Recently I responded to a comment on one of Darwin’s videos from a woman. She basically was commenting that, Darwin was in some way privileged to have fewer worries while hiking because he is male. I strongly disagreed with this and basically told her so in a response. I felt disappointed that this woman would feel that because she is a female she could not experience a hike, nature, the wilds, whatever you want to say, the same as a male. From this I began to think of all the emails I have received asking about being a female hiker and thus this blog post was born!
I do not claim to know everything and these are only answers based on MY experiences ONLY! The main point of this post is for my sisters who find that they enjoy hiking but have some questions or fears about doing so and for my brothers out there that know ladies who are afraid to even try the outdoors! Please do not base your lady hiking conclusions solely on my opinions but research and experiment more on your own.
Throughout this blog post, you will find product links that may lead you straight to the manufacturer’s page. I did this so you can learn the ins and outs of the product before purchasing. It is especially important you research certain “lady products” to make sure you stay comfortable and healthy. You will find further information at the end of this post on specific inspiring female hikers and books on backpacking.
I hope this post brings some clarity…your lady parts do not and should not define when, where, and how you hike!
Have I Ever Felt Threatened Or Uncomfortable Because Of A Male On The Trail?
NO! All of the men I met while out on the Appalachian Trail where amazing! They always treated me with respect and I never once felt uncomfortable around them. I hiked a lot without Darwin while out on the AT, and a lot of that time I was with another guy/guys, never questioning anyone’s intentions. Darwin would often be a mile or more ahead of me so when I stopped for a snack or water, the guys who hiked passed me would wave or check and make sure I was okay as would the ladies who passed me. While out on smaller trails I have experienced the same with hikers, mountain bikers or those on horseback when out by myself. Everyone takes care of each other on the trail!
Most importantly trust your instincts! If you feel uncomfortable remove yourself from the situation just like you would in life off the trail. Those instincts are there for a reason! Don’t be worried you will be rude; if the other hiker male or female is a true friend they will understand. Most of the males I met on trail felt like brothers and fathers to me and at the very least a friend.
Do I Carry A Weapon On The Trail?
If you consider my Leatherman Micra Multitool a weapon! The only thing I have ever used my multi-tool for is to cut duck tape or blocks of cheese. I never had a moment on the AT where I wished I had a weapon to protect myself from either a man or wildlife. I did see some female hikers start out with “people mace” but within about a month or less, I noticed these were popular items in hiker boxes along with bear mace. This is still the only “weapon” I carry.
What Do I Hike In? How Many Panties Do I Pack? How Do I Change Clothes In The Woods? What are My Overall Nudey Sightings on Trail?
I hike a lot in a wicking running shirt of some kind or a button-up synthetic long sleeve shirt. I am super cheap so I simply go to a thrift store and hit up the athletic section. I typically do not give a crap if I match or not. I’m hiking not making a fashion statement! There are some lady hikers I have seen hike in skorts but I choose to go with running shorts. Funny enough a lot of guys seem to dig hiking kilts!
Since I hike in running shorts with liners I typically did not hike in under-roos. I did start off hiking in undies but pretty early on ditched them while out on the AT. This allows the lady parts to be covered but still allows everything to breathe. I have experienced slight chafing here and there but only where the fatty part of my legs sometimes rub. Nothing a little anti-chafe stick won’t take care of which I do carry on longer hikes.
I hike in a sports bra and carry an extra for camp. Sometimes I may not even wear the bra around camp. After being cooped up all day the girls do need to run free sometime! I find that I use the extra bra more during laundry time and town visits while out on a long trip.
When out on the AT changing in a shelter was not a big deal. I would just ask the guys to look the other way and then I would turn towards the back wall and change. I would sometimes change behind the shelter (depending on how the shelter was situated) or just wander out into the woods to change. When tenting you obviously just change inside. I tried to change while in my mummy bag a few times but I usually ended up getting tied up in my clothes and requesting everyone look the other way so I could unknot myself!
The only few times to date that I have seen a somewhat naked person male or female on trail were the few occasions while someone thought they were far enough out into the woods to poo or to pee and I only saw a butt cheek. Maybe a few times during Summer Solstice which is considered “Hike Naked Day”…. so be prepared. Not all hikers participate but in case of a sighting, just maintain eye contact until you pass or look down at the trail.
Do I Squat To Pee? Do I Use A Pee Rag? Do I Pee With My Pack On?
I squat to pee with or without my pack on. When I first started backpacking I could not keep my balance while peeing with a pack on. I totally had to practice to conquer this art. All sisters of the woods have their own approach to doing this and you’ll find your own too!
I have a designated bandana that is used for my “pee rag” when not on my period. I attach the rag on the outside of my pack with a carabiner in a location where I can easily reach it and reattach it without taking off my pack. I actually still use it since Darwin and I are full-time in the trailer. Using one of these helps keep down paper waste on trail and in life among the wild.
Keeping it on the outside of my pack allows it to dry and the sun helps to sterilize it. I have not read any hardcore research on this but again have experienced no ill effects in several years of using a pee rag in this way. When at camp or at the trailer I keep the pee rag on a tree branch, trekking pole or tarp line. On the AT I would rinse it out when I could and it was the first thing in the washer when we hit a town. When using the pee rag at the trailer I treat it the same.
I have met numerous female hikers that utilize a pee rag but others who use products like a p-Style, Go-Girl or other similar items. These allow you to pee standing up and without pulling down your britches. I personally have never attempted to use one but did talk to a few ladies who did. One friend ended up sending her’s home after numerous personal soakings while another hiker friend swore by hers. No matter how you pee, you’re going to end up peeing on yourself at some point.
What Do I Do When I Am On My Period? How Do I Deal With My Period? Do I have PMS?
I do everything I would do if I were at home and on my period. Having my period while out on a backpacking trip of any length was the biggest fear I had when I first started backpacking and it ended up being a total non-issue. It’s a myth that women on their periods attract animals. It’s the food you’re carrying, eating, and leaving out that is going to do this! I did notice that my periods got lighter while out on the AT but I still experienced cramps. Cramps are a common thing for me so this was no surprise.
In order to help deal with my periods, I would do the same that I did while at home, take a few Ibuprofen and eat some shitty junk food (which is common in the diet of a thru-hiker). I also carried Yogi: Women’s Moon Cycle Tea or Women’s Energy Tea. I drink these two types of teas a lot during my period even when off trail, which seems to help with cramps and my overall well-being.
There were a few times out on the AT when I had to take an extra long lunch break to drink some tea and relax during bad cramps but it wasn’t that often. My bitchiness while on my period was here and there just like in life off trail. On trail you can tell off that “freaking rock” or tell that “stupid log” where to shove it or my personal favorite, blame the ATC for all your woes cause you know “they are sitting in the AC laughing their asses off at you suffering while dumping gallons of cold water over their heads and eating lots of cake.”
I keep it old school with using pads and tampons in life off trail and so I do the same while on trail. This is personally what I am comfortable with and I suggest you do what you are personally comfortable when on trail as well. I am too grossed out with the thought of using a Diva Cup while out on any trail. The thought of putting my dirty, grubby, trail fingers around my girl equipment is disgusting, let alone putting them inside. However, a lot of lady hikers used the Diva Cup while out on trail and liked it.
I would carry “the red bag of death” which was a simple cinch bag with two zippy bags in it. One carried a pad and two tampons the other zippy was for the wrappers and used items. The “red bag of death” kept things a little more discreet when going to the privy and readily available when going off trail into the woods. I would simply store the zippy with used items in the “red bag of death” and dispose of it when I could in town. I never had an issue with smells.
Inside my pack, I kept another zippy bag with a full supply of tampons and pads. Honestly, I ALWAYS carried pads and tampons with me while out on the AT and still do during smaller trips. While out on the AT I probably carried way more than I actually needed and yes I’m sure it added weight to my pack but I didn’t have to worry about any “surprises” while 80 miles away from town. I was comfortable carrying the extra weight (whatever small amount that was) and that’s all that matters.
I would suggest doing some practice hikes before venturing out on a long backpacking trip if you plan on using a Diva Cup, similar product, teas, etc. Regardless on what you choose, your period shouldn’t hold you back from hiking or from any adventure for that matter!
Were There Other Women On The Trail? Did They Hike Alone? Did I Ever Hike Alone?
Yes, there are women on the AT and numerous other trails. Yes, women hike ALONE just like men and guess what? They do it all the time! Most of the women I met while out on the AT where solo hikers and they were confident, bad-asses! I hiked alongside several solo lady hikers Apple Cider, Cruise Control, Super Moon, and Rambler only to name a few! In 2015 Bionic Woman was a solo hiker not only from a different country but hiking with a prosthetic leg! (Bionic Woman is actually the first female amputee to hike the entire AT!) Specifically on the AT it is actually hard to be alone all the time and making friends or building a “tramily” is very easy and common practice.
I myself would and will hike alone. Darwin was often a mile or so ahead while my fellow hikers were up ahead as well or a bit behind me. Everyone has their own pace! You should never have to change yours to keep up as this may cause an injury and cost you your hike. I never felt scared hiking alone then or now; I actually enjoy the time alone. I prepare and pack a daypack with the needed gear/provisions before I leave, I tell someone where I am going, and I know I am capable dealing with bad weather or an emergency. I constantly trust and listen to my instincts when it comes to people, weather, terrain, etc. which you should do even in life off trail.
There are a lot of strong and inspiring female hikers that have toed trails solo or with a hiking partner. Women excel at hiking even setting records just like they do in all other sports. I hope this post helps answer some common questions in regards to life on a trail so you don’t feel held back because you’re a girl. If you end up not liking backpacking or hiking that’s totally okay. I honestly HATED it at first too! You should, however, be able to make that decision for yourself. Give it a try or two! You’ll be surprised what you are capable of!
A List of A Few Amazing Women Hikers Who Will Help Inspire You:
A Badass Hiker And Author Who Will Coach You On How To Do It: Carrot Quinn
The FKT Hiker! Breaking Records And Blowing Your Mind! – Heather “Anish” Anderson
A Record Setter Who Still Keeps It Hardcore As A Mom: Jennifer Pharr Davis
The Triple Crowner Who Now Owns Her Own Outfitter: Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell
The “I Never Backpacked Before Hiking The AT” Hiker: Homemade Wanderlust: Dixie
A List of Women Specific Hiking Books I Found Helpful When In Research Mode (some are slightly dated but still good to pull ideas/tricks from):
Backpacking: A Woman’s Guide – http://amzn.to/2k76T6y
Women & Thru-Hiking on the Appalachian Trail – http://amzn.to/2qlx3EX
Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail – http://amzn.to/2rqSfJt
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – http://amzn.to/2BxDC99
A Journey North: One Woman’s Story of Hiking the Appalachian Trail – http://amzn.to/2qlzGX2
Things To Expect In Up Coming Blog Posts/Website Posts And Other Doings:
Book Review On Costa Rica Chica: Retiring Early, Simplifying My Life, & Realizing That Less is Best – Coming Soon!
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