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Women in the Wilderness

A few weeks ago, I was going to put together a list of my ultimate tips and tricks for outdoor adventure as a woman.  I always have friends and colleagues asking me for hiking tips after they see the handful of awesome photos I post online when I return from some adventure in the mountains.  While this is always flattering, I can hardly call myself an Adventure Expert, although I wish I could.  So, I decided to reach out to a few of the most badass outdoorsy chicks I know, who all happen to be from Canada (and better still, Alberta!) and put together one massive post which includes advice from all six of us.

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1. Ashley

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My name is Ashley, and you may know me as the voice behind this blog, Adventure To Anywhere.  I’m a mid-twenty-something who takes every opportunity I can to get outside, whether it be for a run, a bike ride, or a weekend in the mountains.  I live to inspire the people around me, and I do what I do just as much for the people in my life as I do it for myself.

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

I went on my first backcountry hiking trip as a part of a high school program when I was 17, and I was hooked.  We spent 6 days camping and hiking in Yoho National Park.  After that, I took any opportunity that came up to head to the mountains.

Yoho National Park, October 2008
Yoho National Park, October 2008

Who is your go-to hiking partner, and why?

My boyfriend, Sean, because he’s my favourite person on the planet and I’d go anywhere with him, but also his dad, Gord.  Gord is like Survivor Man.  He’s spent countless days (weeks, months) in the backcountry, mostly by himself, and through his trial-and-error process, he’s learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when you’re out in the mountains.  I feel especially safe when he’s with us.  Plus, he always brings the most delicious food.  We eat like kings and queens in the backcountry when we’re with Gord.

What originally inspired you to start hiking?

I love the solidarity of the mountains.  The past few years have been a pretty traumatic personal time for me, and the strength and permanence of the mountains have been my greatest solace throughout this time.  I love exhausting myself to get to beautiful places where nobody can reach me on my cell phone.  That, and taking epic mountaintop photos!

Buller Pass, Kananaskis, AB
Buller Pass, Kananaskis, AB

What are a few of your must-have products or gear when you’re in the backcountry?

Product – Wysi Wipes.  They’re a little tablet that expands when you add water, and they turn into a thin, disposable wipe.  They can be used to wash your face, wash dishes, wipe off equipment, or to clean up after a meal.  They’re also great for travel, I used them a ton when I was in Asia.

Gear – Hiking poles.  They don’t need to be expensive, but the poles help relieve the weight and pressure from your knees, and make hiking a much more pleasurable experience.  I never go backpacking without poles.

What advice do you have for new hikers?

Take it easy, take it slow, and invest in a few quality pieces of good gear – like the right boots, good all-weather clothing, and a well-fitting pack.  Every hiker is different – maybe you prefer long nature walks with little incline, or maybe steep ascents and sketchy scrambles are your cup of tea.  Try everything, and then pursue what you like the best.

What words of encouragement do you have for hikers who are nervous about wild animals such as cougars and bears?

I myself am very nervous about wildlife when I’m in the backcountry, so I always try to remind myself that they don’t want to see me any more than I want to see them.  Unless threatened, bears will most likely run away before you even know that they’ve spotted you.

Waterton Lakes National Park, AB
Waterton Lakes National Park, AB

Follow Ashley’s adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or on her Blog.

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2. Megan

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I’m a nature nerd. If you ever go on a hike with me, I’ll probably spout off random facts about edible plants, sweet wildlife or other cool things you can see in the area. I’m a medic too, which turns out to be pretty handy – most of my friends and I are pretty clumsy. Oh, and I should mention, my passion for adventure/landscape photography absolutely consumes all of my free time.

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

Probably since my early twenties, but I’ve had some serious issues with my knees in the past. So I took a break from running, healed up, and now I’m making up for lost time this summer. I have slept more in my tent then I have in my own bed- just how I like it!

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What originally inspired you to start hiking?

When I was little, my Mom would take my sister and I all over the mountains to go hiking and camping. It was really in those moments that I truly fell in love with the wilderness, a feeling that has stayed with me as an adult.

What are a few of your must-have products or gear when you’re in the backcountry?

For me, I am always cold… and being constantly cold can really be draining on a backcountry trip. However, I take my Nalgene water bottle and fill it with boiling water, screw the lid on and enjoy a hot water bottle whenever I need it. I trust no other water bottle- you really don’t want a leak in your sleeping bag. Also, I adore my ultralight MSR PocketRocket stove. It fits in the palm of your hand and yet is stable enough to support a large pot. Heck, I’ve even roasted hot dogs over it in a pinch!

What is your best wilderness safety tip?

Always carry bear spray. Always. Make sure you have it somewhere easily accessible too, because you may only have seconds to pull it out. The other day, I was in the middle of nowhere fly fishing when I heard a small twig snap behind me. When I turned around, there was a 300 pound black bear 4 meters behind me. Thankfully, he just walked away, but I was glad I had my spray clipped to my hip!

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What advice do you have for new hikers?

Find a good hiking partner, the people you go with can make or break your hike. I like to group people into 2 categories- the goats and the bears. The goats are the type of people that will essentially speed along and take some risks along the way (Stand way out on that ledge? They are game). The bears prefer to amble along, taking in everything as they go. Can bears and goats hike together? Of course, but sometimes it’s best to have others along too that enjoy your hiking pace. Someone who can push you, but also have patience with you is your best bet.

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What is your favourite thing about being in the backcountry?

Having a beautiful area all to yourself. I love the feeling of solitude! It’s so incredibly peaceful and you can be as goofy as you please. Do you want to strip down and jump in a lake? Go for it! Want to howl at the moon? Do it, the coyotes and wolves might just join in. It’s the ultimate freedom.

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Follow Megan’s adventures on Instagram or on her Blog.

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3. Rachel

Top of Mt.Vimy with the Waterton townsite behind me

I am a 30 year old desk jockey (about to become full time student) who is obsessed with the outdoors and being outside as much as possible. Fitness and healthy living are extremely important to me and I blog about my workouts, gear, food, and of course, my hiking.

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

I grew up on the edge of Fort McMurray, Alberta and literally had the forest as my backyard, but I really got serious about hiking in 2010, when I moved from Seattle to Waterton Lakes National Park. I’ve been exploring that park for years now.

Who is your go-to hiking partner, and why?

My dog, Rocky. I bring our pup Appollo now too, but Rocky and I have been hiking buddies for almost three years now. My husband is not a hiker and he’ll humour me with one or two a year, so I’m always going out with just the dogs.

Top of Turtle Mountain with my two hiking buddies

What is your all-time favourite hike in Alberta?

I haven’t done enough to say in all Alberta but I’ll say my favourite hike in Waterton has been Mt. Vimy for sure! You get a view of Crypt Falls on one side and look down on the town site and Bears Hump on the other. It’s amazing! And with Mt. Vimy, you can bike the first 4 miles!

Mountainbiking in Waterton

What is your best wilderness safety tip?

I would say my best safety tip is to make sure someone knows what trail you’re doing and how long you expect to be out of cell service. I always do that so if I am unavailable a couple hours after I said I would be done, my contact knows to contact someone.

What advice do you have for new hikers?

Just go!!! So many people tell me they would love to hike but the aren’t in good enough shape, they don’t have the proper gear, they’re scared of getting lost, and the excuses go on. You don’t have to cover 20 km to say you did a hike, there are plenty of 2-5km hikes that are easy, fun, and you don’t need a ton of gear (or a high fitness level) to finish. JUST GO!

What words of encouragement do you have for hikers who are nervous about wild animals such as cougars and bears?

I tell people they have a much higher chance of a car accident on the way to the mountains than they do of a cougar or bear attack. The problem is, when an attack happens, it’s plastered all over the news and scares folks. Be prepared; carry bear spray and talk while you walk to make noise. I feel really safe when I have my dogs with me, not because they would save me (because they are big wimps and wouldn’t), but they will alert me if another animal is nearby.

Winterhikes are fun too

Follow Rachel’s adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or on her Blog.

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4. Morgan

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I am the creator of the blog Beauty In The Backcountry and co-owner of the company Backcountry Beauty Essentials.  Born and raised with the Rocky Mountains as a weekend playground, I am an outdoor enthusiast that likes the girly things in life as much as summiting mountains. I started the blog to strive to inspire girls to get outdoors and push their limits while breaking down the intimidating world of backcountry sports. Backcountry Beauty Essentials was born from a personal frustration that backpacking friendly beauty products didn’t exist in the outdoor gear world.  Furthermore, there is a sense of shame for girls that try to extend their feminine ways into the backcountry. So my friend and business partner, Andrea, decided to defy that stereotype and fill the gap. Being a beauty in the backcountry extends from the beautiful places you venture to, as well as the beauty that grows from within you from pushing yourself to try new things.

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

I was pretty lucky that my parents were also backcountry enthusiasts.  There’s family photos of me on my first backpacking trip when I was around 3 years old.  Growing up, backpacking, hiking and cycling was something we did as a family.  I also attended the YMCA Camp Chief Hector for almost 10 years.  Camp was awesome as it increased my wilderness skills and confidence and allowed me to explore new backcountry sports I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. As a young adult, I realized a lot of my friends were interested in the same activities but didn’t know how to get started.  Needing friends to go on adventures with, I naturally became the trip planner and have been spreading my passion for mountain sports that my parents instilled in me.

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Who is your go-to hiking partner, and why?

This sounds cheesy, but my boyfriend Mark is always up for anything in the mountains.  He’s my adventure partner for sure.  That being said, I will hike with anyone, fast or slow, it doesn’t matter! It’s all about getting outside, getting some exercise and having fun!  Some of my most memorable hiking trips have been with my girlfriends.  There is just something about being outside, away from all distractions and having some quality time with your gals.

What are a few of your must-have products or gear when you’re in the backcountry?

Beyond the essentials (i.e. water, first aid kit), day hiking I always bring my rain jacket. Weather in the mountains can change rapidly, and weather on top of a mountain can be a different season from the valley where you started.  A rain jacket is small light weight and can help protect you from the elements when you need it. A warm, dry hiker is a happy hiker! My must-have product for backpacking is a tie between my wine bladder and Bananagrams! Hiking only takes up so much time of your day, it’s nice to have a glass of wine in the evening and win a couple rounds of Bananagrams (I’m not competitive at all).

What is your best wilderness safety tip?

Stay hydrated & dry. When I was a kid, I was told “the best place to carry water is in you”.  Your body and brain functions so much better when you are hydrated! Not only will this make hiking easier, it will help prevent headaches and keep you in positive spirits which is essential for long group trips.  Staying dry is essential, especially when it comes to backpacking.  Because you can’t always depend on there being a fire and the mountains don’t always see super high temperatures or you may be in the shade of the trees the whole time, it can be difficult to dry things out once they get wet. That means waterproofing everything and wearing rain gear when it rains.  A tip is to change out of your sweaty hiking clothes into warm dry camp clothes once you reach camp.  This keeps your sweaty clothes separate from your dry clothes and prevents your perspiration from chilling you.

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What advice do you have for new hikers?

Set yourself up for success! Choose trails that are appropriate for your skill, don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Use the proper equipment; a proper fitting backpack and hiking boots will make or break your experience.  Don’t be afraid to invest in these pieces of equipment.  Be positive! Hiking is hard, it’s surprising how tasking it is on your lungs and legs when you walk up a hill for hours, so don’t be too hard on yourself, try to remember you’re supposed to be having fun.  When you get to the top and see the view, you will forget how disgruntled you were.

What is your favourite thing about being in the backcountry?

To me the backcountry is a place where I can shut off the outside world and live in the present.  I LOVE that there is no cell service.  Not only can you disconnect but you can have uninterrupted time with your friends, time to really connect with each other.  It’s almost like a meditative experience, I’m more mindful of how my body is feeling and my surroundings.

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Follow Morgan’s adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or on her Blog.  Also, be sure to check out her awesome online store for her exclusive line, Backcountry Beauty Essentials!

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5. Joanna

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I’m Joanna, a young professional, athlete and mountain girl residing in Canmore, Alberta. I have a passion for sharing stories about my adventures and living a healthy, active lifestyle on my blog, Living Mint Green.

In my professional life, I work within the tourism and hospitality industry in marketing. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some pretty amazing media adventures at work: helicopter tours of the Rockies, moonlit snowshoeing treks with world-class photographers, playing football with the Calgary Stampeders and more.  It’s definitely a great fit for my interests, strengths and personality.

When I’m not working, I’m usually hiking, running and exploring the outdoors. I’m happiest when I’m outside and moving my body.

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

8 years. I used to be an occasional weekend warrior though. I fully embraced the lifestyle when I moved to Canmore in early 2014.

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Who is your go-to hiking partner, and why?

My boyfriend, because he’s my best friend and I love him.  I relate to his open mindedness and adventurous spirit and he is literally up for anything. Not only that, we share similar life schedules – we work 9-5’s during the week, but once Friday evening rolls around, we don’t stop moving until Sunday evening.

What are a few of your must-have products or gear when you’re in the backcountry?

-Electrolyte tablets. Mild dehydration from sweating (or even over-hydration) can lead to electrolyte imbalances. Replenishing electrolyte stores keeps you hydrated and energized.

-Hiking poles. I used to think they were for seniors or people with bad knees. It’s surprising how much they reduce fatigue!

-SCAT Belt: Holds your bear spray, keys and phone

-LifeStraw to filter out sediment if you can’t find a fresh waterfall or stream to collect water

-Advil

What is your all-time favourite hike in Alberta?

Such a tough question! I have two:

Mount Yamnuska:  You experience a little of everything on the way to the summit: hiking, scrambling, ridge walks, traversing across a cliff edge and the best part: a scree slope down the face of the mountain. This is a great hike for early/late season hiking because of it’s low altitude and the avalanche risk is next to none.

Lakeshore Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park: I’ve never experienced such a varied ecosystem in a concentrated area: the forest is constantly changing. At times, you’re surrounded by aspen trees, the next moment, you’re trudging through thick ferns and thimbleberry bushes. There’s a plenitude of secluded beaches and swimming holes to explore along the way. Not only that, the peace park is shared with Glacier National Park. At the end of the trail, you can take a boat back to the Waterton townsite from Goat Haunt, Montana or continue hiking further into Glacier National Park.  It’s pretty cool that you can walk from Canada into the United States and claim you’ve hiked in two countries within the same day!

What is your best wilderness safety tip?

Don’t risk your safety just for a photo op. Instagram has been influential in boosting tourism within the mountains and too often,  people lacking mountain safety and experience will put themselves in dangerous situations to capture a cool shot for social media. Ie. climbing into ice caves, mountain caves, or attempting hikes and climbs that require meticulous technique.

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What advice do you have for new hikers?

-You’re going to feel really out of shape, possibly discouraged and question your sanity.  But that’s how you’re supposed to feel! Hiking isn’t easy. The great news is, over time, you’ll become stronger and more resilient. Take as many breaks as you need and focus on one step at a time.

-Don’t hike in running shoes! You need hiking shoes with proper grip and support otherwise you’re probably going to end up injured and blistered. Salomon and Merrell are great brands who make cross-over trail running/hiking shoes. (In fun colors, which is ultimately what we gravitate towards, right?)

-Cross train, strength train and stretch. You will become a much stronger adventurer/athlete/person who is better equipped at handling strenuous activity (and life).

Best strength moves: Weighted squats and lunges, dead lifts, push ups, planks and weighted crunches

Stretches: Pigeon, supine butterfly, or just go to yoga

What is your favourite thing about being in the backcountry?

The sense of total freedom and connection. It’s where you go to plug INTO life.

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Follow Joanna’s adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat (@livingmintgreen), and on her Blog.

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6. Melissa

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We are a Mother/Daughter duo who love to explore everything outdoors. Backpacking, hiking, paddling, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, winter camping, we do it all for the pleasure of being outdoors together and hoping to inspire others to do the same!

How long have you been experiencing backcountry hiking and/or camping?

I have started backpacking and hiking as a teenager with my parents, but my daughter revived the love I had for the outdoors and we now have been doing it together since she was a few months old. She is now 5 years old.

Who is your go-to hiking partner, and why? 

My go-to hiking partner is of course my 5 year old daughter, who not only inspires me with her desire to learn and explore but as she gets older she is also there to push me when times get hard. We are such a good team and we inspire each other.

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What originally inspired you to start hiking? 

I wanted to show my daughter that there was such a beautiful world outside of the now common indoor activities. I wanted to raise her to be a strong independent girl with a love for nature and so far I’ve done a great job. 😉

What are a few of your must-have products or gear when you’re in the backcountry? 

Because I do everything with my girl my must have items are mostly safety related. My safety kit comes wherever we go. My number one item is my inReach. It is so nice to have a backup security plan. The SOS button is a piece of mind for me. I also love my Ghost whisperer Mountain Hardwear down jacket. I get chilly easily and use it on EVERY trip!

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What words of encouragement do you have for hikers who are nervous about wild animals such as cougars and bears? 

Even with all the time I spend outdoors I still get nervous about wildlife and I think that is a good thing. We have had encounters but it always turned out positively. Get well educated and carry proper tools such as bear spray.  Go out and play, the world is too beautiful to pass on!

What is your favourite thing about being in the backcountry? 

Everything! The last time we were out in the backcountry I woke my girl up at midnight. We hiked to the lakeside and laid down in the grass. We watched the meteor shower while hearing the glacier calving. What an amazing experience that was.

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Follow Melissa’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on her Blog.

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Who is your go-to hiking partner?

What are your backcountry must-haves?

What are your ultimate backcountry tips that you like to share with others?

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.

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