Hiking is awesome for it’s almost total equanimity – regardless of age, gender, race, nationality or income people can make their way on trail and have rewarding and transformative experiences. As free as we feel on trail, we also need to recognize that it’s still a mirror of human society. Women are told to keep up their guard in society, that danger lurks around every corner, and that every situation is unsafe. Additionally, women are told it’s their responsibility to keep themselves safe, and their fault if they are victimized. This is not only totally unfair, it’s also unreasonable. Dudes just need to man up and not be dicks. Remember – we create this world together…
Here are some tips for trail angels, fellow hikers, business owners and society at large to make women feel welcome, celebrated and safe:
- Be nice. Smile, say hi, shoot the breeze.
- Don’t ask whether someone is hiking alone. Never. Ever. It is creepy, misogynistic, and none of your business.
- Don’t press personal questions or ask about itinerary specifics. It makes you look like a stalker. Talk about anything else – food, gear, water, weather. This goes for hikers, hitches and trail angels too.
- NO UNSOLICITED HUGS!! Fist bumps instead.
- Don’t assume a woman’s time is public domain. A women sitting alone may be super happy to be alone. This goes for bars, restaurants, coffee shops, waterfalls, lakes, or trail pit stops. You can wave or vocalize “hi”. If she clearly invites you over, then it’s okay to join her, but otherwise respect her solitude and keep it movin’.
- If you’re approaching a campsite and others are already there, use GENERAL etiquette… before you start setting up, greet others, say hello, and ask genuinely if they mind if you set up nearby. If they say no… respect their vibes and cheerfully move along. You are a thru hiker (and therefore superhero), you can do another 1/2 mile. N.B.D.
- All humans love jumping naked into crystal clear alpine lakes. But most people enjoy it privately. If you come upon anyone skinny dipping that you aren’t friends with, find somewhere else on the lake to swim. Or again, ask if it’s okay to do your own thing there. Be mindful and respectful of your body language if you are skinny dipping with someone.
- Avoid using violent or threatening language, such as “Hunters make me want to commit murder” or even… “Aren’t you scared to camp alone?” (Often dudes make assumptions about women’s experience. Fear is not a gender-specific emotion. Feel free to talk about your own experiences honestly, but don’t assume you know things about her. Also… asking a woman if she’s afraid may induce fear and make you look like a creep).
- Speaking of annoying language – don’t comment on people’s bodies. This is not gender specific. I have a hiker friend who lost weight while thru hiking, whose friends from home body shamed her on her instagram pictures “you skinny bitch!” She had just climbed an 8,000 ft mountain. On the other hand, I had lady section hikers say to me 700 miles into my hike, “you don’t look emaciated enough to be a thru hiker.” Both comments are insulting, and draw attention to how we look, rather than all we have achieved.
- Avoid misogynistic behavior and activities. Don’t play stupid games like “Fuck, date, marry” or any other game where you are outright objectifying women. Call out other dude hikers who make misogynistic assumptions. Even if you are just in the company of other men… consider the psychic environment that will be most welcoming if the next hiker who joins your camp is female.
- All the trail angels we’ve met are incredible and give without thought of returns. This is the gold standard, and obviously applies equally to interactions with male and female hikers. “Return” includes things physical and metaphysical, including a hiker’s time. If you feel someone is uncomfortable, leave them alone by politely excusing yourself from the interaction, which does not necessarily mean withdrawing your kindness. It’s a fine line, we know…
- Everybody gets lonely on trail. If you find yourself getting loose with a hiking bud and things are moving towards any physical interaction, use your words – GET A POSITIVE, VERBAL YES from the other party. And if they’re drunk, no go under any circumstances. Basically, be a normal-ass, kind human.
Groucho sez: Ultimately, dudes, its up to us to consciously create a world where women feel empowered and safe hiking. I love being part of a sport where the sexes are physically equal – lets face it, women are often better long distance walkers and runners than men. However, society tells women to be afraid, to guard themselves, and avoid situations where they can be victimized on trail. DUDES, ITS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PREVENT WOMEN FROM BEING OR FEELING VICTIMIZED ON TRAIL. Men are privileged in society and on trail, and its time to recognize that. Now is the time for men to step up and create and defend safe space – it takes work but iz totes possible with mindfulness and willingness. We can share the trail, with positive and enlightened vibes all around. GOOD LUCK!
Have any other tips/suggestions? Add them in the comments!
Great points. All valid and true. I do completely agree with everything you said. I do have one other thing embrace… don’t leave/mark up personal statements or names, or symbols, or drawings on shelters, signs, or basically anything. Especially in White Permanent Marker or White Out or whatever the hell you and Groucho used to all mark up every single thing all over the Appalachian Trail in 2013.
Hi Leave No Trace! Thanks for your affirmation regarding our tips for being nice to other humans on the trail. Regarding your assumption that we’ve written in shelters – it seems a bit off topic to this post which is responding to safety/sexual harassment on trail. But since you brought it up: Of course we don’t leave any trace in nature… But I don’t assert shelters are natural phenomenon. I have never written on a sign or shelter. But I will offer my opinion that I think it’s sweet that hikers write their names in shelters. Some of those folks are trail famous and it’s rad seeing their scrawls that show when they were there 10 or 20 years ago (or more!) Shelters, signs and the trail itself are already human insertions on the landscape.
Massive thank you from me, my mom, and early-in-the-game gratitude from Captain G. Generations of backpacking women say this is a wonderful summary!