but also the beauty of your own resilience and determination.