In Celebration of the All-Girl Crew (& Why We Need ‘Em)

You don’t have to sing Disney songs and pull goofy faces at the camera when you’re out with your girls. I usually don’t. But, on this day, it just so happened that that’s what Maria and I felt like doing.

With no one around to make fun of our display, we didn’t think twice.

It wasn’t often we got a chance to hang out without the guys around. We were usually on a climbing trip in Ouray or Moab, two of maybe three (if that) girls in the group. But today, without any guys around, a different feeling settled over our hike.

Benefits of all-women outdoor groups
A tiny time out from summits and skiing for smiles.

The way we interacted with both the outdoors and with each other changed. We waited for each other, spoke up when something seemed amiss, decided on the route equally, and laughed — a lot.

It’s not that these things didn’t happen here and there when we were with our guy friends, it’s just that — well, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but back then, I just didn’t speak up as much and generally deferred to the guys.

Unfortunately, for many women, deferring to the guys is still very common in co-ed groups — not just in outdoor situations but across the board. 

What gave me the courage to speak up in co-ed groups? It wasn’t simply that I “toughened up” (which I often heard said half-jokingly to girls in various co-ed groups). It was working through situations when I was out with my girl crew.

Women tend to share leadership instead of assuming the alpha position. In these all-women environments, I learned that my opinions were valid and my insight was valuable. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and I wasn’t afraid to suggest solutions.

This is because I wasn’t afraid to be myself.

Benefits of all-women outdoor groups
Taking a rest day from ice climbing for some serious work. Photo: Caveman Collective

Clearing the trepidation of speaking up increased my confidence and leadership ability in situations outside of my all girl crew. In fact, it went beyond adventure sports entirely.

Claire Shipman, co-author of The Confidence Code, says:

“Something happens when girls play sports — they embody the experience of not just of winning, but the critical experience of losing. It’s that process of carrying on and clearing hurdles that really builds confidence. It’s an incredibly useful proving ground for business and leadership.”

Now, unless we’re in a comp or race, generally, adventure sports don’t have “winning” and “losing.” But in them, we do set personal goals, follow others’ lead, and attempt summits. We don’t always succeed. What we take from that follow right in line with Claire’s words.

And participating in sports with an all-female group doubles the benefits. This will sound like a sweeping generalization but after hearing something similar from hundreds of women over the past ten years, it tends to ring true for many of us: On a broad, foundational level, we understand each other’s approach to problem solving, inherently know how to encourage each other, and feel more comfortable taking risks in front of each other.

Barbara Coots, in her piece “At the intersection of gender, outdoor recreation, and environmental leadership” talked about her surfing experience in her home state of Washington:

“If I want to attend an all women’s surf camp, I’d have to go to Oregon. If I want to participate in an all women surf competition, I’d have to go to Tofino, B.C. This is not because Washington is lacking in women water athletes, it’s because we are looking for supportive communities […]

“There are many reasons women have to carve out their own spaces in recreation and environment, the primary one of which is because we aren’t being supported in all-male spaces. That’s really unfortunate, because girls who play sports are more likely to graduate from college, find a job, and be employed in male-dominated industries.”

Benefits of all-women outdoor groups
Celebratory moment during an Outdoor Women’s Alliance ice climb. Photo: Caveman Collective

It’s not just anecdotal references, either. Though researchers may be conflicted on the reasons why, studies are showing that women actually do learn better in all-female environments.

I’ll never scrap my guy friends. There’s a lot to be learned from both sides of the coin. But the confidence, leadership, and understanding of my value in group situations both inside and outside of sports comes directly from the validation I found from learning outdoors when I was with a group of girl friends.

And that discovery is something we should be sharing — and celebrating — regularly with our outdoor sisters.   

You can be the solution.

If you’ve discovered empowerment through the outdoors as a woman, or have seen its benefits first hand and believe more women should have access, Outdoor Women’s Alliance has a way to help you be part of this movement. Our regional teams currently serve over 8,000 members through clinics, events, and backcountry outings. However, there is more we can do. Within our larger community of 230,000 worldwide, many women fall outside team regions. We receive regular requests to expand into new areas and want to offer the benefits to all.

To answer this need, we’re creating an online program that women can use to connect, grow skills, and build in-person communities right where they are with all the same benefits of our regional teams — worldwide.

To find out more and to join the effort with your donation, visit: https://www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/outdoor-women-in-your-community

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.