Co-written By Sarah Herron and Morgan Tilton
Hear me out—every person has both masculine and feminine attributes. And there’s a time and place for ambitions, drive, discipline, and even competition if that’s your jam this season. But we NEED balance.
Unfortunately, for many the pandemic has tabled in-person gatherings. Yet the resulting isolation and stress is all the more reason for people to seek companionship in the outdoors.
Here’s the good news. Female-led circles are rapidly growing in the outdoor world. Here are ten outdoor organizations that provide enriching avenues to learn outdoor recreation skills and share those experiences with others from afar or in person and socially distanced.
Hike It Baby
I’m not a mom, yet. But when I am, I’ll be registered for Hike It Baby. This nonprofit began as a casual meet-up between several new families, brought together by founder Shanti Hodges. A few months later, that hive of families multiplied—a lot. Now, more than 300 branches buzz nationwide and more than 1,500 hikes per month are organized by local Hike It Baby Ambassadors. Clearly, there was a need for parents and caregivers to get outside with their young children and to share that experience in a supportive environment!
Maxed at 5 miles, the hiking events range from dirt trails to paved city pathways and museum strolls or stroller-pushing at farmers markets. Beyond the calendar events and networking, the organization offers a used gear forum (hello, access!), bi-annual challenges, gear discounts from brands, and a Family Trail Guide with tips for the journey.
I love that Hike It Baby welcomes people from all backgrounds, experiences in nature, and abilities in order to foster inclusivity, community, and accessibility for all types of families to venture out, wherever that may be, with small children.
Brown Girls Climb
Launched in 2017, Brown Girls Climb (BGC) is an organization amplifying the voices of Black, Indigenous, and women of color in order to create an inclusive climbing culture. Through affinity groups and community events countrywide, the space supports the leadership of women of color and creates climbing opportunities for historically marginalized identities. All rock genres are included, too, from bouldering and sport climbing to mountaineering and indoor gyms.
The BGC team has created a huge wealth of resources: Intro to Climbing classes, climbing gear rentals, scholarships, employment opportunities, education for allyship and more.
The year I started SheLift, I met Bethany Lebewitz, who’d just founded BGC. We crossed paths at the annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in Denver, Colorado. We’d never talked in person but knew of the other’s initiative and gushed to each other about the mutual respect we hold. I hope to one day direct a short documentary about Brown Girls Climb!
Backcountry Babes is a pioneer of gender equity in the outdoor sports and recreation. This organization has championed women-specific backcountry ski education since 1997! Backcountry Babes was founded by professional skier Leslie Ross, who was a three-time winner of the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Telemark Championships, to offer instructional meetups and adventures in the backcountry, led by women and for women. Two decades later, ownership was taken over by backcountry skier Emily Hargraves.
Today, the course offerings include avalanche safety curriculum that’s certified by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), a lead institution that sets the national standard for backcountry safety. Per AIARE’s requirements for recreational backcountry travelers, there are three progressive courses: AIARE 1, AIARE Avalanche Rescue, and AIARE 2.
One of the coolest pieces of Backcountry Babes, thought, is that they also offer skills-based courses including a beginner backcountry ski and splitboard tour class and, on the more advanced end, ski and splitboarding mountaineering. The organization’s core is backcountry winter adventure but to fill in the gaps during off-season, women can sign up for mountain biking, cycling, and travel experiences, too.
Fat Girl Running
I met ultrarunner Mirna Valerio when we were both speaking on a panel at the annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in Denver, Colorado. Many people first came to know Mirna through a short called “The Mirnavator,” made by REI Co-op, which shares her story of trail racing while overcoming being body shamed and harassed.
Mirna’s leadership started with her blog, called Fat Girl Running, and has evolved into writing a Women’s Running magazine column under the same moniker. She’s also authored a memoir and serves as an ambassador for Skirtsports, Merrell, Hydro Flask and many, many other brands. Furthermore, she founded the Facebook group Fat Girl Running, where women who have felt out-of-place in the running world due to body type, shape or pace can meet and share their stories, trips, tricks, and advice.
Out There Adventures
The mission of Out There Adventures is to dissolve the barriers of outdoor access for LGBTQ youth and young adults while increasing their visibility. The organization was founded by Elyse Rylander, in 2015. She’s since dually debuted the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, a to connect and educate representatives of the outdoor industry, conservation community and environmental education who are working to reduce LGBTQ barriers, too.
Out There Adventures provides a variety of adventure and outdoor conservation work programs for LGBTQ youth in the Pacific Northwest, California, and Oklahoma. The programing is a unique blend of teamwork and outdoor skills, therapeutic support, and following-up post adventure to solidify the community. The organization also hosts virtual adventure challenges.
Tents Without Gents
I co-founded Tents Without Gents alongside Lindsay Gurley, an adventure-based life coach and professional guide. Tents Without Gents facilitates outdoor trips for women with an aim of building confidence in their body and capabilities. Our primary goal is to help foster independence in the outdoors through community support and expert guidance.
We host warm-weather retreats throughout the spring, summer, and fall months including trips tailored to backpacking, canyoneering, rappelling, stand-up paddle boarding, and rock climbing. Most recently, we introduced a new Mother + Daughter Glamping Adventure in Utah’s Greater Zion area—I can’t wait!
Truthfully, the journey of inner-strength isn’t about mileage. Every trip we organize also emphasizes the importance of wellness, refueling, rest, and recovery. So don’t be surprised to see restorative glamping experiences sprinkled throughout itineraries!
What began as an online platform to connect female climbers has grown into the first-ever Women’s Climbing Festival, thanks to Flash Foxy. The organization was founded in 2016, by Shelma Jun, who is a board member of the Access Fund and was named by Outside Magazine as one of the top 40 women who’ve made the biggest impact in the outdoor world.
The festival brings female climbers together from across the country—in Bishop, California, and Chattanooga, Tennessee—to climb outdoors, take clinics, gain skills, and build confidence.
Most recently, the groundbreaking Flash Foxy Education Program was launched to establish the nation’s first standardized curriculum for recreational climbers through comprehensive courses that cover technical safety as well as environmental and social responsibility across various climbing disciplines. All of the instructors are AMGA-certified females including Black, Indigenous, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
To start, the courses are available for women and marginalized genders. Though in the future, Flash Foxy hopes to expand the program to all genders. The official launch of these courses was delayed in 2020, due to the pandemic, and will resume a roll out in 2021.
Women Who Hike
Women Who Hike is a global community with humble roots. Founder Nicole Brown grew up hiking in Oregon. After moving to Southern California, she started exploring trails each weekend and sharing her experiences on social media. While her solo experiences and landscape photography inspired others to get outside, she thought a collective channel would provide more unity and empowerment for women as a whole. Enter, Women Who Hike.
Countless local and regional Facebook groups have since been created to connect women hikers worldwide. Women Who Hike also organizes group hikes, shares resources via a blog, creates events, and manages a comprehensive calendar featuring the events of other hiking groups.
Better yet, Nicole recently signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, an outdoor industry initiative founded by Teresa Baker, to grow diversity and inclusion in the circles of Women Who Hike, which has predominantly served white hikers since its launch in 2015. To ensure a culture of conservation, more of the events moving forward will have a stewardship component, too.
In 2016, Jenny Bruso launched Unlikely Hikers on Instagram to provide a gathering space for diverse hikers who don’t traditionally see themselves reflected in the outdoor industry narrative including people of size, Black, Indigenous, people of color, queer, trans, non-binary, and disabled.
Beyond a strong Instagram community, the organization hosts hiking meetups nationwide and recently introduced the Unlikely Hikers Podcast featuring diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating stories.