After finishing Best Tips for Women Dayhikers by Diane Spicer, creator of HikingForHer.com, we sat down with the author to pick her brain about hiking, being a lady, and the intersection between the two. Her thoughtful and insightful answers surprised us, in a good way.
Q: Best Hiking Tips for Dayhikers is a dense book! What are your top areas of research suggestions for new hikers?
A: The first few trail experiences will make, or break, future hiking plans. So if you’re starting out as a hiker, I recommend that you pay attention to just two things: what’s on your feet, and what you eat.
Here’s why. You will want to get back on the trail again if your first few hikes go well. But if you get blisters or have to be dragged back to the car by your trail buddy because your energy level crashed, you’ll be less likely to plan another hike.
Think of the book as helpful advice for surviving that early phase of falling in love with the trail, including two important concerns: feet + eat.
Q: Why did you created Hiking for Her?
A: I started the Hiking For Her website in 2008 as a place to organize my thoughts about hiking. The underlying motivation was to give back to females what was given to me as a teenager in a Girl Scout troop: the knowledge, skills and encouragement to hit the trail in safety and comfort.
With a background in education and science, I’m trained to give details, examples, and lots of facts so it was no surprise when the website began to grow into hundreds of pages.
Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when I started getting emails telling me I had created a useful resource for hikers. I thought I had been talking to myself all these years!
Q: What makes the experience different for female versus male hikers?
A: To make a huge generalization, in my experience women approach trail time through their thoughts and emotions. Guys tend to tackle the trail through brute force and goals.
Here’s an example from my own hiking experience. When I am having a tough time on a difficult section of trail, I acknowledge that my legs feel like cement and I can’t get a full breath. What do I do? I stop and rest. I spend that time looking around at the rocks and pine needles, appreciating the fresh breeze, tuning into what the trail offers.
What does a male hiking partner do? He powers through, forging ahead and then waits for me to catch up (because I carry the food sack!).
The pacing, both physical and mental, is different between genders. I’m not saying the male pace is wrong and I’m right, just that we approach the trail differently. And here’s the irony: he ends up getting longer rest breaks than I do!
Another thing I’ve noticed: Female hikers have better balance on the trail, for example on a slippery log crossing over a rushing stream. Maybe it’s because of our hip-knee angles? Men, on the other hand, demonstrate the admirable ability to maintain a steady pace over longer periods of time, probably because they have more muscle mass.
So the take home message for a woman hiker? Pick your male trail buddies carefully. Put them through a trial (trail?) period to see if you’re a good match, just like you would with any other long term relationship. Don’t be afraid to speak up if things aren’t working out.
Q: Is your book for experienced hikers as well?
It’s hard for me to untangle what a beginner hiker needs, as opposed to a more experienced hiker. After 5 decades of hiking, maybe I have included some advanced tips. I’m not sure. But I’ve heard that the book is being used as a resource as hikers of all ability levels AND both genders. So my plans for an advanced hiking tips book are on hold for now until I get more feedback from readers.
Q: Tell us about your favorite hike of all time.
You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true: I don’t have a favorite hike.
I know why you ask, because it’s fun to hear about hikers who categorize one particular hike as a peak experience, the best of all time.
For me, every hike has its beauty, its lessons, its ability to reward me with peak outdoor experiences. So with your permission, I’ll morph the question into favorite categories of hikes.
Let me give you an example.
Picture this: A soggy, chilly August day in the Canadian Rockies. I’m trudging along in wet boots and foggy glasses, with a fierce desire to hold a hot cup of tea in my hands. Alas, another mile or so back to base camp. Then I notice a smashed down, fairly wide trail through the brush and undergrowth. I yell to my trail buddies to slow down, and we track the grizzly bear trail to where it ends beneath a gigantic fir tree. No bear (thankfully), just lots of tracks, scat and signs that pointed to a heavily used place to bed down. That, to me, was a peak hiking moment with a big lesson: Pay attention and make space for discovery at every step along the way during a hike.
Q: Give us your dayhike bucket list.
A: Ha! You’re a mind reader. I have a Pinterest board with all of the places I want to hike, including Patagonia, north east Iceland, and the highlands of Scotland. I’ve also got some plans for Canadian hiking adventures in the Yukon. These are not places that are easy to arrange a dayhike from Seattle (my home town). My plan is to find a base camp and do serial day hikes in each place.
My U.S. day hike bucket list includes anywhere in New Mexico, and exploring the Olympic Peninsula in my backyard (Washington State).
Q: What is your top piece of advice for non-hikers who want to get into the sport?
A: My heartfelt advice is this.
You already know how to walk. You already have footwear, a jacket, and probably a backpack or bag that you can use to carry food and water. So don’t be held back by finding the “right” hiking gear.
Locate a short hiking trail near you that speaks to your soul, with a destination that you can enjoy: a waterfall, a lake, forest, or an overlook. Don’t judge yourself about your pace, how out of breath you may be, or the way your legs feel after the first mile.
There are lots of experienced hikers who want to share tips with you, myself included. Read those tips and then get out there and hike!
Q: And finally, why hike?
A: For me, hiking is the only way I’ve learned to connect with myself, my environment, and other people without having to join a club, play by the rules, or live up to expectations. A hiking woman is a wild woman, in the best sense of that word.
Hiking is also a great way to do something important for all four aspects of self: physical fitness, mental relaxation, spiritual connection, and emotional renewal.
So why hike? Because it gives me time and space to be “off the leash” and to check in with myself. I wildly recommend it!