Longform: The Modern Outdoors Woman

Johnie Gall, Dirtbag Darling

Johnie Gall, Dirtbag Darling

Some use the outdoors to disconnect from the usual social networking and selfie hustle, while others are using those very networks to create new communities, building a bridge to connect to other Modern Outdoors Women. Jeanine Pesce is the founder & editor of RANGE, an agency, magazine, and content-hub dedicated to discovery in sports, lifestyle, and the outdoors. She spends her days embracing nature, trend forecasting, and consulting for your favorite sports and lifestyle brands. Recently, she took an in-depth look at what it means to be a Modern Outdoors Woman—or a brand that aims to capture her attention. Read on for her thoughts, insights, and observations.


The Modern Outdoors Woman

an essay by Jeanine Pesce of Range


Recently, you've probably noticed a serious surge in images of women outdoors—not so much in the #mountainbabes kind of way, but more in the #outdoorwomen kind of way. Women, in terms of trend, are having a major moment. Terms like feminist, #girlboss, and lean-in, now punctuate everyday conversation (Editor's note: take the growth of Create & Cultivate as proof)—women are stronger and more successful than ever, doing a great job of balancing work and family, and seriously interested in getting outside. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation’s in-depth report on participation, attitudes, and behaviors, called “Getting < Women < Active,” 61% of women currently participate in outdoor recreation, and individually spend an average of $295 annually on outdoor apparel and equipment.


As more women are empowered to discover the simple things that being in nature provides, we wanted to ask ourselves: What defines today’s modern outdoors woman? Is it about tactile skills and experience, or is it more a state of being? We interviewed a dynamic group of women with varied levels of traditional outdoor experience to find out. The Modern Outdoors Woman is inquisitive, kind, and willing to introduce her less experienced friends to the outdoors. She looks to Donna Carpenter; owner of Burton Snowboards, Melissa Arnot; an American mountaineer and the only female guide on Everest, Liz Clark; a sailor, surfer and National Geographic Adventurer, Gina Bégin; founder of the Outdoor Women’s Alliance and Caroline Gleich; professional big mountain skier for inspiration. She is beyond stoked to collaborate, and her competitive nature, although present while in motion, is more passive when creating content. She finds strength in her femininity, and doesn’t feel that words like “tomboy” define her. She is just as comfortable casting a line as she is shopping online, and is constantly daydreaming about trips and adventures.


Gale Straub, founder of She-explores, a site dedicated to women who wander, describes her as “curious and ready-to-go, invariably planning her next endeavor. You could just as easily find her climbing in the mountains as rediscovering her hometown. She explores with an eye for color, an appreciation of technique and a pull towards what’s next.” According to Sasha Cox from Trail Mavens, which specializes in outdoor adventures for urban women, “An outdoors woman is someone who's not afraid of getting dirty outside of her comfort zone, and likely believes adventure is adversity in retrospect. Regardless of what happens, it's a learning experience and probably a great story.” This sums up the main difference between our experience as women in the outdoors and that of our our traditionally pragmatic male counterparts. Simply put, we are on a journey to discover something deeper and more meaningful.


"75% of women agree their feeling of connection to the outdoors is the most important reason to get outside"

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The Outdoor Industry report states 75% of women agree their feeling of connection to the outdoors is the most important reason to get outside. “Unlike men, who are drawn to the tactical, logical applications of gear in the outdoors and an almost engineering-like mentality of deciphering maps, putting up tents, cutting snow pits, and chopping wood, women connect with the emotional side of being in nature. Then there are also those of us who like the adrenaline rush, but not without the fresh air and good scenery to feed our souls,” explains Ali Carr Troxell, an outdoor gear editor, adventure travel journalist and founder of PR agency Headwaters Collective.


Another key difference is the way we purchase product. Men like buying things quickly and concisely, but women want to be romanced into a purchase by an editorial point of view. 64.7% of women say they look to store displays for their apparel inspiration, confirming the fact that ladies want to shop where they feel captivated and engaged. Women get pumped for in-store events, sample sales and collaborations, so why not apply that formula to the way they shop for gear, in the form of clinics, product testing and group activities? The old days of “pinking” and “shrinking”— a term used to describe the antiquated habit of brands who shrink men’s designs and color them pink to appeal to women—just won’t cut it. Women want contemporary silhouettes, trend-driven color options and prints that are more evolved than paisleys and daisies. When conducting our own interviews about the Modern Outdoors Woman, we stumbled upon a very interesting fact: only a handful of the women we spoke with admitted to wearing hiking pants. The rest wore leggings because they were more flattering on the form, felt better against their skin, and didn’t make them look like a “funky aunt.” Discuss amongst yourselves.


So who is nailing it when it comes to women’s apparel and hardgoods? That is a loaded question and really depends on who you are asking.“To me, doing it ‘right’ means you aren’t promoting harmful gender stereotypes, your messaging/brand isn’t misogynistic, you truly support the female athletes on your team, and you make gear and clothing women actually want. There are a lot of really well-intentioned companies still constructing their women’s lines out of pastel fabrics or producing short and soft skis. As the owner of a hard-goods company, I understand there is a process and you can’t please everyone. What one woman loves, another may despise,” explains Jen Gurecki, CEO of Coalition Snow, which makes skis and boards by women for women.


Social media inadvertently plays a huge role in how women interested in the outdoors are connecting with each other. “I felt like I was the only woman I knew mountain biking on the weekend or surfing on the East Coast in the winter. Social media offers me a sense of instant community in a space where I used to lack many female friendships. It's especially relevant while I'm traveling. I've been able to bum couch space from women all over the country who have become my good friends strictly via Instagram,” notes Johnie Gall, founder of Dirtbag Darling, a blog that “celebrates the outdoor woman,” including those with “dirty feet, salty hair, goggle-tans and borrowed surfboards.” And what about the outdoor selfie? Isn’t it only natural to include our gorgeous faces in these scenic vistas? Well, not in every case: “I typically leave my face out of pictures because I've lived that experience already. I prefer to let people put themselves in my shoes, and they don't need to see my mug to do that,” explains Gall.


Everyone has a different level of comfort and an individual set of skills when it comes to being “outdoorsy.” Some connect through sharing their outdoor experiences online, while others join all-women workshops to enhance their technical skills. We know our textbook definition of an outdoors woman is someone who skis, snowboards, climbs, camps, surfs, cycles, runs, backpacks and does yoga, but that list could run on forever—or at least we hope it does. All the women we spoke with were different, but they all had the same things in common: a unified, deep-rooted love of life and an absolutely pure appreciation of nature and the great outdoors.


Johnie Gall, Dirtbag Darling   

Johnie Gall, Dirtbag Darling

This essay first appeared in RANGE magazine