Yearning to wander outdoors more, or curious about that first stretch into backpacking? Getting outdoors doesn't need to be intimidating in groups or solo, rather, it's an empowering gift accessible to all. That's why we asked GirlVentures, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to connect adolescent girls to the outdoors, to provide key tips for women's backpacking. Nature is a powerful stage to experience, offering beauty and inspiration while teaching us about ourselves. Respecting nature while gaining confidence, leadership skills, plus personal and emotional strength is GirlVentures' aim and expertise.
Fortunately, our workshop was led by seasoned expert and solo backpacker, Cori Coccia. Cori is the Program Director of GirlVentures with years of outdoors experience and an extensive background in behavioral science, outdoor leadership and environmental science. She has certification as a Wilderness First Responder, PCIA Climbing Instructor, and is ACA Level II trained.
Our workshop on outdoor adventuring was co-run with Six Degrees Society, a women's professional networking organization that connects females to new subjects, ideas and topics. Founder Emily Merrill interviewed Cori in a series of common questions, including Q&A from the audience. Here are Cori's suggestions on different topics concerning women's backpacking, including hygiene and safety concerns:
How should one prepare for a backpacking trip?
Going on a lot of hikes beforehand will help increase your preparedness and endurance. Don't be overwhelmed by analysis paralysis, or overthinking all the things you must need ahead of time. In outdoor ed, there's the "Theory of Cascading Events," when one thing after another can go wrong. Put mindfulness into preparation, and kickstart your trips wisely by not doing things like skipping dinner the night before a trip.
Let's talk hygiene. What should we know?
Baths/showers: Bring a hygiene system with you (aim for unscented products), which is usually:
- Biodegradable soap
- Unscented hand sanitizer
- Lip balm
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
Relieving oneself: Responsible outdoor care often means everything that you release comes back with you, or "packing it out." In places like Mt. Whitney, it's imperative you carry your own waste. However, the general rule of thumb is to ensure your organic waste is buried at least 6 inches under the soil so animals don't access it. Other waste (wipes) should be carried out and disposed of properly once you return home. For wiping, you can use a leaf (identify it's not poisonous), or many female backpackers may opt for a designated "rag" that can dry and be rinsed off.
Menstruation: The best way is to handle menstruation is to bring a cup for long treks. If you prefer other methods, you'll need to count out and carry the materials in advance, and carry the waste with you.
Food and energy:
Trekking over peaks? Energy bars are ideal. In cold weather or fast hikes, carbs or sugars are your fuel and easy to eat on the go. Protein is important, but should not be the only source of food you pack.
If you're pre-making food, easy foods that hold well are quesadillas and hard-boiled eggs. Just be sure to store your food in a bear can to fend off any unsolicited visitors.
If you plan on cooking, know fire regulations in your area before you plan your meals.
To hydrate, a steriPEN is recommended for purifying water.
On altitude sickness:
To prevent or combat altitude sickness, hydration is key. Cori suggests carb-ing
up before your trip, and ensuring you have intake of electrolytes (plus pack some!). Make sure you don't do your hardest day on your first day to build a gradual endurance. Caffeine also treats headaches, if you have any packed with you. Remember to climb high and sleep low, and moderate how high you climb at once.
What are some common mistakes seen while backpacking?
Both over and under-confidence can be harmful when you're traveling through nature. Be confident, but be prepared before and during a trip. If you're traveling with others, compassion can help you overcome any obstacles or conflict that may arise.
What should you do if you encounter a bear?
Watch it peacefully, don't approach it, and if it comes into your space uninvited, clap and make a lot of noise to startle it off. Don't get between adults and cubs in grizzly country. It also helps to carry a bear bell and spray, in addition to being aware of your surroundings.
What gear is necessary and recommended for backpacking?
Footwear: Get a solid pair of boots and break them in prior - you can wear low top shoes or high top based on your preference of angle support and weight. Cori prefers trail running shoes too as they're lighter.
Tent: A simple tent that's lightweight is all you need, but set it up at least once prior so you don't have any last-minute panic or unfamiliarity.
Pack: 60L is a good place to start for your pack. An ideal weight for your final pack is 35-40 lbs. When packing, there is the important principle of your ABC's:
- Access: Items should be strategically placed based on frequency of use. Essential items, like sunscreen, lip balm, maps, should be place on the hip pouch or the top pocket that flips over your bag. Camp items, or things you won't be using often, can be placed at the bottom. Likely to use items should also be within reach.
- Balance: This is about weight distribution that works best for your body as you move. Keeping heavier items closer to your body is ideal.
- Compression: Determine the best way your gear fits into your bag so it's tightly compressed and even. Larger items will serve as a structure, and other items as fill. Eliminate empty spaces and organize your bag so there is solid fit.
Cori shows a participant how her pack should fit.
Sleeping bag: Invest in a solid sleeping bag and make sure you get one suited for the temperatures you'll expect. An important tip is to get a bag close to your height. If there's too much extra space in your bag, this makes "dead space" which is extra air that can actually make you susceptible to being colder. It's important to also have a mattress pad or air mattress for comfort and for warmth as insulation from the ground.
Clothing: Bring two sets of clothing - one for sleeping, and one for hiking, and extra underwear. Pack moisture-wicking and easily washable shirts, a compress-able, very compact jacket for warmth such as a fleece or pullover, and a rain jacket no matter what the weather. Cotton should not be worn for base layers that you will be sleeping in or relying on for warmth.
Go explore, have fun, and be safe! There are many life lessons ingrained within the exploration of nature, as noted by Cori.
"On my first trip, it was super cold and I cried a lot. The life lesson there was learning how to be uncomfortable. The more manicured and catered to us our world gets, it teaches us how to be less anxious when we experience discomfort."
With that, we leave you with 7 Leave No Trace Principles to follow when immersed in nature.
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