How to Talk to a Woman on the Trail

Making outdoor spaces safer starts with you, Chad

Emily Hill
Jul 1, 2019 · 5 min read

I am a cis gender woman who likes to hike. Many people like to hike: trans people, Latinos, African Americans, cis gender men, gay people, queer people, people with prosthetics, people with two feet and two lungs. SO MANY PEOPLE HIKE. But the sad fact is that outdoor recreation is a majority white activity, outdoor industries are blatantly sexist and racist, and although we’re hiking on public land, many of us don’t feel that we can claim this space as our own.

I’ve solo hiked across multiple continents, and I have some advice for anyone who encounters a female-identifying person alone in the wilderness. This is a collection of real — sometimes unbelievable — bullshit that has been uttered to me in the backcountry of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA. The patriarchy has no borders, y’all!

I’m writing from my very narrow experience as a cis female — but I welcome any anecdotes, corroborations, or challenges from other people’s experiences. There are many noxious interactions that happen to women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks on the trail, and I recognize my experience isn’t the only one that matters. We all need to work harder to make outdoor recreation more representative and intersectional.

With that said, let’s dig into the sass:

What NOT to say:

Don’t say: “Are you okay?”
Am I wounded? Am I actively bleeding? Then I’m fine, thanks. Keep hiking, my dude.

Don’t call me “honey” or “good lookin’” or “sweetheart”.
I’m just a person on the trail, like you. Greet me like a person, rather than immediately making me feel like a sex object.

Don’t over-explain gear.
Don’t mansplain Gortex to me. Don’t tell me how many grams your tent weights. Don’t look me up and down and say “nice pack.” I interpret this as either (a) you think I don’t know about gear (I do), or (b) you’re attempting to assert dominance by reciting Amazon reviews you read last week (I also read them). I’m not impressed.

Furthermore, don’t draw conclusions about my abilities as a hiker based on my gear. I might not have carbon fiber trekking poles, but also don’t give a shit. Don’t judge the blond hiking in yoga pants; don’t judge the Texan hiking in jeans. Everyone has the right to be here, whether or not they can afford the gear, or give a damn, it’s public land, and it should be accessible to anyone no matter their means.

Don’t say: “You’re hiking how far today? Are you sure?”
Yes, Larry, I can WALK. Don’t look skeptical of my itinerary. I have legs just like you. With enough conditioning, humans are able to walk very long distances. I come from a long line of homo sapiens who have survived this way for literally 200,000 years.

Don’t keep saying: “But are you really by yourself?”
And most definitely don’t add, “Where’s your boyfriend?”

Stop asking if I have a gun or a knife.
Keep asking and I’ll bear spray your ass.

Don’t say: “What’s a girl like you doing on a mountain like this?”
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THIS, I CAN’T EVEN.

Don’t ask if I know the rain is coming.
Everyone knows what thunder sounds like, seriously GTFO.

Don’t ask if I’m lost.
That was a joke? It better be a fuckin’ joke, Chad.

Don’t interpret “Hello!” as a sexual advance.
Hikers need to talk to each other. It’s a safety thing. Especially solo hikers! We trade intel about the conditions further up the trail, we keep tabs on each other in case (god forbid) someone goes missing. I’m not talking to you because I think you’re interesting; I’m talking to you so you can report my hair color/time/location to the police if I fall off a cliff later.

Don’t change your trail etiquette for me.
Uphill hikers get right of way. Don’t make it weird by being chivalrous. It’s confusing when you change the rules. I’ll move aside for your slowass coming up the hill, and I expect you to do the same for me.

Don’t offer to build my fire.
Building a fire is SO MUCH FUN. It’s also fairly simple. I can change my car’s oil and patch my bike tube, too — both of which are more complicated than building a fire. I live in a desert, everything fuckin’ burns. Don’t be patronizingly impressed when I can do basic stuff — it’s infantilizing and offensive. If you want to help, go collect more firewood for me.

Don’t comment on how much I eat.
Are you at a shelter with a woman who eats food? Many humans eat food. Daily. Sometimes women eat a lot of it, because they’ve been walking UP A MOUNTAIN all day. When you say, “Wow. Do you have a hollow leg?” or “You’ve got a mighty appetite, doncha?” or “Is that a meal for one?” it’s not cute; it’s a thinly veiled objectification of my body. I know my own caloric needs, and I don’t have to answer to you. Go get in your sleeping bag, amigo.

More generally: Don’t comment on my body.
ALL body types belong in the wilderness. Check your fatphobia and ableism before you judge anyone’s ability or strength based on their body shape or size. When you comment on my height/weight/strength, it just makes me feel unsafe. Again, don’t draw conclusions about what women are capable of by the way they are shaped, how they’re dressed, or what gear they’re carrying. Let them enjoy the trail and stay the eff out of it.

Still wanna talk? That’s cool!

What you CAN say:

  • “Beautiful day!”
  • “Hi.”
  • “Are you coming from Windsor Pass? How deep is the snow?”
  • “Hello! Is Jack’s Creek running?”
  • “G’day mate!”
  • “This climb is brutal. Am I almost to the top?”
  • “Cheerio!”
  • “Sup.”
  • *Non-threatening eye contact* *Nod* *Walk past in silence*
  • “Can you help me? You look like you know where you’re going.”

Bonus Material:

Why hike solo?

You might be wondering: Why go into the wilderness by yourself and risk falling to your death, mountain lion attacks, or unwanted misogynist commentary? If a tree falls in the woods…ya know. Well, despite the burden of educating certain hikers that non-white non-males are not a threat, solo hiking has a host of advantages. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • No one walking on your heels.
  • No one snoring in your tent.
  • No one to take care of when they break an ankle.
  • No one to tell you not to climb the ridge in a lightening storm.
  • No one to make meaningless conversation with.
  • No one to hog all the chocolate bits in the trail mix.
  • No one to distract you from the sounds of bird song, wind whispering, or pattering rain drops.
  • No one to interrupt your transcendental moments in the power and solitude of nature.

Lastly, no one to distract you from your own, weird internal dialogues. I made a video about strange ways to pass the time alone on the trail in New Zealand. You’re welcome:

Emily Hill

Written by

Health and wellness journalist. Chronic expat. Cyclofeminist.

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