My experiences are probably not the normal for most women. I started "backpacking" as simply a part of mountaineering. I started at 16 years old, went with an organized group, and from the first trip was 100% self sufficient, as was required of EVERYONE. I had to carry my share of group gear (heaviest was technical climbing gear) and no consideration was made of my smaller size. Just buck up, do it. Women were amazingly accepted in the mountaineering world, you just had to do as much as a man.
Then I worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School for seven years. My pack weighed as much as the guys. I married another instructor, and we worked separate courses, because we could make more money that way. NOLS teaches you how to truly live in the wilderness, 35 days at a time. That was the big difference from my previous background in short term mountaineering. On my first course, it snowed for 28 days straight and nobody bathed. After that experience, I swore I would NEVER again go more than a week without a bath, and daily if at all possible, including a skinny dip in a lake that still had ice on it. To this day, I bathe at the end of almost every day, barring the coldest nastiest weather.
The minimal grooming came easy to me. I never wore makeup or did the normal woman-grooming thing to begin with. I found that long hair is the easiest. Braids are great and easy. I was, am, and always will be a tomboy at heart.
I have the minimalism of wilderness living down pretty good. I even spent six months in the middle of the winter in a 12x24 foot log cabin with two babies (and a husband), with no running water,an outhouse, and no electricity over 10 miles from the nearest road (by snowmobile), then 20 miles to the nearest town (provided that the cold old car would start).
I am not that concerned about privacy. I get a little "European", even changing from backpacking clothes to my travel clothes between two open doors of my car, in a crowded parking lot. In long technical climbing routes you simply have to learn to pee with partners nearby. Peeing in a climbing harness, anchored to a rock wall, is a challenge! You get used to it. I actually hate being in a city when I have to "go". Annoying thing that I have to seek privacy or get arrested. On the trail, I just pee whenever I please. No lines to wait in. No tapping the foot anxiously driving down the road looking for a rest stop.
One of my biggest problems is my "Jewish Mother" syndrome. (No, I am not Jewish). I almost prefer solo backpacking because as soon as someone is with me, I start worrying about them like a Jewish mother. Their comfort, happiness and safety become my number one priority. When I am by myself, my needs, wants and happiness comes first. It is the only time I ever have to be selfish. I go solo backpacking as a relief after babysitting the grandkids.
There are all kinds of women on the trail, all ages, all levels of expertise, all with different goals. I do not think you can categorize. As experienced as I am, I have no desire to do long thru-hikes. It just is not my nature. I rather head off-trail and explore little nooks and crannies.
And as a mother, I have taken my kids (even as babies) backpacking- now there is another entirely different experience! And I have been backpacking as a teen with my own mother! In fact, the best mother's day I could think of is going backpacking with my grown daughters and their kids.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
W_D, I really enjoyed your essay!
I was brought up to believe that women shouldn't get a free pass for being the so-called "weaker sex," that we are not weaker, and that I needed to be tough and a "good sport." No whining allowed! I didn't have to do much of that kind of teaching with my daughter, since she had three older brothers to cope with.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Peeing while climbing... make sure you're the top person on the rope?
Seriously though, that would be a challenge.
There's a difference when peeing on the trail. It's one thing for a guy to just find a tree trunk to pee on, but it's different when you have to pull your pants down to your ankles. Due to cancer surgery, my plumbing was rerouted so now I have to basically pee like a girl does. Actually it's more difficult, but psychologically it's different to go now too. I kinda want to be totally hidden instead of just being partially behind a bush.
People will start to think I'm full of s--- digging so many cat holes. Well, they most likely know that I am anyways.
Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
When I had two daughters my friends felt sorry for me for all the wrong reasons. My daughters backpacked and hiked and sailed with me more than most of their sons did. Being male or female has nothing to do with it if you are brought up right; to enjoy he wilderness and deal with the minor differences that in the end are insignificant. Go girls!