Feb 8, 2014 at 6:16 pm #1313059
In May I am hosting a large gathering of women for a "gear shakedown" directed towards women who are active hikers but intimidated by backpacking for various reasons. It's car-camping event at a local lake where women can try out their backpacking gear in a place where they feel safe and can bail out if necessary. Part of the get-together will involve some presentations and discussions on topics such as bear safety, selecting a camp site, how to pee in the woods (oddly a very intimidating issue for many women), etc. It's the second year in a row I've done this, but the collective knowledge of this forum is irresistible – what is the single best piece of advice each of you would offer a newbie? What was the most important thing you learned that made backpacking more comfortable/safer/more accessible…etc? This really isn't limited to just a single piece of advice, but what I'm looking for here is the best stuff. I'm going to put it into a presentation for the ladies.
Thanks in advance.Feb 8, 2014 at 8:52 pm #2071361
@pitsyLocale: Central Texas
Take care of your feet.
If you didn't use it, lose it. (within reason)
Everything weighs something.
Look around; don't focus too much on the trail.Feb 8, 2014 at 9:41 pm #2071391
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
I'm guessing but I think the most common fears in transitioning from day-hiking to backpacking would be (1) how am I going to sleep comfortably on the trail, (2) how will I feel safe on the trail and at night and (3) how will I handle hygiene issues/keeping clean/going to the bathroom?
A good blog and article for women that deal with some of these issues:
Wired's blog (start with her 2011 PCT blog entries) is a good thing to read and pass on. She's honest, talks about gear and blogged everyday so you can really see her progression in confidence and skill.
As a father (my girls are a little young for this info but they'll grow, right?), I read Trinity Ludwig's article about female hygiene on Andrew Skurka's blog; I imagine this covers a LOT of trepidations women might have about backpacking.
For sleep, maybe stressing how important a "sleep system" is that considers both the appropriate bag or quilt and the appropriate sleeping pad.
Good luck!Feb 8, 2014 at 9:52 pm #2071394
@drusillaLocale: Wild Wild West
Since it is a "gear shake down" I would advise them to make sure the gear they use meets their criteria/goals and comfortable from the start. I learned through much expense, trial and error that just because a product was "the latest and greatest" it didn't mean it was right for me.Feb 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm #2071399
@romonsterLocale: SF Bay Area
I think certain kinds of knowledge do more for peace of mind than any particular piece of gear. Having a good map and compass and the necessary knowledge to use them is indispensable. Even when I've hiked in places where it was nearly impossible to get lost (and I didn't really use the compass), I would have felt very vulnerable without them.
This seems to be something newbies tend not to realize. I've been on a few trips with new backpackers and often I was the only one who thought to bring a map. I remember one trip where we lost the trail and ended up hiking cross-country to find the lake that was our destination. It was fortunate that I had a compass, because no one else did.Feb 8, 2014 at 10:31 pm #2071401
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
In general the advice for women would be mainly the same as that for men. Most of what you do out there is the same, under the same conditions, so it's a fair bet that the advice you hear from men will serve women, too.
Some women-specific things I've either helped women in the hiking group I lead here in Japan, or that I've heard or read from other women hikers:
Women tend to sleep colder than men, so often the sleeping gear recommendations you see on sites like this might need to be vamped up somewhat to accommodate the difference in body temperature.
A great amount of body heat is lost to the ground when sleeping, and a warm sleeping mat makes an enormous difference.
Several women that I know bring along a waterproof hiking skirt that they use both for the rain and for when peeing and pooping. They can hunker down and feel less exposed. Carrying a trowel or snow stake also helps when digging a cat hole. I have a toilet paper plastic bag pack with a cord on it that I can hand around my neck or on a branch when I'm pooping. It also has a small bottle of hand cleaner gel to clean my hands afterwards. I carry this on the outside of the pack for whenever nature calls.
When camping in groups with women, it often helps to place a glowing marker amidst the underbrush where the shared toilet is, so that women can easily find the spot in the dark, since women tend to get up more often than men do to go to the toilet at night. The marker will allow a little less sense of being exposed when alone in the dark.
A lot of women that I've camped with didn't like tarps because they were open to passers by, so they much preferred the privacy of a tent. Having a door and bug net brought a lot of peace of mind.
A hiking or athletic bra makes a huge difference for a lot of the women I've walked with. Especially in very hot, humid weather. Something that draws moisture away from the skin.
It may sound silly, but quite a few women I know are very uncomfortable about bugs getting into their drinks and food. So covering up the openings of the cups and bowls before eating seems to also bring peace of mind. A light piece of aluminum foil does the trick.
Packs for the smaller torsos and narrower shoulders can be more difficult to find for women. But fit is nevertheless very important. Make sure that pack fits before heading out into the wilds.
Women will often buy shoes one size smaller than are needed for hiking because they don't want their feet to look big. This is one area where fashion should not be substituted for function. Make sure the shoes are big enough at the toe to allow for thicker socks and so that the toes don't hit the front of the shoe when descending. Should probably usually be ordered up one size for hiking.
Just some ideas I've spoken about with a lot of women hikers.Feb 8, 2014 at 11:23 pm #2071408
@kat_pLocale: Pacific Coast
I would advise against shooting for UL if they are intimidated by backpacking. Some people fear the heavy packs, but some also fear discomfort. Telling a newbie they don't need a comfy pad and should be able to sleep on a Ridgerest…may not make the whole experience very enticing. I would start with lightweight that includes comfort, which is very doable,Feb 9, 2014 at 12:40 am #2071412
Thanks to everyone for your contributions so far!
Please keep it coming. :)Feb 9, 2014 at 9:50 am #2071478
@rosyfinchLocale: the mountains
what your own pace don't feel like you have to keep up with everybody else. Also if you're walking around pace when you're by yourself that's not a bad thing. You actually see more experience more of the wilderness if you're not talking someone else as you're walking. So walking your own pace usually being by yourself very good thing. BillyFeb 9, 2014 at 10:47 am #2071498
@brianleLocale: Pacific NW
People will often be eager to give advice to new backpackers, so the most important suggestion I have is to recognize that what a person is earnestly telling you is the best gear item or the best technique is really just what (they *think*) is best *for them*.
I.e., listen and evaluate ideas, but recognize that you have to pick and choose among the suggestions and concepts to stitch together the gear collection and process choices that you'll be happiest with.
I guess on a related note is to be willing to suspend disbelief a bit, as we evolve as backpackers. So what seemed like something that would never be a good idea for me is something I could end up later embracing. This covers all sorts of gear and process — shoes vs. boots, for example. Going stoveless. etc.Feb 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm #2071532
I assume you have also asked the participants about Their "biggest fears"?
What you are getting here are "Our Biggest Fears" ;-)Feb 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm #2071546
spelt with a tParticipant
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
who are active hikers but intimidated by backpacking for various reasons
I guess my advice would be, if you can hike, and you can camp, you can backpack. It is literally just walking from one campsite to another. Just walking, and camping. I found a lot of backpacking-specific "skills" were really more about transitioning from car-camping gear to gear that fits in a pack, and whatever learning curve associated with that gear. If you're going to do more complicated stuff, or go out deliberately in adverse conditions, there're more skills associated with that. But for most backpackers, who hike on established trails in 3-season conditions, it's not as complex as we make it seem.Feb 9, 2014 at 2:24 pm #2071563
@wildtownerLocale: Grand Canyon State
I think a useful piece of advice for many women is: trust yourself more.
Women often listen to other people's advice, even when they have doubts that it's right for them. If they're thinking about camping in a certain spot, but something is making them uneasy (even though this is the "recommended" spot) — they should find a camp spot that makes them feel comfortable. Same for gear, same for security. Trust your instincts; they are a product of millions of years of evolution.
And bring enough warm clothes/sleep gear.Feb 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm #2071619
Greg said, : "I assume you have also asked the participants about Their "biggest fears"?
What you are getting here are "Our Biggest Fears" ;-)"
This nailed it. Yes, that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to glean the nuggets from this forum to help women overcome their fears with knowledge.
Brian noted that what works for one might not work for another, and that's true. The way I plan to approach this is to compile the advice but the first piece of advice is going to be, "Disregard anything that doesn't work for YOU". Then take it from there.
Another person had mentioned that UL wasn't for everyone. I agree. I'm not truly a UL backpacker. I'm a "light" backpacker. My normal packweight with all consumables is 30 lbs. But it used to be over 50. I think I've struck a nice balance of comfort and lightness. And that's all I'm going to try to do with these ladies is show them the options. When we talk stoves, we'll show off everything from the soda can alcohol stove to the Jetboil. When we talk water purification we'll discuss everything from drops to tablets to steripen to filter to boiling. Etc. I want to show them the options, so they can make their own decisions. There will be experienced backpackers coming to this as well, the idea being that we can generate a discussion where the more experienced people share their knowledge. I also want to create some camaraderie- if the new women develop an acquaintance and trust with some of the women who are already backpacking, they might be more inclined to go. I think one of their fears is going out with people they don't know. I know that was one of MY fears. They need to know they can depend on the people they are with (to an extent, say for an injury) but yet also know they can depend on themselves.
Thanks to all the contributors so far and I hope more people will join in.Feb 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm #2071642
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
"I think one of their fears is going out with people they don't know. I know that was one of MY fears. They need to know they can depend on the people they are with (to an extent, say for an injury) but yet also know they can depend on themselves."
A real benefit to going as light as possible (depending on weather, location, etc), is being able to carry ALL your OWN gear, especially shelter. Having your own little retreat when with a group is nice, even if only a few feet from other hikers. Carrying all your own stuff means freedom to move quickly and independently if needed. I don't know if I'm saying this very well, but hopefully my meaning is clear.Feb 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm #2071676
@carpenhLocale: St. Vrain River Valley
I've always thought the best advice I ever got came from my Scoutmaster: "The best part of any backpacking trek is getting home alive." Explore, test yourself, go where you never thought you could in ways you thought were impossible. But don't put yourself at risk.Feb 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm #2071697
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I can't give you any advice or tips. But I can tell you why my wife doesn't backpack (and I have never tried to talk her into trying). She loves to hike, and a day hike of 10 – 18 miles is not uncommon for her. She likes camping and using our camper as a daily base camp.
1. The idea of carrying more weight than what she needs for a day hike is not appealing.
2. She isn't going to sleep on the ground or in a tent. A bed is much more inviting.
3. She can take a hot shower at the end of the day in our camper. This is important.
4. She does not like the idea of things moving around at night that she cannot see.Feb 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm #2071731
@jenmitolLocale: In my dreams....
I grew up canoeing and backpacking and car camping – my father took us all the time. Our little family of four had the camp chores divided up very nicely and even as young as 6 I had a job to do and i did it every time. We camped as a family until I left for college at 17.
Then when I started getting out on my own, my biggest obstacle was that I was, basically, alone, even though I was going with others. I had to come up with all my own gear, carry it all, choose my own site, my own food, etc. It was, frankly, a bit intimidating even though I'd grown up doing it..I just wasn't the one making the decisions.
So just discussing HOW to do these things and to give the women confidence and the freedom to ask stupid questions is probably a good strategy (which it sounds like you are doing!).Feb 9, 2014 at 10:27 pm #2071779
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
That's the number one rule for new packers of any stripe. What can ruin your fun?
1. Being out of shape
2. A too heavy pack
4. Not eating enough and "hitting the wall" (insuficient calories and/or electrolytes)
5. Getting wet, cold, dehydrated, lost, or caught up high in a lightning storm
6. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other annoying wildlife
7. A bear stealing your food or a rodent chewing a hole in your pack, tent, or food bag
8. Getting sunburned
9. Running out of fuel so you can't boil water for your dehydrated meals
10. A twisted ankle, altitude sickness, an aching knee
In my experience numbers 1-3 are far and away the most common fun killers for newbies, but they're also things you can control.
I like to point out that almost everything that ruins your fun also lessens safety (and vice versa). So you can mostly concentrate on having fun!Feb 9, 2014 at 11:07 pm #2071783
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
"I want to show them the options, so they can make their own decisions. "
What you're doing is great Dena, but the phrase above gave me pause. Because I often do it to a fault. I lay out people's options, ad naseum, when many of them just want to be told what to do. Or at least have the field narrowed a lot. You've done a lot more backpacking than any of them. Let them benefit from your experience.
You could for instance, very quickly cover boiling and filtering for water treatment but then suggest they start with Iodine as cheap, small and light. If they like backpacking and want to treat more water faster, then they can consider UV or a light-weight filter.
Not "this is the best choice", but "this is a good choice for someone starting out".
Is there really any choice except a canister stove for beginning 3-season use? It's the best choice for some trips and tasks (power failures for instance), so you're not wasting your time learning or money buying one. Maybe they end up with an alcohol or wood stove, but Jeez!, there are so many things to learn at first, let's keep a few things as simple as possible.
We're not in California with a guaranteed rain-free summer (and increasingly all year). And we do have a few mosquitos. So a lightweight, double-wall tent, while not SUL, can be part of a lightweight kit and something we all use from time to time even after going hard-core UL on many trips. Tarps and hammocks are cool and UL and all, but if they get turned off due to bugs, wind, rain, lack of privacy or perceived vulnerability, they'll never develop the broad camping experience that allows them to be more on the edge and use a tarp.
And, especially for Alaska (which can feel like one overgrown small town), the option of lending gear makes it all more accessible and affordable. All of these women don't need their own tent, own stove, etc, if they keep in touch and borrow gear back and forth. I've always been generous with my gear, but now that I"m in Alaska, I lend out even bigger stuff (canoes, kayaks, etc) to people doing really cool trips and I can easier borrow things (power boats, rifles, trucks) that I would not have expected in the 48 States.Feb 10, 2014 at 11:52 am #2071912
I'd like to echo some of the comments already thrown out here. Solo versus group hiking is totally different IME. Group hiking requires social dynamics, sacrifice (the person who never does their share is easy to dislike/get on your bad side for a few days). However, if you've never hiked or have limited experience how can you really know what group dynamics on a hike look like? If you are able to go solo that doesn't mean you'll thrive in a group, and if you can't pull your weight in a group then going solo can be a rude awakening. I would suggest you walk them through a typical day backpacking solo, versus backpacking in a group. Explain every detail from start to finish so that they can get an idea of what each looks like. Some may be more inclined towards solo, while others will gravitate towards groups.Feb 10, 2014 at 11:55 am #2071914
@acrosomeLocale: Back in the Front Range
"Embrace the suck?" That's my best advice for all comers (any gender). I.e.- Recognize that you are OUTSIDE and might be less than 100% comfortable at some point. It's an adventure. It's a challenge. It's fun! Don't let one soggy sleeping bag ruin the entire endeavor for you. If you backpack long enough eventually everyone will have a Moment Of Extreme Discomfort. I don't want to sound sexist or over-generalize, but IME it only takes one truly uncomfortable night early in their experience to sour most women on backpacking.
Or maybe I just employed a profoundly poor girlfriend vetting process in my youth. YMMV.
Anyway, I'd make sure to bring some thick and cozy non-UL pads and bags as examples. And pillows. Get them backpacking FIRST, then worry about proselytizing UL to them later.
But for those who are truly worried about their good night's sleep I'd mention hammocks. By far the most comfortable nights I've spent in the backcountry have been in hammocks, and a decent one is reasonably UL. They aren't great in deep cold without a lot of fussing, but most beginners aren't thinking of winter trips anyway.
For women specifically I guess I'd hit "How To Pee in the Woods" pretty hard. That was CERTAINLY my wife's biggest hangup, and now she is very fond of her Freshette. My seven-year-old daughter, on the other hand, will cop a squat in full view of anyone without a moment's hesitation. Doubtless due to my influence, there, but I have less of a tendency to take my pants completely off as she does…
But in the military we have problems with female soldiers purposefully dehydrating themselves to avoid peeing often. Which is a bad idea but is understandable- it is a bigger logistical issue for women than for men. A quick stop to whip it out for a 10 second pee is nothing to a guy. Heck, most of us can manage it while continuing to walk, and if there weren't laws against it we would be peeing on the sidewalks…
Brian made a great point regarding warning them about others approaching them to offer advice. I would additionally emphasize that most backpackers are VERY enthusiastic about their hobby, and are quite willing to talk about it for hours. They should think of these people as harmless nerds rather than creeps, and understand that they are probably not being hit upon when it happens.
David also made a good point about not being afraid to offer your advice. Another neat idea might be to make a series of handouts that your students can take away if they are interested. Perhaps with cute titles like "So, What the Heck is the Practical Difference Between all these Water-Filtration Options, Anyway?" or "The Drawbacks and Benefits of Various Types of Stove." (But always include your own recommendations for beginners.) I think a lot of beginning campers just buy an MSR WaterWorks and a JetBoil and call it good without understanding the pros and cons, or even that there are alternatives. A quick primer on insulation (for both clothing and sleeping) might be a good one, too.
And warn them about the clueless REI salespeople…Feb 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm #2071928
@drongobirdLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
My additional thought is tiny, and not particular to women. Let them know that cooking is completely optional, and if they don't want the hassle of choosing a cook system or the hassle of actually cooking, they can just eat cold food. Many people want something hot for aesthetic purposes – all good. But many people think they need to cook in order to save weight, so remind your pals that a no-cook meal is just as rich in calories and nutrition as a cooked meal. They don't have to deal with fuel and pots and arranging a sheltered space to cook in the rain, etc. Pack 24-28 oz of fat-rich food per day and all will be well.
Cheese, Meat (salami, smoked fish, jerky), Crackers, Nuts, Dry Fruit, Chocolate, Cookies, Chocolate-covered Coffee Beans, Tang, Bars (Pro Bars, Clif Builder, whatever), etc.Feb 10, 2014 at 12:57 pm #2071938
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
BPL is full of gearheads each with closets full of gear.
But a generational shift has occurred and Millennials are much more open to renting versus owning. REI still rents stuff, right? I worked in a non-REI BP/Ski shop and customers were thrilled that we rented an unusually large array of gear (tents, BPs, thermarests, sleeping bags (laundered each time), even snow bibs in winter) for that first-time trip or that once-a-year school trip. It also lets people try out different tents or temp-rated bags before committing to a purchase.Feb 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm #2071939
@brcrainLocale: So Cal
+1 for navigation skills. Simply being able to orient a map and compass and point to where you are on the map is a huge skill that should instill confidence and some level of comfort.
First aid is another one – knowing what to do when things go sideways and you aren't next to a paved road with cell service.
Someone mentioned "being able to make it back home safely" up there and I think having the knowledge to know what can happen and what to do if it does happen is far more valuable than shaving weight, white gas vs canister, etc.
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