Recently I was listening to the She Explores podcast. It’s one of my new favorite podcasts so be sure to check it out.

The episode that I was listening to was all about outdoor women online and how websites and social media channels written by and for outdoor women are taking the internet by storm. I love sites like these that build communities for like-minded women.

One particular part of the episode, an interview with Summer Michaud-Skog from Fat Girls Hiking really made me stop and think.

What are we doing at Hike Like A Woman to represent women from all walks of life?

What are we doing to encourage all women to get out and hike?

I feel like we have a great representation of women of ages, locations, skill level, and so on with our Ambassador team.

But is there more that we could be doing?

Furthermore…how do we, as women in the outdoors really feel about how traditional media represents us?

So I asked.

Here’s what the women of #teamHLAW think.

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“Most of modern societal beauty standards will tell you a waif figure and intricately detailed makeup, with high heels and a ridiculously uncomfortable push-up bra is what perfection looks like. Take that skewed sense of perfection, throw 40lbs on its back, and tell it to self-sufficiently hike up a mountain side & youll notice that idea of ‘perfection’ is FAR from perfect.

As women, we are like wildflowers bursting through Spring drenched meadows. All different in sizes, colors, heights, and shapes. To form fit what ‘perfection’ looks like in the terms of natural order, youll find a list filling quickly of all the many perfectly unique beauties our wild world has to behold.

So why is it our species finds itself trying to cut away pieces of its true, wild self, to form fit a mold that is so far from true beauty to begin with? Is it the airbrushed magazine photos circling every city block? The perfectly edited Instagram accounts of fitness models barely breaking a sweat? The stick-figure models slowly seizing even outdoor retail clothing companies?

Wild women everywhere have awoken, tossing their unkempt hair from their gleaming smiles, embracing the wild world in themselves, just as they do with the wildness that surrounds them. We have chosen to turn away from the idea of societies perfections and instead find perfect harmony in the wild. You don’t need to be a size 2 to find the sanctity of a solo wilderness hike, you don’t need to be 20yrs old to bag that 14er you’ve always dreamt of, and you sure as heck don’t need to be anyone elses labeled concept of ANYTHING to embrace what truly makes you feel alive.

Sweat like a pig, push your limitations, eat that extra handful of trail mix, and CONQUER like the feral, fierce beauties you all are! Society (& its opinions) are simply that electric glow beyond the shadowed mountainside and you, my dear, are far above that world; touching the stars in a pair of dirt coated boots.”



Ardeen Duckworth“I find I’m not in line AT ALL with most current advertising, even that promoting fitness or outdoors. Nature really does not care what height or weight or pant size you are, and there’s a pretty good chance that your outdoor companions don’t either. Amazing and empowering things that do matter?

Hiking farther than you thought you could in a day. Setting up your own tent… and then sleeping in it all by yourself. Knowing how to treat the blister that shouldn’t have appeared on your heel but did. Coaching a kid through the first time they use a hatchet to split kindling and then light their first campfire. I’d love it if this sort of stuff could creep into the mainstream a little more… if dirty hands with cracked nails were celebrated as much as pretty manicured ones (and yes, mine are manicured right now… and soon to get very dirty on a week long hike!) and feeling the spray of a backcountry waterfall got people as excited as a picture perfect living room. (Uh, no, I don’t have one of those!)

Hike out, unplug stuff, recharge you and just BE. Celebrate who you are and your wonderful space in the world. Always.”


Ruth Schmidt“One of the greatest things about hiking is the way it makes me feel. It makes me love my body because of what it can do, and let go of the insecurities about what my body looks like.”


Mara KuhnI have to admit one of the draws to backpacking, hiking, camping, etc., is that I don’t have to shower or care what I look like. I’m just happy to be surrounded by nature. I would say I’m just too lazy to shower, but backpacking is a lot of effort. You also don’t have to be perfectly physically fit to enjoy hiking and solace in the outdoors. After multiple knee replacement surgeries, my mother is not in as great of shape as she used to be, but she still loves being outdoors.”


Annie Copeland“I think most current advertising has set unrealistic standards for people. There are a few brands changing they way the present their products to the public and it’s usually to mixed reviews. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone has issues about themselves they would change if they could. Those issues aren’t what define us, it’s what we do despite of them and despite of anyone else’s opinions.

Nature doesn’t have an opinion and overcomes many issues on her own. The only thing Nature requires is respect, if we all treated it and each other with more respect everyone would be better off.

I don’t let my size or appearance define me. I don’t care if I’m bigger than anyone else out there on the trail or in a canoe, all that matters to me is that I’m out there, I’m doing it. It may not be ninja hiker style, but it’s my style and it counts.

If I let my size or abilities keep me from nature, I’d go stark raving crazy.

Anyone who will get off the couch, open their front door and go explore has my respect. Life isn’t about such trivial things, life is about living and if you’re living your life for anyone else, you’re not really living.”


Gretchen Blackmer“Regardless of body form, type, or package (let’s be sure to celebrate the “perfect” REI model types too, after all, they are also members of the strong, female adventurer tribe), invite your experience on the trail to become just as much of an exploration of your own inner world as it is of the great outdoors. Yes, bring your cell phone, for the joy of capturing memories and for unexpected emergencies, but turn off all apps that pull you away from discovering your own unique distance and pace. Instead of pushing yourself with the judgment of how far you “should” go, or how fast each step along the path is “suppose to” land, draw your awareness deeper. Begin to notice the natural rhythm of your own breath as it fuels your body with increased endurance. Begin to notice the innate cadence of your own boot steps as they press down into the path beneath you. Find your own individual pace, then slow it down even more. Slow to notice the sounds, the smells, and the life of wherever it is that your path leads. Slow to notice where your mind goes. Slow to absorb it all in. Let slow be your goal, let your breath and your boots be your guide, and let your trail experience truly become your own.”


Lorna Radcliff“If old, overweight, sweaty and out-of-shape doesn’t belong in the outdoors… Shhhh…don’t tell me!

I love the outdoors and love myself. I think women should celebrate the good in others and themselves. I think jealousy of how others look or wishing we looked like someone else is pure insecurity in ourselves. We are each unique and beautiful in our own ways. I think how we each enjoy the outdoors is unique also. Some ladies rock climb and kudos to them, some ride horses and others ski. I don’t do any of that, but I admire their ways of enjoying the outdoors and cheer them! When we celebrate each other, we grow stronger and appreciate our own uniqueness. Magazines and ads like to portray optimal situations, if we waited til everything was optimal we would miss a lot of freek’n awesome experiences!”


Emily Decker“To me how you look means nothing. It’s how you feel, and how you want to feel. Do you want to feel better? Does being outdoors make you feel better? Then do it. Advertisements are just that, advertisements. They want to sell something, so they choose who they think will sell an item. It’s business. We can’t let what we may think others think we should look like stop us from getting out and doing what we love. Even if you are only able to get outside and walk down the block, or walk a quarter of a mile on a trail, you are still getting out and enjoying it. I spent years in the worst physical and mental shape of my life. It took me kicking my own butt to get outside and start hiking. I did it for me. I wanted better for my life. Don’t let what an ad portrays hikers as stop you from getting outside. Age, body type, physical ability, the gear you own and how long it takes you to finish a trail mean nothing. What matters is that YOU WANT TO HIKE. Do it for you. Don’t let an ad stop you, or anyone else for that matter. Those hikers in those ads started somewhere too. We don’t know their stories. They could very well have been like you or me when they started their journies.”


Michelle Long“I need my big ole thighs and calves to pull me up that mountain. Lol.

I will say that hiking in a world with social media has allowed me to be more okay with my body. I post unflattering photos of myself all the time. It’s my own personal little exercise in letting go of vanity. At my age, a no makeup face post was, at first, a difficult thing for me. I’ve come to accept my belly pooch as a part of me and don’t edit out the photos where it’s prominent. Do I like the way I look? Not always, but most of the time, I’m okay with it. I can either kill myself trying to find the time to workout daily and change it or I cannot. I’m all right with the ‘cannot’ choice today. The constant barrage of perfect looking women whether in fashion mags or in outdoor social media/mags/etc, is a subtle foe. The images creep in and ‘wham’ suddenly I’m comparing myself. Without realizing it, I’ve internalized the unrealistic standard of a what a woman’s body should be. So, I work at appreciating what this 52-year-old body can do. Even with the excess baggage, physical and mental. There really is no standard for getting outside and moving. Thick, thin, round, short, or tall; we can do it all.”


paige-norman“I appreciate seeing women in outdoor outfitters advertisements. (Though where is the diversity of ethnicity??? In both genders, there is a big gap.) The more women in the ads hopefully means the more gear that is focused towards women!

Something a river guide told me this summer was that it was important for her to remind people that she was a girl. She did this by wearing a big sun hat with a bright pink bow. It was a bit outrageous; but it was also a big sign saying, “I am a girl. I am doing everything that the boys are doing. I can be outdoors, I can lead, and I can do all that while still being girly.” Often, I saw that as obnoxious and silly, but I have recently begun to see it as owning femininity. On my big canoe race this summer, my partner and I wore bright pink PFDs. Neither of us tend to wear pink any other time, but as the only females in the race it made us stand apart event more.

Long story short, though I may not look like the models in advertisements, I do appreciate that my race and gender are represented in outdoor outfitters advertisements. I love seeing feminine products that fit correctly and get me up the mountain. I would love to see a magazine that included all of your gorgeous faces after a good hike!”


Jennifer Hewitt“Nature neither judges nor discriminates. It doesn’t matter whether you are tall or short, thin or curvy, muscular or not, fast or slow, or using expensive equipment or hand me downs. All that matters is that you are there, in nature, being you.”



Kathryn Petroff“I’ve noticed that the more I am in populated areas, the more I start caring what others think about every detail in the way I look. Step out. I left the city, high heels, dieting, and tanning 13 years ago and have never felt more beautiful and comfortable in my skin than I do now. Get out among the trees, and you will wear the reflection of our exquisite planet in your laugh lines, in the sway of your hips, and in the tussle of your hair.”


Stephanie Mullins“Your wilderness experience is yours, no one else’s.Everyone’s wilderness experience is different. An advertisement featuring society’s ideal doesn’t dictate how, when, or where you enjoy the outdoors. Tap into the you, you love. Let your hair down, let out a roar, and enjoy the wildness in you and around you, no matter your size, shape, gender, religion, or all that other crud that doesn’t mean a lick when alone with Mother Nature.”


Amy Haney“After having a stroke 2 years ago I was unable to trail run anymore. This was something that I loved. The fast movement of my feet, moving through the woods and over streams was so good for my soul! But I was left with some loss of coordination on my left side and my gate changed in a manner which causes me to drag my left foot when I run. So hiking it is and I loved it’s! I love the solitude and the peace. One of my downfalls is that I can’t get into the woods each day like I did when I trail ran. I am much slower, tire easily, and have gained weight. The trails still provide a challenge and I love pushing my body to see what it can accomplish.”


Jill Dunbar“Society has a nasty habit of instilling a preconceived notion of what we all should look like through advertising. It’s very frustrating when I shop for hiking clothes. It’s like my body type does not exist and therefore should not be seen in the outdoors. Three years ago, I lost 30 lbs. I was in the best shape of my life. I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, I walked a half marathon, beating a few runners times, I climbed my first and only 14er. Then life dealt me a series of personal blows. I sank into a depression that I was not prepared to deal with. The 30 lbs came back on along with a little extra.

Now I’m a happy, overweight hiking grandma who has limitations but still enjoys pushing my body to its own limits. Since my 30+ lb gain, I have backpacked in Yellowstone for a week, have backpacked 3 segments of the Colorado Trail, have had numerous other pack trips, I walked in a half marathon last year and still beat my old time, and have just come back from hiking in the 9500′ elevation drainages of the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado chasing elk.

I don’t let my age, gender, or body type stop me from what I enjoy doing most. Sure, I tired easy and think everyone else has sucked out all the air in the universe, leaving nothing for me, but I still persevere. I’m still a step ahead of those who are on the couch scanning Facebook.

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I refuse to let the advertising community dictate who I should be and what I should look like. There’s more of us out there in the woods than there are of them!

Jill Norcross Dunbar's photo.One of the reasons for applying for the HLAW ambassador program was to prove to myself and others that Nature doesn’t discriminate and neither should we. Hiking has made me care less about what others think of me – I post pics of me on hiking trips without my makeup on, without a comb through my hair, and sometimes my teeth aren’t brushed. And you know what? Those pics are of the happiest times in my life! And yes, I do love a good manicure – and yes, I did break a nail and was pissed about it on my last trip.

But I do have an appointment next Monday to fix it in time for my next outing. As a side note – sometimes, I do wish I was in better shape, younger, prettier and smarter – but, I’m not – when I have moments like those, I sit back and think of all my accomplishments and then think maybe I might not have done all those things as I wouldn’t have had anything to prove! I probably would be a lazy couch potato with a perfect body… and that brings me to my senses. I also need to realize that there are others who can’t do the things I can.”


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Now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments below or on our facebook page if you think that the media accurately portrays outdoor women. What can we do to ensure that women from all walks of life are represented? 

5 comments on “The Truth About Outdoor Women In the Media

  1. I love “sweat like a pig” even though I sweat so much more-even in dry mountain air so you can imagine what living in the humid midwest does to me!
    Great stories, comments, and topic. I am not skinny but I run; I run half marathons and I finish. Sometimes in the middle of the pack, sometimes further back. I hike and with my boots and pack am pretty well loaded up with poundage. But I hike. I bike and they still have lycra shorts that fit me and 525 miles later (last Ride The Rockies I did) I survived.
    However, I want more guns–I mean better defined arm muscles so I am working on that-not because of society or that perfect body type. I just want to life more, including myself off the computer chair and keep on going for another 40 or more years!
    Hike on and through!

  2. This is an interesting read. I feel as a woman and a person of color, I deal with two major dynamics: gender and race. I’ve had my share of hikes/treks both within the USA and outside and can easily note that there is a difference in the trekking experience as a female and as a person of color. Within the U.S., it is unfortunate that the media hardly represents the voices of racial minorities although I sense an increase in media coverage on females in the outdoors. Thanks to organizations like HLAW and others who do promote women’s voices and deem their stories relevant. Advancement in the voices of women in general is a win for the cause to advance inclusion of racial minorities as well, as history usually shows in the U.S. Overall, I’m optimistic that women of all ages, color, sexual orientation etc will gain more exposure in the media world. For now, there are wins to appreciate on a daily basis.

  3. I love your website and love seeing all the women outdoors doing their thing, but honestly looking at your list of ambassadors I don’t feel it’s a complete representation of the women out there. Where is the 250 pound woman? The one that will inspire another 250 pound woman that she too can do it? That’s where the groups like Traildames and Fat Girl Hiking come in.

    • Hi Melissa,

      If you look at our Ambassador page I think you’ll see that we represent women of all shapes and sizes!

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