by Randee Dawn
Ruby McConnell has been a fan of the outdoors practically since birth. Her parents, as she explains, weren’t “particularly outdoorsy” – but they still sent her to summer camp in her home state of Oregon, and that’s where she found her calling.
Yet over the years, she discovered that women have a very different experience of hiking, camping and the wilderness than do men. “Survival is important to the male outdoor experience,” she says. “They like the idea of beating back the elements and conquering things and climbing to the top. I don’t want to feel like I’m ‘surviving.’ Reading a survival guide made me fearful of what might happen, rather than confident about what could happen.”
With that in mind, she set out to create “A Woman’s Guide to the Wild,” a friendly, fully informative look at how to handle everything from projects like “Easy Banana Walnut Hotcakes” and “DIY Menstruation Disposal Kit” to First Aid and Safety and basics like building a fire. Much of the book is applicable to male readers as well, but comes across like a guide to enjoying the wild rather than an imperative about facing down the elements so you can make it out alive.
More and more women are now striking out on the trail, in part thanks to the success of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and the movie based on the book starring Reese Witherspoon. But while Wild‘s writing is beautiful, says McConnell, it’s not really a how-to guide. “A lot of [Strayed’s] experience was getting bailed out by men, and then she had luck and didn’t have anything to lose,” she says. “This book is sort of a response to that.”
Clearly there was room on the shelf for a woman to do the how-to storytelling for once. “It’s always the male perspective telling stories, so we might be missing something in our oral tradition about how this might be for us,” she says. “The female experience doesn’t have to be the same as the male experience; it can still be valid and important and meaningful.”
Here are 5 key areas McConnell suggests women should focus on when it comes to getting outdoors:
Prepare ahead of time
Don’t be like Strayed: pack sensibly, break in your shoes and get the most up-to-date information on where you’re going. “Doing appropriate work up front in terms of research – particularly if you have any dependents with you – is crucial,” says McConnell. “Learn to pick up the phone and call the ranger and ask what the weather’s really like, or what trail conditions are like. Check in with the people at the booth at the state park.”
Cleaning out the pipes
Men like to say the whole world is their bathroom, but women don’t have it quite so easy. McConnell notes that bladder infections are common for women in the great outdoors, and that redoubling hygiene is key. Having bladder infection over-the-counter medication on hand is useful, and “always get up to use the bathroom if you have to, even if it is the middle of the night.”
Speaking of which….
Bring a tampon or more, just in case. “Honest, I keep one in every jacket and backpack obsessively,” she says. “I then have the secondary goal of never being caught without toilet paper.” Backup options: Find another woman, who might be better prepared with key supplies. Certain plants or “pieces of clothing you’re not attached to” can be made to do in a pinch. But again, it helps to prepare. “You have to think ahead and assume it will happen,” she says. “Otherwise, you’ll be miserable.”
Consider personal safety
Bring a whistle, and attach it to your waist or backpack. “It’s the No. 1 safety thing,” says McConnell. “Yelling doesn’t do it; this keeps your hands free – and it’s a catch-all. Safety is the most important thing. It’s not about what happens if you encounter a bear. It’s what if I encounter a couple of hunters with guns? That’s way scarier. I encourage women to take self-defense classes, tell people where they’re going, bring a dog or a companion.”
Ultimately, respect your limits
“Know your limits and honor them,” she says. “For women that’s really hard, especially when you’re outside and something happens and someone’s like, ‘You’re ruining everyone’s fun!’ A lot of women have scary experiences from pushing boundaries they didn’t want to push or had a bad sense of. Taking on challenges is great, but if you’re not game or it’s outside your skill level, you have permission to set a boundary. We battle that in every aspect of our lives. You have permission to say no.”