2600 kilometres into my Te Araroa hike I arrived in Queenstown. From there, my companions and I decided to detour from the trail and include the famous Routeburn Track. At the Routeburn Flats shelter we encountered a young German, who with many gestures was explaining an admiring girl that he had walked up to Mount Luxmore, a peak along the equally famous Kepler Track. “And I did it so fast, I was back in Te Anau after only six hours. But me and my friend had a few girls with us, and they were so annoying. I never hike with girls anymore, they are always so slow.”
I felt my mouth fall open and I saw the same on PJ’s and Patrick’s faces. But instead of going all-in, I only said “But I’m faster than these two sometimes.” That’s it. Worse even, I shut PJ up from putting the German in his place. What I should have said was something to the likes of “My friend, I walked 2600 kilometres to get here and a few hundred Mount Luxmores in height. The Routeburn and Kepler Tracks are like a city pavement compared to where I came from. I’d like to see you bash through all that bush and come out of it without your tail between your legs.” But I didn’t. Why didn’t I?
This topic of prevailing stereotypes in the outdoors has been on my mind ever since Wilderness Magazine published a story on it. And, as is pointed out in the article, a part of the blame is on us. One of the main problems many of us female outdoor enthusiasts have, or actually female professionals across a range of activities, is that we are far too modest. We don’t talk enough about what we’ve achieved. We don’t think it’s that big of a deal. We don’t boast around, yet we sit and listen to the boys boasting about the tiniest little things.
At first, I thought that it’s just a part of my personality. But seeing the same thing recur over and over and over again, it can’t just be me. How can it be that out there in the bush, things really haven’t changed all that much in the past decades? Why do I keep seeing more guys than girls in the mountains? Why do I still get these weird looks whenever the boys see that their dog sled guide will be a girl? Why do so many girls feel that they have to wear make-up, even when it’s to go riding a sled on a frozen swamp? It’s part of the gender behavior that is taught to and expected from girls. It’s a pattern.
The issue got my attention again during the past few days as I was looking to update my winter gear. On the lookout for gloves, jackets and shoes, something staggered me: expedition equipment is barely existing in the women’s compartment. The boys always have the bulk of choice, the more extreme gear. It’s not that one brand is more guilty than another, it’s widespread. Up to this day I have yet to find women’s specific gloves for extreme conditions. And though some are labeled as unisex items, they are to be found only in the men’s section of the webshop.
I guess some people might be thinking by now why even bother, just go into the men’s section and figure out what you want. Sure, we could do that. And we could keep doing that. But by that we are defying ourselves. Not only do women have a different body shape than men, our bodies react differently to cold. Male products will not always fit us well, and hence malfunction. While men will put energy into warming their entire body, women are more energy efficient and therefore lose heat faster in the fingers, toes, nose, the ears: the extremities. Women-specific products make sense to adjust gear to our needs.
But even more important: because of the amount of women that is out there. I met more than a few hard-headed ladies on the way from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Roughly said over half of my colleagues here standing on sleds in the extreme cold are women. There are plenty of female adventurers and expedition members. Yet somehow the outdoor industry seems to have missed them. And that, to me, says a lot on how our society still believes that world of adventure, exploring and extreme sports is still mainly the domain of men.
So really, hasn’t anyone noticed the women out there?