An Open Letter to Every Woman in the Wild
"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength."
“You are going by yourself?”
“Is it safe?”
“How do you protect yourself?”
“What if something goes wrong”?
These are just some of the many questions most females, including myself, are asked when we exclaim that we are going on a solo adventure. I see so many posts on social media about how so many women are nervous about hiking alone or how their partner will not allow them to adventure solo. This sense of fear and uneasiness makes me sad and I hope this blog can empower at least one female to get out there by her badass self and conquer any trail, crag or mountain she desires. The majority of the folks in the outdoors are extremely pleasant, friendly and humble but sadly there have been multiple cases this past year of physical and verbal attacks on women, and as a result we need to be smart.
The harsh reality of being female
As females, we live in a society where unfortunately we are taught from a very young age to always be “on guard”, to pay attention to our gut feeling and to be careful. I grew up with a badass younger brother and we were both raised by the strongest woman I have ever met and although it was always instilled in me that I should be aware of my surroundings and be in touch with my intuition, I never grew up in a household where fear was instilled. My mom never taught me to be scared of certain people or of certain environments and I think this is one of the main reasons why I live a very fearless and a very fulfilling life. She told me from day one to be independent, to make my own money, to stand up for myself and to “never let a boy touch you where you do not want to be touched and if he does, punch him in the mouth”. My mom says some ridiculous things!
Yes of course, as women, we always have to be on guard and sadly, men do not understand this. We have to wait for our Uber inside the bar just to be safe, watch our backs in a gas station at night, be weary of being date raped at parties or bars, be mindful when we are walking or running at night or walking through a parking lot, walking to our car etc. In other words, as women, we must always be careful and mindful of our surroundings even if we are not fearful. Guys do not understand the risks we, as women, take on a daily basis. I have had conversations with my brother and best guy friends and have asked them if they ever worry about being mugged or attacked while walking down the road or walking home; men simply do not need to take the same precautions we do. Is it fair? Nope. Is it reality? Yep! I have had friends who have been attacked and raped and I am sure many women who are reading this are victims themselves or know of victims. It is the sad reality and my heart goes out to every female who feels she is no longer safe, but I truly believe being safe in the “real world” and being safe on the trail are two very different things that simply cannot be compared. Trail safety is a thing, a big thing, but this should never ever discourage you from getting out there on your own!
But are we safe on the trails?
When I am asked if I feel safe going into the wilderness by myself, I often chuckle, roll my eyes and make a snarky comment about how I am more at risk of getting into a car accident on the freeway or having an unsafe encounter in a gas station at night. As women, we are always at risk, and more so in populated cities and public places. I have had a handful of dangerous encounters with creepy men in big cities but when I am on the trail, I feel so much more at ease.
Guys play a major role in women empowerment
I know a lot of men who do “not allow” their significant others to go hiking, climbing, skiing or backpacking alone. I say dump these dudes, seriously! But in reality, it is totally normal for our loved ones to be concerned about our safety, happiness and well-being. But seriously, guys please support your female partners in their solo adventures in the outdoors. You can play such a huge role in empowering the women in your lives!
Getting personal: How do I protect myself on the trail?
Conceal and carry…or not
I am often asked if I carry a weapon or pepper spray and the truth is I do not. I do not feel I am in any sort of danger on the trail to the extent that I have to go to these extreme measures. I truly believe the outdoors is a safe place and with enough street smarts, grit and intuition, we as women, can conquer the trails.
I once considered (for about 10 minutes while standing in Moab Gear Traders in Utah) purchasing a knife but in reality I truly believe I will not be able to get to my weapon in a timely manner to actually do something to my attacker. I wonder “if my attacker saw my weapon, would he be more prone to shoot me right there?” Fumbling with a knife, even if it is in my pants or attached to my body or grabbing my pepper spray off my pack strap makes me wonder, “can I potentially cause more harm to myself because of my slowed reaction time, and my clumsy hands combined with potentially making my attacker more violent”? I also wonder, “what if they grab my weapon and use it on me?” I personally am extremely anti firearms of any sort (please refrain from the gun debate and politics) so carrying a gun is just not my jam.
With that said, I have many girlfriends who do carry a weapon on the trail and I believe if it makes you feel safe and if you are comfortable using your weapon (and actually know how to use it), then by all means, go to town…
Wear headphones…sort of
My main line of defense is my wit, my gut, my two fingers and my 12-pound terrier mix. Let me explain. I get around, literally. I have traveled all over the world and have hiked thousands of miles in the backcountry by myself so I can handle a creepy dude here and there. For the most part, I do wear headphones on the trail because I simply do not want to be asked a million questions about my pup, but what many do not know is I rarely have any music on. A tactic I picked up while traveling across India by train. People think you are unaware of what is going on around you because you are listening to music, when in fact, you know exactly what is happening but just do not want to be bothered.
Sure, I will smile and wave and have the one off conversation here and there on the trail but my solo outdoor time is not my idea of a happy hour.
Side note: If I do have music on, I only have one ear bud in so I can be aware of my surroundings while jamming out to some nonsense Justin Bieber. For that same reason, I do not wear earplugs when I sleep on the trail. I want to be able to hear if something or someone is out there and I want to be able to hear my dog bark.
Follow your gut
This leaves me to my next line of defense, my intuition. I can smell a creepster from a mile away. If you are a dude on the trail who is giving me the creeps then I will kindly step aside and let you hike in front of me. I may even sit down and eat a snack and watch my pup run around in circles. Basically, I do not want any creepy dudes behind me, ever. I feel that if they are in front of me, I have the upper hand. I seldom tell people I meet on the trail where I plan to camp that night, sure sometimes I meet some incredibly rad people and I want nothing more than to tell them my life story and become best friends but I vibe it out. If my gut is telling me, “this guy is cool and is harmless” then I have no problem talking about my journey. But if I meet a creepster who wants to know where I am camping or where I am hiking to, I will often make something up or simply respond, “not sure yet, wherever Mother Nature takes me”. In terms of camping, I have unfortunately camped next to some creepy dudes (who set up camp after me). I considered moving my tent but did not feel I was in any imminent danger. I have had friends who have straight up, picked up camp and moved because they pitched their tent next to creepy McCreepster. Do not hesitate to move your tent, trust your gut.
Go for the eyeballs
My pointer finger and middle finger on my right hand are my secret weapons. I have been told by many self-defense instructors to go for the eyes. If I ever get into a situation where I feel physically threatened, these two fingers will take out someone’s eyesight. I can guarantee that. Sometimes I tell my guy friends this and they tell me “Kristen, you need to stop going around telling people this, it is weird”. Sure it is super weird, but I know any guy can physically overpower me but not one guy is going to physically overpower me when he is blind. Let’s talk about self-defense classes because I am a huge fan of these. I think it is super empowering for women to learn how to get out of violent physical holds by men and I encourage every woman to take one of these classes.
Get an “attack” dog
If you did not know, I am overly obsessed with my pup, Moo. She is the cutest, sweetest, hilarious and most adventurous canine I have ever met. Although she has no viscous bone in her body (and she weighs 12 pounds) she sure does know how to spot creepsters. She is by no means an attack dog and she rarely ever barks, but every so often she will stand next to me and bark at a random individual on the trail until he/she is literally out of our sight. She has chased weird men out of my campsite and she makes it very obvious she wants nothing to do with you if she senses you are a creepster. I have hiked almost 1,000 miles with my pup so I am incredibly in tune with her as she is to me, especially in the outdoors. We are a team! Dogs can truly keep you a little bit safer on the trail and I feel so much more at ease when she is with me.
Whistles, alarms and air horns
I actually have a whistle on my running pack and my backpacking pack (but not any of day packs, useful huh?). I actually have these two whistles to scare off furry creatures rather than creepsters but a noisemaker is always a good idea to alert that you are in potential dangers. Growing up my mom always used to carry this heavy “rape whistle” on her keys. She would even tell me, at my ripe age of 9 years old, it was a rape whistle and it sort of made me chuckle but as we get older, we clearly become more like our mothers, right?
I have seen people carry alarms that attach to their back pack strap and also know people who carry mini air horns; which I think are way less annoying than the constant jingling of those damn bear bells!
Other safety precautions to take when you are solo adventuring
Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to be back and who and when to call in case they do not hear back from you.
Baby steps: maybe start with a 2-mile solo hike first to build up your confidence
Know your limits
Have some experience in the backcountry before you adventure solo
Be knowledgeable about back country navigation
Carry a photo ID on you.
Carry a Garmin InReach, it can truly save your life.
I recently had a guy friend tell me that if women needed to carry a Garmin InReach in case they needed to activate the SOS button, then they probably should not be in the outdoors. I thought this was one of the most ignorant comments I have ever heard. No matter how experienced or knowledgeable you are, Mother Nature is stronger, faster and wiser and there may be a time when you need to activate your SOS button and do not ever feel ashamed for that.
Remember, you are a QUEEN
Of course, tragedies do happen because well there are creepy guys everywhere, even in the wilderness. But in my 16 years of adventuring solo I have had two encounters in the backcountry where the hair on my neck stood up and my gut was twisting and tumbling. As women, we are the queens of intuitive feelings however often times we do not follow our gut and we end up in danger. So my biggest word of advice when adventuring in the backcountry solo is TRUST YOUR GUT. If something just feels off, then it probably is so either take a different trail, allow the weird creepy dude to go ahead of you, move your tent to a different campsite or worst case scenario, get off the trail. But never allow fear to keep you from getting into the wilderness by yourself. You are more likely to be hurt driving on the freeway, walking home at night or going out to a bar. I truly believe with my whole heart that solo adventuring as a female is not only safe but incredibly rewarding and empowering and I encourage every woman to get out there on her own and experience it for the first time.
To read more on why I love traveling solo, here is another cheeky but informative blog post written by yours truly on why women should embrace their bad-asser-y more often!
"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass." —Maya Angelou
Thanks mom, for instilling this sense of empowerment in me!
(I honestly do no even know if she is aware I have a blog)
Hope to see you on the trails