Solo Adventuring in the Outdoors as a Female: Is it Safe?

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."

G.D. Anderson

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

  • “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.

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

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 waking 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!

Deer Lakes August 2019

Deer Lakes August 2019

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!

Duck Lake August 2019

Duck Lake August 2019

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

My definition of “glamour shots”

My definition of “glamour shots”

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.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

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!

Crags for days…

Crags for days…

In my backyard…

In my backyard…

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.

For a review and my personal experience using my Garmin inReach, I have included both links.

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

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.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

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

Xx

Kristen

Adventure (Responsibly) Like You Give A Damn

The Importance of Socially Responsible Outdoor Adventure Companies and Tours

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“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”.

-G. K. Chesterton

Mambo from Tanzania,

Before I dive deep into a very important subject that is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would give you a glimpse into my past week here in East Africa. I have not returned most of my personal emails, text messages or social media messages, simply because it is too much work (I am truly taking a major break from back home) so I figured I can give a quick wrap up of my past week on this blog post!

  • I have over 60 mosquito bites ( I stopped counting after 60).

  • People watching at an African dance club is literally the BEST!

  • I already ruined a pair of shoes by walking through wet tar.

  • My Swahili is actually getting a little better each day.

  • I had one really shitty day ( I literally went home and cried) and seven really good days, thus far.

  • I saw my African mama and the rest of the family, after 10 years, and I cried! A lot!

  • I have been on two safaris in one week ( I am addicted).

  • I have already had diarrhea (yeah, it was bound to happen).

  • I have eaten my favorite African food, chipsi mayaii, three times in one week (I actually ate it twice in one day).

  • I am obsessed with the two girls who run the house I am living in. Their names are Jenny and Monica.

  • I saw a fight break out on the dala dala (local bus) and it made me laugh.

  • I unfortunately, already experienced corruption, and it infuriated me to my core.

  • It is supposed to be the “cool” season here but I am constantly sweating. It is so HOT!

  • I am actually planning to travel a lot more than I initially planned!

  • I miss my dogs LIKE CRAZY( I wish I can teleport them here)

  • I am super happy to be disconnected from the United States and everyone at home ( I seriously needed a break).

  • The currency exchanges are STILL closed ( due to some corruption government scandal) so I am getting really excited to shortly be paying international ATM fees (NOT).

  • Wells Fargo Bank does not have a Tanzanian country code for free bank calling ( apparently this country does not exist to Wells Fargo).

  • Yes, I have to answer emails between 1-3AM Tanzanian time ( there is an 11 hour time difference between here and California) in order to accommodate my work schedule in the U.S….. so yes, my sleep schedule is crazy but I love the company I work for!

  • There is this HUGE raven who taps loudly on my window with his beak. Considering I am terrified of birds, this is extremely disturbing and is the main reason why I will never open my bedroom window.

  • Everyone here talks about my hair (white girl hair is a novelty here).

  • I have learned not to allow a 4-year-old to drink hot chocolate (regardless of what his crazy dad says) as it ended up all over my pants, his face, the table and the floor at a swanky hotel. (Yep, super embarrassing).

    Feel free to read my recent detailed blog post about my first 24 hours in Tanzania.

    An open letter to anyone who has yet to visit East Africa

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

Socially responsible companies

Socially responsible companies are those that provide products and services that minimize negative impacts to the local community and environment by preserving the cultural and natural resources of the particular host community and also bring economic benefit to the local communities. According to research 46% of consumers are wiling to pay extra for products and services from socially responsible companies. 46%.... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This number not only baffles me but also bothers me to my core. Traveling and seeing the world is a privilege. It costs money, requires a passport and in some cases, a visa, and requires time off of work; a privilege that many individuals are not granted, however for those who are privileged enough to travel, particularly internationally, it is pathetic that only 46% of us truly care enough about the culture and the environment to engage in socially responsible travel. I also believe a large portion of international tourists are ignorant, in a sense they do not know any better. I was 19 years old when I ventured out on my first international solo trip and to be honest, it took me a few years before I learned the ethics and the importance of socially responsible tourism. I am now 33 years of age, and have been fortunate to have traveled to more countries than I can count and have lived and worked abroad on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). After a solid decade of international travel under my belt, I finally feel confident enough to speak on this important issue.

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The tourism industry in developing countries is saturated and corrupt and it can be extremely overwhelming to decipher which company is the best fit for your tour. Whether you plan to head out on an African safari, climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, take a cruise on the Nile River or take a tour of a local coffee farm, there are many factors that play into which tour company you choose to hire for your next adventure…and the number one factor for many individuals is usually money.

I get it, we are all on a budget and we are constantly looking to save a dollar or two; however there is a fine line between saving money and exploitation and oftentimes they both go hand in hand. The outdoor industry in the U.S. is no different as there are many outdoor retailer and adventure companies in the United States who are ethical and practice social responsibility however there are also many of which who are not. Whether you are buying a piece of clothing from REI or planning an epic safari in Africa, as a consumer, it is your job to ask questions, to do the research and to thoroughly understand why saving a dollar here and there may actually be more harmful to the local culture and the environment than you may think.

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Always book your adventure from local companies

Personally, I am very picky on which products I buy and which companies I hire when I choose to go on an adventure. I want to know where the company is based, how the employees are treated and if the environment is harmed in the process. For example, when choosing a safari company or an international trekking company, it is EXTREMELY important that the company is locally owned. Why on earth would I ever book an AFRICAN safari with an AMERICAN company? For starters, the American owners are profiting more than you can imagine which takes away profit from the local people in Africa. Also, the safari industry in Africa is huge, for example the safari industry just in Tanzania alone is a multi-million dollar industry, and let me tell you a secret, the people of Tanzania know more about safaris than any American tour company. After all, the animals you see on an African safari are indigenous to the land. By booking with an American company for an activity overseas, I can guarantee you that you will pay more money and somewhere down the line, you are exploiting the local people. Cut the middle man out and book right from the local source.

Do a quick Internet search for what you are looking for and email each company that you are interested in and ask them specific questions. Ask them if the company is local, ask about fair wages, and ask about tipping procedures. If you do not hear a detailed response within a week, then something is wrong. A reputable tour company will be honest and upfront and if it seems they are hiding something, then they probably are. I have learned this lesson the hard way and if you are not willing to put in the work, then it is only your fault that you are compromising your dream adventure. 

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Side note: I recently was engaging with an American owned Kilimanjaro trekking and safari company through social media, (I have had many offers to climb Kilimanjaro for free in exchange for photos or a blog post, all of which I have politely declined) and I asked if they were supported by KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). The owner politely responded “no” along with many ridiculous excuses and I quickly lost interest in doing any sort of business with his company. Every single Kilimanjaro trekking company that you hire should be supported by KPAP, if not, you are doing yourself and the Tanzanian culture a disservice. For more information on KPAP, visit their website.

Second side note: I am currently planning a trip to Nepal to climb Everest Base Camp November 2019 and I have spent hours emailing back and forth with the trekking company I chose to hire (If I couldn’t afford to put in the time to research the specifics then I should not be venturing to Nepal).  

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The Tanzanian safari and trekking industry

Let’s be honest, the majority of foreign tourists who visit Tanzania are coming for the sole purpose of going on a safari and/or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both of these experiences are life changing and although I have lost count of how many safaris I have gone on, a day on safari never gets old for me. Unfortunately many of the international tourists who venture into Africa sit idle for 20 hours on a plane each away to spend 5-10 days sitting in a safari jeep without taking any time to venture out into the towns and experience the local culture (I think this is crazy but it is also quite comical to witness). 

An African safari in Tanzania costs $150 to $1,500 per person per night (unless you are a local or have your resident permit) and this rate depends on your accommodations, which National Parks you are visiting, which tour company you hire, or whether you book a private safari or a group safari. I personally will not pay more than $400 per day to go on a private safari if I am using a safari jeep or more than $150 per day for a private safari if I am using someone’s private vehicle. The average safari-goer will choose to go on a 3-5 day safari totaling anywhere from $450-$6,500 per person, and much more for a 7-10 day trip. A safari company will profit on average, $8,000-$10,000, per group for a week safari and the safari guide will take home on average, $1,000 (the safari guides work super hard and do all the real work). 

The average price per person for a 6 day Kilimanjaro trek is anywhere from $1200 to $4000 and again these prices depend on which company you hire and whether you are looking for a budget climb or a fancy climb. You can only imagine how much the company makes off of each climber compared to how much the trekking guides and porters make.

If you are interested about the specifics on porters and guides on Mt. Kilimanjaro, please read my recent post entitled, Giving Back, Porters’ Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

Also if you are the asshole who goes on hunting safaris, I hope I never have the dissatisfaction of interacting with you.

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Tipping IS protocol

Personally, the cost margins between safari companies and the worker’s wages are super important because there is not only a huge discrepancy in price, but also this brings up the importance of tipping. I do not care if tipping is protocol or not in your home country but tipping on a safari, a trek or any type of adventure or experience around the world IS PROTOCOL. If you hire a guide to take you hiking through the Amazon, you tip him, if you hire a driver to take you on a tour of the ruins in Southeast Asia, you tip him and if you go on an African safari or climb Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) you better damn well tip your guide, cooks and porters and tip them properly. If you are too cheap to tip the proper amount or simply cannot afford to tip, then take some time to save your money until you can afford to tip properly. If you do not know how much to tip, then search the Internet, ask your guides and ask the company you hired. A proper company and good guide will be honest with you about tipping. For a quick and dirty on tipping for Kilimanjaro trek or a Tanzania safari, please read below:

Kilimanjaro tipping guidelines

Per each climber per day:

  • Per Chief Guide: $20- 25 per day

  • Per Assistant guide:  $15- 20 per day

  • Per Cook: $10- 15 per day

  • Per Porter: $8-10 per day

Each client should expect to tip between $250-$350, for the entire climb in addition to the cost of the climb.

Tip at the end of your trek and personally hand the tips in an envelope to each guide, porter and cook. Do not give your tips to the trekking company!

If you cannot find your porters because they are always WAY ahead of you, then ask your guides to meet with them or give the porters your tips at camp on the last night of your trek. If you cannot, in anyway, hunt down your porters, then you most likely hired a corrupt trekking company. I met every single one of my porters (and saw them every single day) on both of my Kilimanjaro treks and my Machu Picchu trek.

Tanzania safari tipping guidelines

Per client per day:

For a day safari, there is usually a guide and a tracker. For overnight safaris the tracker may double as the assistant guide and cook.

  • Per Chief Guide: $15-$20 per day

  • Per Assistant guide/tracker $10-15 per day (if they double as your chef then tip on the higher end)

  • Per Chef: $10-$15 per day

For a seven-day camping safari, each client should budget approximately $250, in addition to the cost of the safari. Personally hand your tips in an envelope to your guide and assistant guide at the end of your safari (not at the end of each day).

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Outdoor ethics while adventuring in Africa

Regardless if you are hiking on a local trail in Southern California or adventuring on an African safari in a Tanzania National Park, there are rules and regulations you should follow. Yes, some corrupt safari companies (and guides) will allow you to break the rules in hope they will receive a bigger tip so it is YOUR responsibility to respect the environment and the animals

Keep wildlife wild: Do not disturb the animals you see on a safari. I get it, us photographers want the best photos possible but yelling, harassing or feeding a wild animal is stupid, reckless and dangerous. Do not get out of your safari jeep at anytime and please do not try to bribe your guide in hopes he will allow you to break the rules. Do not put your guide in that type of situation and a respectable guide will be very clear about communicating the rules to you (in case you are inept).

In regards to photography, keep your noisy drones at home (they are forbidden in National Parks) and if you want to take a photo of an individual, ask them first. It is exceptionally rude and culturally unacceptable to go up to people and take their photos as if they are objects. If you cannot speak their language then wait until you have a translator with you to ask them for permission. I always ask for permission, and then show them the photo afterwards, which usually sparks some form of human connection. If the individual does not want his/her picture taken then you must respect their wishes.

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For additional trips on traveling, check out a previous blog post I authored about why I LOVE traveling solo.

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

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Thanks for reading and I wish you a happy and safe adventure (whether it’s in your own backyard or overseas).

Xx

Kristen