In my late twenties, I signed up for an adventure vacation to the canyonlands of Arizona and Utah. I hiked with my group down the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail. I was so ill prepared for this excursion. Little did I realize how difficult it would be to navigate the switchbacks and deal with an elevation of 6800 feet (2072 metres). I made it to the bottom and back with great difficulty. It took me 9 hours. Even today, 20 years later I still can’t believe that I completed that trail. This was my first foray into camping too. I came back to my life in the city feeling fitter and stronger.
Ever since I took up the challenge to visit the canyon lands, I have looked for opportunities to get outdoors more often. Is that happening as frequently as I would like? No! That’s partly because the outdoors still intimidates this city dweller and I do like my creature comforts.
Closing the Gender Gap
Gender diversity in the outdoors is still an issue. Hiking, biking, and camping have traditionally been the purview of white men and occasionally women. Why do minorities stay away? Perhaps its a sense of not belonging, fear of the unknown and the economic costs associated with getting outdoors.
Progressive brands realizing the changing demographic landscape have launched campaigns to be more inclusive of minorities, and get young people outdoors. Mountain Equipment Co-op has launched a program called MEC Outdoor Nation.
Girl Power: Women Inspiring Women
Judith Kasiama, Vancouver, British Columbia
Judith recently became a brand ambassador for MEC Outdoor Nation. She wrote to MEC and asked why more minorities were not reflected in their advertising. MEC, recognizing that Judith had made some valid observations, recruited her to become the first ambassador for MEC Nation. Judith arrived in Canada as a refugee 8 years ago from the Congo. According to Kasiama, “my love of nature stems from growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and having the freedom to walk through thick Congo jungles, swim in the Congo River, or just enjoy the epic rainstorms”. Her goal is to change stereotypes about who takes part in outdoor activities.
But let me tell you about two women, both change makers like Judith Kasiama, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a caving excursion with HT Designs, a public relations firm based in Oakville representing, outdoor brands in Canada.
Sarah Bulford, Squamish, BC
Sarah, a park ranger from Squamish, BC, is from a large family of 6 kids and from a young age, she was exposed to nature and camping holidays by her parents. As an adult, Sarah expanded her love for the outdoors when she started working at a Forest Education Centre just outside of Canal Flats, B.C. She continued working towards a park ranger job and expanding her outdoor survival skills by joining a local search and rescue team.
Does Sarah see many women camping solo?
“Occasionally, but not very often. And I mean, I totally understand – the world is a scary place. But there are tons of steps you can take to ensure your safety when getting out there.”
Sarah believes women should find their niche, like outdoor photography. Consider spending time hiking, climbing or skiing and do what makes you comfortable. During our caving excursion, Sarah demonstrated how she keeps a Leatherman Multi-Tool with her at all times. She showed our group how to use this multi-tool to cut wood, start a fire, and open a soup can.
Sarah’s top tips for women:
- Start your trip planning by doing research and planning correctly for each activity. Don’t’ forget to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.
- Start by doing a solo hike in a busier park so you don’t feel completely alone.
- Buy a communication device such as a Garmin In-Reach or SPOT.
- Read solo camping blogs and the Parks Canada website to gain knowledge of how to protect yourself against animal encounters. Be confident.
Diana Lee, Toronto, Ontario
Diana is Senior Services planner at the Toronto Public Library by day and an outdoor adventurer in her free time. I was impressed by Diana’s agility and energy during our caving excursion. She faced each obstacle with enthusiasm. She was so flexible in navigating even the narrowest passages, whereas the city dweller me looked at the gaps and wondered, “how am I going to get through that passage”?
Growing up in Toronto, Diana’s parents couldn’t keep their girl indoors. She loved parks and exploring green spaces on her bike. As an adult, her curiosity demanded bigger outdoor adventures like hiking up glaciers in Iceland, camping in Jasper, and stand-up paddle boarding in the Galapagos Islands.
Does Diana feel underrepresented in the outdoors?
“No, but sometimes yes. No, because of the friends I hung out with throughout grade school and university and now the paddleboarding community is are a pretty diverse bunch. But when I venture further out of Toronto (which I do a lot as an avid road tripper and traveller), the level of inclusivity, representation, even participation of others who are ethnic is more noticeable”.
Lee’s advice to women? “Just get out there! Don’t let anything stop you from being outdoor explorers or enthusiasts! If safety is a concern or you’re looking to meet other outdoorsy people, join an outdoor social group”.
We’d love to hear about your outdoor experience. Share your story with us!
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Note: This post was sponsored by HT Designs, but all opinions expressed here are my own and the interviewees.
Photo credits: HT Designs, Sarah Bulford, and Diana Lee.