7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking as a Woman
As women — especially being one of those who craves the outdoors, possesses a naturally adventurous spirit, and has no problem getting down and dirty with nature — it’s inevitable to feel like we constantly have something to prove.
I remember the blank stares when I would share with people that I was going backpacking in the backcountry of Canada for two weeks. I can almost guarantee you the initial comment they all made was relatively the same.
“Are you going alone?” “George (my ex) is going with you, right?” “OMG does your mom know????” “Wait…isn’t that going to be hard?” and my favorite one “Please come back alive.”
They meant well, and I was aware that their questions were valid and extremely relevant to the situation. I knew they questioned me only because they cared, not because they doubted my ability to do so. Right?
Then how come what I really heard was “You are a girl, aren’t you terrified to go backpacking in the wild by yourself?“
The self doubt started to creep in. What does backpacking in the backcountry of British Columbia entail?
Well, my fellow adventure-seeking ladies, it’s simpler than it may seem.
Let me be clear, this trip wasn’t easy. It challenged me in ways I never knew I could be challenged, it tested my patience, and it gave me numerous anxiety attacks — but it also was one of the most transformational trips of my life thus far.
However, there were a few things I had wish I knew more about as a woman embarking on this journey.
It DOES Matter How Much You Put in Your Backpack
You do not need that Game of Thrones t-shirt while you’re backpacking.. I promise you, you’ll survive. As women, we may tend to over pack. Trust me, I’m notorious for bringing a million things that I don’t need cause “why not!” BUT, when there’s 48 pounds of outdoor shit (including but not limited to these backpack essentials: dehydrated food, toiletries, (minimal) clothing, a pair of Birkenstocks, a 2 person backpacking tent, a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, a lantern, a first aid kid, multiple water canteens, a bear canister, bear mace & reusable utensils) on the back of your 120lb body — it really fucking matters. Bring only what is necessary and make sure you have a backpacking checklist beforehand.
Choose Your Feminine Products Wisely
Hygiene is inevitably a struggle, especially as a woman. You may get lucky enough that your flow doesn’t land on the two weeks you decide to go backpacking. But if you are unlucky (as was I) or if you are planning on traveling for a longer period of time, you need to think about these things. I’m gonna be honest — tampons won’t do. You know the rules of the trails, pack out what you pack in, and you will not want to be packing out a deliciously used week’s worth of tampons. Invest in a diva cup, trust me.
Plan Ahead Enough, but Not Too Much
You may want to plan out every detail of the places you visit, which isn’t a bad idea. But it’s also not a bad idea to just go with the flow. Make sure you know some places you want to go, and had a variety of options to stay. But take in that moment of thrill when you walk up to a quaint little campsite deep in the woods of Whistler and see that there is ONE empty spot for you to stay. Plus, if you’re in a National Forest, you can (almost) always set up shop a little of trail if that doesn’t work out. Some people may call it naive, but some of the best memories come from those unplanned moments.
(Try To) Expect the Unexpected
As mentioned before, the unexpected is fun — but not when it feels like your well being is on the line. When my close gal pal and I were backpacking, we didn’t properly count the amount of hours it would take to get to the campsite. By 5:30 PM, the sun was setting behind the forest trees, we were sprinting down what seemed like at the time E N D L E S S switch backs, and we ended up having to set up camp in the pitch black. This ain’t fun, especially when you swear you’re being stared down by wild animals. Luckily we came prepared, we had our headlamps, we knew how to set up camp in the dark and we did it pretty damn fast. Even if you’re a rookie, do your research and always be prepared for the worst.
You Will Not Be the Only Backpackers on the Trail
(and they may or may not be predominantly groups of men)
This isn’t a bad thing, but it is an interesting experience. While backpacking with other women, it’s almost impossible to not notice that most of the groups of people accompanying you in the deep dark forest are men. Be smart ladies; always be aware of your surroundings, make sure to sleep with a pocket knife somewhere near you and be friendly but never too trusting. I mean come on, we’ve all seen THAT scary movie.
It’s More Than Just a Scenic Nature Excursion
While backpacking, you will see some of the most beautiful overlooks, wildlife, plants, trees, and bugs — but Mother Nature will kick your ass. At times you will wonder if you can even make it, wondering why you put your poor body through this torture. In that moment, stop. Stop pushing yourself. Take in your surroundings. Breathe. You’ll start to remember how you ended up there first place.
In the End, It’ll Be so Much More Than Just Backpacking
This challenge is not just carrying 40 pounds of weight through the great outdoors. This will challenge you mentally, physically, emotionally. Every part of you will ache. You will not come back the same person you left as — you will consume a piece of every forest you walked through, every plant you touched and every view that left you breathless. The feeling of complete solitude and the one on one connection with nature in every place you set foot in will change your soul. The sleeping on the floor, little to no eating and endless exploring of every crevice of this planet will mask whatever insecurities you once felt before.
Before you know it, the self doubt that took over you because you were afraid of the unknown, because you listened too much to what others thought or because the fear of not being able to complete your journey was due to something as simple your anatomy — it will all cease to exist.
Had I known this before, had I really understood it meant to conquer something others thought you never could…
I would have never doubted myself for a second.
About Our Guest Writer: Morgan McCue
Morgan is 22 years old & happens to be our beautiful and intelligent best friend. Her Northern California roots initially sparked her interest for climate advocacy and she currently works at a Non Profit Environmental Climate Advocacy organization called Citizens’ Climate Lobby where she continues to further her passion in using political will to sustain a livable world. She is attending Georgetown University to pursue the Environmental Metrology & Policy masters program and hopes to continue making a difference in the environmental world. In her spare time, you can find her hiking, camping, practicing yoga, listening to podcasts, or exploring her favorite national parks! Follow her on instagram here.