It seems that every time I set off on a long adventure outdoors, other women I meet tell me “that sounds like a great trip but it is something I could never do. ” Call me an optimist, but I think people —especially women— are a lot stronger and capable than they may give themselves credit for. Here’s my secret to get anyone —especially women— in the outdoors:
When I ask people why they don’t think they could go on a hiking trip, the most common answer I get is “because it’s too scary.” Over years of adventuring, I’ve found that in reality, the fears that I have about some aspect of the outdoors—bears, lightning, or getting lost—are often exaggerated in my mind. On my last trip in the Canadian Rockies, I feared waist deep river fords only to find the worst crossing was knee deep. The thing about scary unknowns is that more often than not, when the going gets bad, you can always retreat. It’s totally acceptable to bail from a trip if you see conditions that don’t feel safe.
Hard as it can be, I’ve also found that the best way to get over fears is by facing them: by writing them down, reading books, and taking classes that explain what to do in worst case scenarios. The best tool to gaining confidence and skills in the outdoors is by hiking with others. No matter what outdoor knowledge you have, if you go on a trip with more experienced people, you will likely feel safer and learn something — maybe even that you are stronger and more capable than you had originally thought!
People often tell me they are afraid to go outdoors because they don’t think they are strong enough. Yet, women in particular seem to be resilient in the outdoors. Girls know how to persevere—especially against pain. When it comes to hiking, women are very strong. Many of the fastest hikers on long distance trails are women, like Jennifer Pharr Davis and fellow Montbell athlete Heather Anderson.
Much like any form of exercise, outdoor activities get better with practice. Even if you are just starting out, there are huge health benefits to walking at any age. The key is to start small and start slow. I suggest getting a hiking guidebook for your area and begin with the easiest hike in the book. In a few weeks, choose a hike that is a little more difficult. I’ve improved my hiking skills drastically by using this technique and find that each hike I do gives me the confidence and skills to tackle the next level up.
Some people tell me that they don’t want to go outdoors because they don’t know enough. The outdoors itself is a great teacher and many lessons are best learned “on the job.” That being said, it’s best to read books, take a class, and especially to go out with other more experienced hikers to pick up the skills to travel in the backcountry safely.
Over years of adventuring, I found that the lessons the outdoors teaches are huge. Hiking has taught me that I am stronger and more capable than I give myself credit for. That lesson has translated into my “non-outdoors” life: it has helped me advance myself professionally and has given me the confidence to go for other difficult life goals. If you’ve ever wanted to try hiking, it’s never too late to start.
Key Montbell Items:
U.L. Trekking Umbrella:
Whether I’m on a dayhike, urban hike, commuting, or a multi-month backcountry adventure, the U.L. Trekking Umbrella is my favorite piece of gear. It’s among the lightest umbrellas you can find anywhere. Yet its distinctly durable in extreme winds on mountain tops during the late fall. It folds up to the size of a couple of King Size candy bars and fits easily in my backpack’s side pockets or purse. Lastly, it comes in fun colors.
UL Stretch Wind Parka:
I was lucky enough to test this new jacket and it may be the most functional piece of outdoor clothing for most people. At less than 3 oz, it warms you up like a jacket many times its size. It has the features of a bigger jacket without the weight: a zip, hood, and handwarmer pockets. It takes the chill off when the wind picks up, in light rain, or as the sun sets. It layers well over a t-shirt or under a puffy jacket or fleece. The durable stretchy fabric makes movement easy. Lastly, it looks good when wearing it in town or on the trail.
A puffy jacket is an outdoor essential as it provides lots of warmth and insulation for minimal weight and bulkiness. There are so many brands and models out there, it’s hard to know which one to get. The Thermawrap Parka is the most popular synthetic layer among thru-hikers for many reasons: it’s barely heavier or bulkier than down, but stays warm when wet. The slight stretch material in the nylon shell also makes movement easier and its durable. The Thermawrap packs a lot of quality at a reasonable price.
Chameece Cap with Ear Warmer:
There are lots of hats out there, but few are designed specifically to keep ears warm. This simple, lightweight, warm-when-wet hat blew my mind when I first saw it. It isn’t be rocket science, but a fleece beanie with earwarmers has rocked my world.
>>More Hats & Caps
Liz "Snorkel" Thomas
is an author, speaker, and among the most experienced female hikers in the U.S., known for backpacking light, fast and solo. From 2011-2015, she held the women’s self-supported speed record on the 2,181-mile long Appalachian Trail, besting the previous record by almost a week. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States on 20 long distance hikes, including the pioneering traverse of the Chinook Trail across the Columbia River Gorge and the pioneering traverse of the Wasatch Range, which she did solo. Liz is affectionately known as the “Queen of Urban Hiking,” having pioneered and completed routes in five cities across the U.S.
Liz has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Women's Health, Men's Journal, Yahoo! News, Outside Online, and Gizmodo. She is honored to serve as Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West and as one of four ambassadors for the American Hiking Society.
Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike By Backpacker Magazine and Liz Thomas
Including trail-proven advice from one of North America's leading authorities on long-distance hiking, Liz "Snorkel" Thomas-the women's speed record holder for the Appalachian Trail-Backpacker Long Trails walks you through everything you need to know to conduct an efficient, fun, and safe thru-hike. Whether you're planning to attempt the Pacific Crest Trail, or just your first multi-day long weekend hike, this book will help you plan and prepare for the trip more effectively.