While hiking alone on a trail, has a man ever slowed down a little when walking past you, and perhaps even brushed your shoulders ever so slightly, giving you that uneasy feeling and prompting you to look over your shoulder the rest of the way? Or how about a man on the trail who asks you one too many questions, including, “Are you alone?”
Yeah, me too.
Once while hiking alone in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains with my dog, a man trailed behind me for long enough that I became uncomfortable. I slowed my pace hoping he would pass, but he didn’t. I stepped off the trail and looked directly at him and said, “I’d like you to pass me please.” He said, “Okay, but I have enjoyed the view from behind.” I said nothing.
As soon as he passed me I pulled out my phone ready to dial 911 if necessary and headed straight back to my car. As women, our fears of other people, especially men, while recreating in the outdoors are not unwarranted.
By the Numbers
Studies support my anecdotal experiences: women are statistically more likely than men to experience verbal harassment, catcalling, unwanted touching, and unwanted following.
Numerous reports in recent years provide staggering numbers on the amount of sexual harassment in the outdoor community:
A 2016 investigative report by the Department of the Interior showed that women in the rafting industry have been the victims of sexual misconduct for years;
In a 2016 poll, Runner’s World found that 84 percent of women surveyed have been harassed while running;
A 2017 report by Outside Magazine found that 53 percent of women have been sexually harassed while recreating; of that percentage, 93 percent were catcalled, 56 percent were followed by someone, 18 percent were flashed, and 4 percent were attacked.
A 2018 special report by The American Alpine Club found that 47 percent of the 5,000 women surveyed repoted at least one incidence of sexual harassment or sexual assult behavior while engaged in a climbing activity.
I could go on because the studies and numbers are endless, but you get the point: harassment is alive and well in the outdoors. So, the question stands, how do we as women protect ourselves?
How to Stay Safe
As humans, a healthy dose of skepticism of strangers is important when you’re alone in the outdoors. It’s true that solo female activities could draw unwanted attention to yourself just for being a badass outdoorsy chick, but that shouldn’t stop you from adventuring your heart out. Here are some practical tips on how to stay safe when recreating in the outdoors alone:
1. Don’t disclose that you’re alone.
If someone starts conversing with you that makes you feel uncomfortable casually drop a hint that you’re with someone, say something like “Well, I should go catch up to my partner now.”
2. Don’t give details.
It’s also important not to give too many details to strangers about where you’re headed or what your plans are. Keep things vague and conversation short.
3. Get off the trail.
If someone is trailing behind you and it’s making you uncomfortable or nervous pull off to the side of the trail and let them pass. Pretend you’re stopping to take pictures or to get a drink of water.
4. Sleep near a group.
If you’re solo camping and nervous about being alone try pitching your tent among other campers. More people around means less chances of a creeper trying anything suspicious.
Attitude is Everything
I’ve been told that I’m intimidating more times than I can count. In social settings this isn’t always a positive thing, but when alone in the outdoors I think this works in my favor — assertive and self-sufficient women turn the creeps away. Even if being assertive and strong willed doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways that you can fake it in times of necessity.
1. Don’t be nice to people who make you uncomfortable.
This may seem strange but oftentimes being passive can be interpreted as permission. For example, you smile and nervously chuckle when someone makes an awkward comment. We might think that our demeanor is conveying how uncomfortable we are, but they might be thinking, “She’s laughing. She must be interested!”
2. Work on saying “no” and using your resting bitch face.
Being polite to a pushy dude on the trail could be seen as an invitation to tag along with you. That resting bitch face sends a “touch or or else” warning look to the creeps. If someone makes you uncomfortable and you don’t want to be around them, be stern and tell them to leave.
3. Be opinionated, independent, and wear whatever you want.
We’ve all heard the horrific assumptions that women that wear short, tight, and revealing clothes are asking to be assaulted and harassed. Just because our shoulders are showing or you have leggings on is not an invitation for the creeps. If someone makes an unwanted comment about your clothing, tell them to eff off and then be on your way.
Whenever we venture outside, proper preparedness is always necessary and will work in your favor if you encounter unwanted or dangerous attention. You should always have your cell phone easily accessible, and don’t hike with headphones on if you’re feeling uneasy. To be extra cautious consider carrying pepper spray — just be sure that you know how to use it.
Lastly, the most important tools that a woman, or anyone for that matter, has is her brain and her gut — listen to them!
Leave a comment
- Have you had uncomfortable experiences on the trail?
- What have you found to be (not) effective in preventing or stopping harassment on the trail?