Why is it important for women to venture outdoors? Every nature lover’s bookshelf worth its salt has a copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves, a collection of stories about female wildness and the inescapable yet entirely deniable animal instincts within us all. My mother had a copy, and as a girl I thought that meant she’d met her wild self and perhaps tucked it away for safekeeping — she had responsibilities after all, like raising me. But it wasn’t until later I’d come to understand that just because a woman’s wildness can’t be seen in the clothes she wears or the tone of her muscle, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It’s hard to say what causes women, as a swath of a gender, to shy away from adventuring. Maybe it’s the estrogen or the unspoken social expectations slung onto girls’ shoulders which keep them slightly tamed in comparison to their male counterparts. Or, more likely, the idea that women are less adventurous is a story told through half-baked statistics by people who just don’t know any different. Ladies, it’s time to shake off that falsehood once and for all.

Of Women and Wolves

I met a woman several years ago who was locally famous for her wolf tracking skills. She had three children, one an infant. She would leave home for weeks at a time, leaving her husband to watch the kids, and she’d follow the pack of wild wolves who lived in the mountains behind her Western town. She didn’t hunt; she just took notes, watched, and howled with the pack in the evenings. Back in town, she didn’t care much for me. At the time I was dating her brother who I’d later learn was coming out of a nasty divorce. Anytime I stood near her I could feel a palpable tingle of distrust, as if her skin was exuding the words you’re not part of our pack, just like the pricking-up of a wolf’s hair on its spine. We had whole conversations without saying a word.

While I liked to think it was my own stellar sensitivity that allowed for our animalistic understanding, it was quite clear that she was the one in charge. She had control over her wildness. She knew her limits and she knew her power. I sometimes wonder what might have happened had I too understood my wild self; perhaps we would have become allies. That, at its very kernel, is why it’s so valuable for women to spend time in the outdoors. Pushing yourself beyond your limits and doing things you never thought possible — whether that’s leaving the kids with family or taking a long meander in the wilderness — is a sure way to get to know yourself inside and out. And knowing yourself is the root of empowerment.

The Sisterhood is Real

We women all have different ways of tuning-in to the wilderness. Some of us like to experience nature in complete solitude while others thrive in the company of a group. Solo adventures can be great, but there is really something special about exploring new terrain with a group of peers. The trials, tribulations, and successes doled out by wilderness experiences have a way of bonding people together. They take us from an individualistic mentality to a pack mentality in no time flat. Even if you’re a diehard soloist, it’s worth trying a group trip at least once.

Women have a particularly interesting role to play in developing what it means to be part of a pack. We’re no longer living in an age where women share a similar sort of lifestyle, the mother and homemaker. Today, each and every woman you meet has a different way of expressing her life’s purpose. Because there’s so much variation in the ways women live their lives, there really are very few places where we can come together to share stories and experiences. It’s one of the reasons that getting a group of women together in nature is such an awesome thing: not only does each individual get that amazing feeling of reconnecting with the natural world, but at the same time there’s a family-like bond that happens. By providing a safe environment for one another to explore the inner and outer terrain of our beings, we build an emotional, spiritual, and psychological safety net that can hold pretty much anyone who steps into it. On top of that, there’s the great perk of safety in numbers: the more people you have in a group, the less likely you are to be stalked by a mountain lion, say. Wildness is nothing if not practical.

The Anti-Retreat

Not everyone has an outdoorsy-lady-friend-group built into their lives; really the ones that do should consider themselves fortunate. But just because you don’t know your pack yet, doesn’t mean they’re not close at hand. We often have to step slightly out of our comfort zones to find the next adventure. We have to actively seek it out. The good news is that women all over the world are doing the same.

That brings us to women-only wilderness retreats. Or as I like to call them, “anti-retreats,” since you’re running towards life rather than away from it. Finding the right kind of adventure trip starts with listening for the land that calls you most. If you’ve always been drawn to the austere beauty of red rocks, for example, seek out people who feel the same way. Find a guide who knows the landscape. And if you really want to dig in deep, sign up for a trip infused with opportunities for reflection and self-examination. Outdoor experiences are always windows into personal growth, so why not see them for what they are and give them some focus.

Adventure therapy trip leader Diana Proemm regularly leads groups of women on wilderness trips that she calls “bigger picture transformational experiences.” She describes her upcoming Moab adventure, designed specifically for female professionals, as a chance for working women to build and refine the big vision of their lives so they can create a clear roadmap to get there. There’s an amazing amount of clarity one can garner in a judgement-free, supportive sisterhood that’s not invested in the politics of society or the board room. It helps to get one’s life moving in the right direction and allows us to see distractions for what they are. It’s the kind of clarity that not only helps individuals reach their goals, but also helps women, even humanity as a whole, reach its highest potential.

As more people tune-in to their wild nature, there’s great potential for unity in our time. When women empower one another in their natural selves, and in turn teach our children the importance of respect, laughter and gratitude for wildness, the bonds between all humans will grow stronger. And that serves as a natural reminder of just how important it is to respect and honor the planet. From the food we eat to the ways we heal, every little thing we have is a gift from the earth. Recognizing that on a global scale starts with a single woman. Going on an adventure.

To learn more about Diana’s Bigger Picture Transformational Experiences visit  biggerpitcutre-rt.com. Also, if you’re a red rocks sort of woman, there are still a few spots available in this September’s Moab Desert Bliss adventure!

Author Katie la Kapro

Katie Kapro holds her MFA in nonfiction writing. She grew up in a family of backcountry rangers and is presently consumed with finding the best canyon hikes in the country.

More posts by Katie la Kapro
  • Pingback: We Are Wild - Bigger Picture - RT()

  • Zoe Emma

    What a wonderful article. I have always been drawn to the wild and sometimes have very vivid dreams of exploring wild places, waterfalls, and mountains. In these dreams, I feel completely exhilarated, in the same way I know men do when they go off on adventures. I have no doubt that this is the “real me”. However, as is the case with so many women, there is a colossal weight on our shoulders in the form of societal expectations. Men are given a free pass when it comes to exploring and adventures because it’s seen as a virile, masculine thing to do. But women are brought up to always put others first and make sure everyone else is happy and satisfied. Going out on an adventure is selfish, and selfishness is seen as a very bad thing. The very worst thing a mother, a wife, or a daughter can be is selfish, according to our societal beliefs. We really need to stop thinking of selfishness as a bad thing – putting yourself first is an act of survival, love, and common sense. Putting ourselves first is an inspiration to everyone around us. My mother always put others first and – far from being the sort of angel you might think – ended up a hollow shell, sort of passive aggressive and resentful. I wish my mother had been more selfish – I wish she had decided “this is what I want to do” and shown me and my sister that it’s ok to have desires and needs that are important. Now I encourage all the women around me to “stop thinking about others all the time and start thinking about yourself”. What makes you feel alive? What makes your heart soar? What would you do if you could do anything, with the full support of everyone around you? What would you do?