“I never thought it would be big, but it is big. That’s a good problem to have, I suppose.” This article was brought to you by Gregory, the makers of outdoor gear for humans of all shapes and sizes. From packs made for the unique needs of hiking women to kids hiking backpacks, Gregory knows that getting outside with anyone who inspires you is easier when your gear fits just right.
Rebecca Walsh lived several lives before founding Hike Like a Woman. She was a wife, a mother, and a military veteran when she decided to share her lifelong passion for the outdoors and hiking with other women.
What started as a blog and podcast in 2014 quickly snowballed—before Rebecca could even finalize the site design, hiking women were sending her their stories from all over the world via social media. And it was those stories that helped shape Hike Like a Woman into the community it is today, facilitated by not only Rebecca, but a staff of young women who help her manage her businesses on and offline.
Hike Like a Woman is an exercise in storytelling, sharing the full gamut of the female experience outdoors, from the tug to get outside to the challenges of peeing in the backcountry. It’s also become an in-person experience, with guided hikes and camping trips where hiking women and Hike Like a Woman followers can gather around the fire, instead of in the comments section.
We caught up with Rebecca at the Mountain View Cafe in Centennial, Wyoming, not far from Laramie’s Basecamp, the brick and mortar outfitter she runs in addition to her work with Hike Like a Woman. Over thick slices of savory quiche and impeccable house-roasted coffee, she told us all about how what started as women hiking together turned into a passion project, which in turn became something bigger than she ever could have imagined.
Exploring Centennial, Wyoming With Rebecca Walsh of Hike Like a Woman
Over 12,000 people follow Hike Like a Woman on Instagram. If you’re one of them, then you might be familiar with Rebecca’s knack for picking stunning locales that are accessible to women hiking with varying levels of experience. After we were fully fed and caffeinated, we set out for Wyoming’s beautiful Snowy Mountains range, where Rebecca, joined by Morgan and Marley (two guides who help Rebecca lead expeditions) would take us on a hike up and over Medicine Bow Peak.
At the trailhead by Lewis Lake, we marveled at the early snowpack and the clouds swirling around the peak of Sugarloaf, jutting up from the alpine meadows. Morgan and Marley pulled bins of buffs, gloves, scarves, and other winter gear out of their SUV, making sure all of the women hiking in our group would be warm and comfortable. As we set out I was more focused on spotting adorable squeaking pikas and watching mountain bikers negotiate hairpin turns than jotting down the conversation that unfurled. So I followed up with Rebecca afterwards to dive deeper into what she told us about the evolving role of women in the outdoor space, parenting nature-loving kids, and the unique, wild magic of the Equality State.
What inspired you to start Hike Like a Woman?
I just had this desire to connect women with the outdoors and with each other. I was at a transition point in my life where I had left my military career and was at home with two young children and was just looking for an outlet where I could talk to women who were in the outdoors and within my own community here in Laramie, Wyoming.
How did you end up back in Laramie?
“We asked ourselves where the last place we had a lot of fun was, and so we did a full circle and ended up back where we started.”
I was born in Wyoming, in Laramie, but grew up in Montana. After I graduated from the University of Wyoming, I was an active duty army officer for eight years. Then I got pregnant with my oldest child and realized I needed to slow down a little bit and be with my child and raise a family. My husband was an infantry officer and he was tired and was looking to settle down. We asked ourselves where the last place we had a lot of fun was, and so we did a full circle and ended up back where we started.
What is the outdoor scene like in Laramie?
Laramie is kind of an undiscovered outdoor mecca. We have so much wonderful climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and snowshoeing. All of our trails are really close to town. I can drive to the Snowy Range, like we did, in half an hour. The diversity of our terrain is really interesting. We can go from the prairie to the high altitude meadows in minutes. At the Vedauwoo camping and climbing area, these giant rock formations seem to rise out of nowhere.
Was Laramie receptive to the Hike Like a Woman project?
Absolutely. Because Hike Like a Woman (HLW) started mostly online, not a lot of people in Laramie even knew about HLW or that I was behind it. When I opened up my outdoor gear shop last April, that gave HLW a physical presence and a physical location. We’ve had some HLW events here in Laramie. It’s a progressive town, it’s a college town. There’s so much history of women’s rights here in Laramie.
“I never thought it would be big, but it is big. That’s a good problem to have, I suppose.”
Laramie is supportive of my ski shop, it’s supportive of HLW. But whenever you start anything there are going to be bumps in the road. HLW grew really, really fast. We’ve only been around since 2015. I wasn’t prepared for HLW to grow so quickly. I never thought it would be big, but it is big. That’s a good problem to have, I suppose. I had to rely on a team of volunteers and eventually hire staff to help out with HLW. I have a vision of what I want HLW to be, but I’m also trying to be really receptive to the vision that my community has and the direction my staff wants to take.
Where are you hoping to see HLW go in the next year?
Because we started online, I think a lot of hiking women in our community have made great relationships with women they’ve met online. I hope to expand in 2019 to more local hiking groups and go into more HLW retreats. We did two last fall that were really fun— the more physical type programs and guided trips. The retreats where all these women who know each other online can meet one another and go on an adventure together.
I actually had our first retreat the weekend after your trip. I think it was about eight women, and we spent the whole weekend together. We went hiking and to the hot springs and stayed in the little lodge at Centennial and had a really fun weekend. We’re going to add more of those to the schedule. We’re also planning a blog retreat. A lot of our audience is interested in how we run the blog and the podcast. We’re trying to find ways to branch out.
What’s been your favorite part of the Hike Like a Woman podcast?
I love meeting women from all walks of life. Cheryl Strayed came on our podcast last summer and she was really interesting to interview. But I really like to interview women who aren’t super well-known. I interviewed a woman who runs a wolf sanctuary, a woman who lives full-time on the road with her family. I love finding those stories and being able to tell them and just making room for those stories in the outdoor space.
How do you think the role of women is changing in the outdoor space?
I feel like women have always been in the outdoors, but with the rise of social media we’ve been able to share our adventures a little easier. It’s amplified and that has given more women encouragement to get out there and do it. It’s really helped women feel like they can get out there, even if it’s as simple as a camping trip or a first hike.
What are your top tips for women hiking?
I would say first is just go. I think a lot of times the outdoors can be intimidating, especially for women. Find a friend, pack some snacks, get a backpack. You don’t need much to hike, some shoes, a water bottle. Just go.
The next biggest thing is to be educated. We have a lot of mountain lions where I live, and I was pretty scared to hike alone. So I went to a class at Wyoming Game and Fish that talked about predators in our area, and that knowledge gave me confidence.
Read some books. Talk to Game and Fish, to the Forest Service. Become knowledgeable so you feel confident. If you’re looking for a place to go, don’t forget to go to your local outdoor store.
Do you have any tips for women who aren’t sure how to find their outdoor community or connect with other hiking women (or other humans in general) who love getting outside?
Look for a volunteer organization or a trail cleanup. Talk to your friends, especially if you see a friend who is wearing hiking boots. I feel like with the whole internet social media thing, it’s almost too easy to find an outdoor group in your community. But as far as women’s organizations, they’re a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere now. HLW is one of ten I can name off the top of my head. Your people are out there. You can find them if you try.
What are some of the biggest barriers to women hiking, or taking the initiative to get outside?
A lack of confidence. As women, we tend to pick ourselves apart a lot. We’re constantly looking at our flaws. ‘I don’t look like these outdoor models I see on Instagram,’ or ‘I don’t have the money to buy the latest and greatest equipment’ or ‘I don’t have friends to adventure outdoors with.’ We need to stop that! Every gender belongs outdoors, every political affiliation belongs outdoors. You don’t need the latest and greatest gear. I think the biggest barrier to entry is just telling ourselves we can’t go when we can and should.
How do you think it might change the outdoor industry to have more women hiking and getting out there?
Maybe they’ll open more outdoor sporting goods stores. ::laughs:: Maybe this won’t be a politically correct answer, but I’m a woman and I can give life. I have two children, and while I feel my husband and I have equal parental responsibilities, I’m still the parent who stayed home and gave up my career to spend time with my children. But because of the influence I have on my children, they are growing up loving and respecting the outdoors. That’s a huge responsibility. If I wasn’t into the outdoors, I wouldn’t feel that pressure to make sure that my children understand the environment.
What do you think our kids are going to inherit in regards to the outdoors?
Because my children love the outdoors, they are going to be advocates for the outdoors. I hope they inherit public lands and wide open spaces. Right here in Laramie, right now, there’s a big push to protect the Casper aquifer that we get our drinking water from and to purchase some lands that could be used to develop a trail network on Pilot Hill. It’s being an advocate to preserve those spaces for our children. All of these good things are happening at a grassroots local level. A lot of women in our organization feel like I do that we have a responsibility to protect these places.
Do you have any tips for parenting outdoorsy kids?
I grew up in a really outdoorsy family, so it’s a really natural thing to get my kids hiking out on the trails. They were cross-country skiing as soon as they could walk at 14-15 months old. One thing I’ve had to realize with HLW is that not everyone grew up like that. We’ve got to start with the basics. Just take them and go.
Give up any expectations. There are times I’ve planned a full day excursion with my children and we haven’t lost sight of the trailhead because they wanted to sit and play with pinecones. You have to realize you’re seeing the trail from the eyes of a child. They’re a lot shorter than you, so they’re seeing it differently from every account.
Our attitude— it’s amazing how our attitude can affect that of our children. One thing I’ve tried to do as a mom is not tell my children about bad weather. I’ll say “It’s a beautiful rainy day” or “it’s a beautiful windy day.” Then they’ll think it’s beautiful too. Our attitude affects how they see nature.
How did you come to open Laramie’s Basecamp when you were already juggling motherhood and Hike Like a Woman?
I think I’m having a midlife crisis, really. We had one outdoor retail store in town and the owner of that store was looking to retire. I caught wind, and it was at the time I was looking for a way to blend HLW with some sort of career in the outdoor industry. My youngest had just started kindergarten, and it was time for me to rejoin the workforce. I like to be the boss, so it was a natural transition to buy the shop and merge HLW with Basecamp. It’s been really wonderful to be able to do that.
My five-year-old said that when he grows up he wants to be the boss of Basecamp. My children spend a lot of time here, and at first I was really nervous. What are customers going to think when they come in and see these little boys running around? But it’s made our store so much more family-friendly. We have a kids climbing wall and play area. It’s brought in a lot of young families who might also be intimidated by going into the outdoors with young children and babies. My children have been that bridge to open up the outdoor community to children.
It’s given me a voice in the outdoor industry. I really struggled to find kids outdoor clothing and gear for my children that’s affordable and good quality. All of my brands that I sell, I’m always after them for quality stuff that doesn’t require taking out a second mortgage.
What do you think of the forest kindergarten movement that’s springing up coast to coast, encouraging learning in a natural setting?
Forest kindergartens are so hard to find. But I can’t think of a better way to educate your children. When I think about my dad’s outdoor experiences, they were like fishing— for food, or working on a ranch. They were all work-related. There was something from the land. He was fishing to provide food for his family. That was what they did.
Now we’re so busy and so over-structured and our children as so over-scheduled. It takes time to go into the wilderness. We have to put our cell phones away. We have to pack a lunch. Just being able to slow down as a family, disconnect, and say we are going to spend four hours cross-country skiing as a family and that we are going to keep our phones in the car. That takes time and commitment. But more and more families are trying to slow down.
Who are your biggest heroes right now, or women you especially admire in the outdoor industry?
My mom, my parents. I have to give them a lot of credit for who I am and the examples they set for me and the examples they set for my children. Just being active. Just understanding and appreciating and getting outdoors.
I also have this whole team of women who work for me, and they are normal everyday women next door. But the thing that inspires me is they get out and go. They just do it. I appreciate that they don’t seek attention or glory. They’re just hiking women who get outside and have adventures and take their friends along and are good people in their community. I really look up to them.
This post was brought to you by our pals at Gregory.
Check out Gregory’s selection of hiking backpacks that will carry you from beginner trails to bucket list peaks.