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The Real Challenges Surrounding Women in the Outdoors

Are societal barriers really keeping women from becoming outdoorswomen? The Star Tribune's article 'Empowering Women' has brought to light some of the real obstacles involved with promoting women in the outdoors.

Last month, the Star Tribune released an article called Empowering women in the outdoors: why the white-hot interest? From brand sponsorships, to women's empowerment programs, to gender inequality in the outdoors, the Tribune's article opened a surprising controversy regarding the new female role in the industry. However, the biggest surprise came from the women readers and contributors, themselves. Their remarks spark an entirely different debate: are women the reason why women haven't been more involved?

The Star Tribune article brought up three main points:

  1.  Do we still have gender inequality in the outdoors?
  2.  Do outdoor sponsorships empower women, or cause controversy?
  3. Why such a huge interest in women in the outdoors, right now?


Equality in the outdoors has and continues to be a debate. Historically, women have been frustrated with the lack of appropriate clothing, gear, and female opportunities. Rightfully so, considering that the outdoors have traditionally been geared toward men. But why has this continued to be the case, despite women's place in society drastically changing in the last ive decades? The Star Tribune article discusses the social and economic challenges surrounding women and this issue. What it doesn't discuss, is the historical lack of women's promotion, encouragement, and most importantly, mass participation in these activities. For any part of the outdoor industry to revolve around women, women have to participate.

If we don't choose to participate and promote the activities when the opportunity is presented to us, why would we need a market for women's gear and women-only activities?

REI women outdoors
REI Launches Outdoor Women's Campaign. Marketing or Activism?

Empowering Women Through Ambassadorships

This leads into the next point: the new push for female sponsorships.

Companies are adding women to their rosters constantly. It doesn't matter if you have 1 million followers or 1,000, if you promote the outdoors, there is probably a brand out there that would be willing to add you to their influencer team.

But what should be deemed as an asset to gaining women's presence in the outdoor industry, appears to upset women as much as encourage them.

Professional rock climber Kendra Strich's comments to the Star Tribune are a prime example of the problems surrounding women as outdoor ambassadors:

"I have two gold medals in ice climbing but am not sponsored. That may be because I live in the Midwest, but there are some pretty blondes whose climbing résumés are not all that, and they're sponsored. Which is fine if companies were honest about just wanting a pretty face, but they profess to support top climbers, and they're not..."

She is right, it's about marketing, but it's about marketing with men, too. Nevertheless, I have a hard time believing she couldn't find some sort of sponsorship. It might have less to do with appearance and more to do with her online presence.

But even if there isn't a fair playing ground for female sponsorships, shouldn't we just be happy that women are finally becoming prominent on pro staff teams? Shouldn't we be encouraging this movement instead of being pissed at companies for not sharing sponsorships equally?

The Difference Between Then and Now

One reader, Lisa Simenson's, wrote the Tribune with a different perspective, and one hardly supportive of the women outdoor influencers:

"I would hardly say "why the urgent interest?" Urgent? This is not a new movement by any stretch of the imagination. There have been women programs in the outdoors for centuries, women in leadership positions in expeditions and women living solitary lives with great success. Dorothy Molter, the "Root Beer Lady," just one of hundreds. Women don't need to shout about their survival skills and entrepreneurial spirit as expedition leaders and survivalists. We do it with beauty and grace. Quietly and without fanfare. You missed the mark on this one."

True. There have always been those women who didn't need visual proof or aspiration to do things for themselves, but what about the majority of women who have never been introduced to it? What about the lack of gear and opportunities we have spent so much time fighting to gain? Being silent and invisible doesn't garner us any of those. Men shout the outdoors, and the industry responds. It's finally nice to hear women shouting, too.

Eva Shockey takes criticism from men and women when promoting the outdoors with perfect hair and makeup | Photo Credit: Eva Shockey - Facebook

When we as women, don't support each other in these endeavors, then how can participation and opportunities in the outdoors grow?

Why the recent sudden obsession with outdoor women?

The one topic the Tribune completely failed to mention? Social media.

Social media has changed everything. Every day, you can see women in the outdoors. Best of all, women don't have to page through a magazine to try and find it. In fact, it's gone absolutely viral in social media. This also makes women's only groups easier to find and join than ever before.

Lisa Simpson was right, women in the outdoors aren't new. But what is new, is that women can inspire others to join in. Women born and raised in the outdoors won't change from a promotion. However, it will make a difference to the women who haven't had the confidence or resources to try it. Which means more opportunity for all of us.

Thanks to social media, women can stop blaming society for outdoor inequality and start participating in the outdoor adventures.

You can view more from Nicole at or follow her on Instagram: @nicolestoneoutdoors & Facebook: Nicole Stone Outdoors.


The Real Challenges Surrounding Women in the Outdoors