The Backpacker’s Wardrobe

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Excitement is building around Wild Wilderness Women’s backpacking trips this summer. For some, it will be their first such expedition, potentially mixing in nervousness with the excitement and raising many questions.

When someone else is doing the planning, the area you have the most control over before a backpacking trip is what you’ll wear. The clothes you bring will affect your comfort, and therefore how great a time you have. So discussing clothing seems like a good place to start in building first-timers’ confidence, whether you’re coming with us this summer or preparing for your own walk on the wild side.

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First, put REI out of your mind. But everything’s so cool! Says the excited You. But everything’s so expensive! Says the nervous You. Tell them both that those cool and expensive things are variations on just a few necessities. Over time, the backpacking wardrobe has been honed down to a standard set that applies anywhere in the continental U.S. This guide will “unpack” that set, sharing its reasoning and its options.

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1) Synthetic Underwear

Backpacking clothes are all about materials. Underwear should be made of some kind of synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc.). It wicks sweat, dries quickly, and minimizes odor. We tend to think of cotton underwear as the ultimate in comfort, but cotton is banned in backpacking, because it gets wet, stays wet, and smells. The cotton ban is particularly relevant for underwear, to prevent yeast infections. That said, I backpacked in cotton underwear for years and never got a yeast infection. The aim of this guide is to impart an attitude of intentionality, not fatalism.

–How many pairs?

One for each day, plus one or two extras. No need to get radical on your first trip!

2) Sports Bra

No complicated straps or plastic bits that might dig into you.

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3) Wool Hiking Socks

The thick toughness of these socks is absolutely necessary to keep your feet from blistering. And wool wicks moisture, which also keeps your feet from blistering.

–How many pairs?

As with underwear, there’s no need to go radical here. It’s more important not to get athlete’s foot. For short trips, you might as well bring a pair for each day. For trips of five days or more—not that you should be doing that your first trip–I’d say a pair for every two days.

Note: Some backpackers are firm believers in liner socks–specialty thin socks worn under wool socks to reduce friction. I haven’t found they make any difference, so I say one less thing you have to buy. You can always try them in the future if you get into backpacking.

4) Sacred Socks

Many backpackers bring a pair of comfy, warm socks just to sleep in. So they stay clean, these “sacred socks” are usually packed in the bottom of the sleeping bag and never leave there.

5) Camp Sandals/Shoes

Lightweight footwear to give your tootsies a rest from hiking boots. Many backpackers bring Teva-style sandals they can wear over their socks. Backless sandals or shoes are discouraged.

6) Knit or Fleece Gloves

Fingerless recommended!

7) Knit or Fleece Hat

8) Sun Hat

Baseball, bucket, or safari style, so long as it can be stuffed in your backpack.

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Rigid hats like those made of felt or straw are discouraged for two reasons. 1) The stiff brim in the back may bump against your backpack and drive you crazy. 2) The only thing to do with a rigid hat if you don’t feel like wearing it is to strap/tie it to your backpack. I encourage minimizing the number of things on the outside of your pack to keep items from getting damaged, tangled, or lost. This will also make it easier to pull on a pack cover if it rains.

9) Thermal Top and Bottoms

Think of thermals as your second skin. Their job is to insulate. Many backpackers sleep in their thermals.

Thermals come in silk, synthetic, and wool. Synthetic is ideal for backpacking, as silk can be too delicate for long-term use and wool can be too hot. But if you already own either silk or wool thermals, no need to run out and buy synthetic.

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Thermal Tops!

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Several examples of the popular thermal bottoms with shorts combo.

Note: Most of the folks in the photo above are wearing gaiters, those sheaths around their lower legs. Gaiters have stirrups that go around your hiking boots, keeping snow, sand, pebbles, etc. out of the boots. But I haven’t found them to make much of a difference, and am more comfortable without them. Unless your trip leader advises gaiters because of specific conditions, I’d say this is another item you can skip for a first trip, and test out on future ones.

10) Hiking Pants

These don’t have to be explicitly for hiking. Check the thrift stores! What you’re looking for is a tough material and a comfortable fit. Consider whether they’ll protect your legs if you’re pushing your way through bushes. You should be able to wear thermal bottoms underneath.

Note: Seriously, check the thrift stores. I’ve found Helly Hansen pants and Marmot shorts, both with the tags still on. And you’d be surprised at all the North Face jackets.

11) Hiking Shorts

These do not have to be explicitly for hiking either. Take them for a walk to make sure they don’t chafe or ride up between your thighs. Leave the shorts at home from late fall to early spring.

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Note: Pants that zip into shorts are great!

12) Synthetic T-Shirts

I used to make a cotton exception with t-shirts and you can too. But I noticed a B.O. improvement when I switched to synthetic, and the armpits don’t get holes with wear. Invisible mesh gives great breathability. Swab with an anti-static dryer sheet before your trip.

–How many?

I’d say 1 shirt for every 3 or 4 days. If that means only one shirt for the length of the trip (as it probably will on your first), then bring an extra in case you spill hot chocolate down your front.

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Note: Lots of women wear tank tops backpacking, but to give yourself the best shot at comfort (and therefore an enjoyable trip), I’d advise against tank tops, to minimize risk of your backpack straps from rubbing your shoulders. You can try tanks the next time, once you’ve decided you like backpacking come what may. Bring a t-shirt in case it doesn’t work out.

13) Fleece or Compressible Down Jacket

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14) Fleece Pants

Wear over thermal bottoms at night and/or to sleep. Leave them at home in the summer.

15) Fleece or Compressible Down Vest

If you bring a fleece vest, you should be able to wear a fleece or down jacket over it. If you bring a down vest, you should be able to wear a fleece jacket under it. (No point in bringing a down vest and down jacket, since they can’t be effectively layered.) Think of yourself as a matrioshka doll—everything’s got to nest. Leave the vest at home in the summer.

16) Rain Jacket and Pants

These should be shells, meaning not lined with any sort of insulation. That way they’ll be comfortable if you need rain or wind protection but aren’t cold. Make sure they are marked Waterproof, that they’re not just windbreakers. These are your outermost layers and should fit over everything.

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17) Hiking Boots

If you haven’t hiked in hiking boots before, or have not owned a pair you really liked, go to an outdoors store and try on an assortment of boots with a shoe department clerk. Tell him/her about the trip you’re going on. As you test different boots, describe what you’re feeling so the clerk can steer you in the right direction. Don’t be shy about taking however much time is needed and making the clerk go back and forth to the stockroom. (Go at a slow business time if possible.) If the clerk is pushing a boot that you don’t think is right, don’t settle for it just because (s)he is more familiar with boots. They’re your feet, and this is your big-money item in the backpacker’s wardrobe.

Before your trip, take your new boots for a hike or some walks on a dirt path. (Avoid wearing them down on concrete as much as possible) This will mold them to your feet and make them uniquely yours!

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In Review:

  1. Intentionality, not fatalism.
  2. Synthetics and wool are your friends. Cotton is banned.
  3. Lightweight and compressible.
  4. Be a matrioshka doll. Make sure your layers actually nest.
  5. Check the thrift stores.
  6. Set your feet up for success.

See you in the backcountry!

 

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Being a Babe

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Jamie Furlan, WWW member

Which of my many selves am I today? Am I pensive, or curious, or wild, or loud? Am I rock-solid or fluid or brazen or shy? I am all of these, at once, and others, still. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman1

To me, being a babe is about recognizing the duality of my nature and accepting it. It’s about embracing my femininity and also the fierce warrior within me – acknowledging that they can coexist in harmony, and that I am stronger because of this.

Being a babe is about nurturing my many selves and allowing myself to grow, unswayed by social norms or media images telling me I should be a different way. I can be strong; I can be soft; I can be explosive; I can be still. I can be who I want to be: I am enough.

A babe accepts herself for who she is, and moves through the world with grace.

2Being a babe is about joining with my sister warriors in community, in support of one another. For when we come together, we create a wave of positivity that carries us through the fields and the mountains and the streams, aloft on the crest of our friendship. We ride on each other’s strength, and lift each other up, and this is right and good.

Being a babe is about allowing my multitudinous selves to exist in balance. It’s about celebrating my tenderness as well as my fierceness, and making space for the full expression of my self. Being a babe is about exploring both my inner and outer worlds. It’s having the courage to look inward and confront what I find, and the courage to look outward, roam the land and forge my own path.

Being a babe is about being a strong individual and coming together with other strong individuals, and uniting in our babe-ness. It’s about finding peace within myself, and securing my place among others.

If I can have peace in my heart I can blossom and breathe life into the world. And stand tall among the other babes – we each a beautiful stem – offering ourselves to the rainbow, comprising the rainbow; complete on our own but better as a collective whole.

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If a babe bares a lithe leg in the forest but there’s no one there to see it, is she still sexy? And if she bays at the full moon but there’s no one there to witness it, is she still wild? Why – yes! A thousand times, yes. She is primal, she is alluring, she is all fierce foxy lady.

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How to be a babe:

  • Be fiercely kind
  • Confront your fears; be brave; surprise yourself
  • Be raw, be real, be free
  • Own your babe-ness: if you feel confident, you exude confidence
  • Embrace the wild woman inside you – let her come out to play

***

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What it means to be a babe, or what I learned in an afternoon yoga class

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Mia Zavalij, VP of Adventure Planning

You may be wondering why a group of adventurous, empowered women decided to call a wilderness trip to Glacier National Park “Babes off the Beaten Path.” To me, babe feels like an outdated term that was used in the late 90s to describe traditionally sexy women – I honestly don’t remember the last time I heard anyone refer to someone as a “total babe.” Nowadays, it’s occasionally used as a fun and flirty term of endearment, usually to make the request for a favor sound less so. “Hey babe, can you get the laundry?” sounds way better than, “Can you get the laundry?”

So, why then, why are we “babes?”

Well, the answer goes a little bit deeper than just using the right word for a good alliteration. And, I found my answer when I walked into an afternoon yoga class at a fancy studio in Boston. I started practicing yoga regularly to feel empowered and strong in my body, similar to the reason why I am so drawn to new challenges in the wilderness. But, when I walked into the sun-filled studio, I felt a familiar twinge in my stomach telling me that I didn’t belong.

The people filling the room seemed as flawless as the studio itself with its shiny wooden floors, perfectly placed twinkly lights, and golden Buddha statues. The outfit variety included Lululemon leggings in sleek black or eclectic prints and neon sports bras with a webbing of string that showed just the right amount through an open back Athleta top.

I wanted to cower in a corner in the back with my shabby gray tank top and my old yoga pants that were just beginning to unravel at the seams. They also have an ever-expanding hole in the left knee (note: ripped yoga pants are not yet a fashion trend, I could potentially be a trend setter). Instead, I took a good deep yogi breath and headed to a spot in the front of the room, next to the mirror, and facing a window that overlooks a bustling Boston street. I had my eye on this spot all week; if I ever wanted to even consider getting up in front of a room and teaching yoga, I had to get over the discomfort I have of people watching me practice.

It’d be nice to say that this was a life changing class, that seeing myself practice yoga made me feel like a goddess, and how now I always sit in front of the room. The truth is, I was mortified to find out that my black yoga pants stretch out to be slightly see-through in certain poses, and, in reality, some poses make me look like a Pinterest fail rather than a yoga model. But, it doesn’t really matter, because that tiny moment where I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and sit in front of the room felt more empowering than my yoga class itself.

That’s what made me feel like a babe.

We Wild Wilderness Women take pride in the accomplishments we achieve with our bodies. On each trip I go on, I am delightfully surprised by the combination of unconditional support and the hardcore challenges that we push each other to take. When I think of the word “babe,” I think of the time a group of us accidentally cross-country “skied” down a black diamond trail, misleadingly named Fern Gully, and made it out alive to laugh about it (note: we were all mainly beginners and “skied” is synonymous with “sliding down on our butts”).

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Wild Wilderness Women at White Grass Ski Touring Center in West Virginia. Photo Credit: Kelly Paras

When I think of the word “babe,” I think of the eight women who are gearing up to backpack in Glacier this summer. Some of them have never been backpacking before. Some of them are walking everywhere with weighted backpacks to train. Some are Googling and asking questions to learn everything they can, some are spending their free time fundraising to make sure the trip is accessible for everyone, and some are offering up their gear to ladies they have just met.

You may be thinking, “Oh, wow, backpacking through one of the most gorgeous parts of the country can’t really be that difficult.” But for women, backpacking isn’t always as accessible as it seems.

And that’s why we Wild Wilderness Women are babes.  We’ve decided that instead of being ashamed of our bodies, we are going to thrive in our bodies. Instead of competing with each other for the top, we’re going to help each other get there.

Instead of saying, “I don’t belong in the outdoors,” we are saying that everybody does.

Header photo credit: Sara Gassman

What is a Babe?

What is a babe?

This is the question we found ourselves asking after our group of over 40 adventurous women voted to name our annual adventure “Babes Off the Beaten Path.”

Was this setting the wrong tone? we wondered. Shouldn’t the backcountry be one of the places where a woman can truly escape from the constant barrage of societal expectations on her appearance? Can’t we be hairy and stinky and rugged and not have to worry about whether we’d be considered a babe?

I was once at an outdoor store perusing women’s apparel when I came across a display of women’s backcountry underwear. They were trimmed with lace and offered in seductive colors. The packaging read, “Technically Sexy!”yellow sun PNG

Technically sexy.

I felt so suddenly filled with rage. Really? I had to be three days unbathed and still worry about being sexy and wearing the right panties that would make me attractive to men? And that “technically” part—so that bit of lace is all that’s holding me back from being an otherwise undesired blob of unattractiveness? But, hey, all while being moisture-wicking, lightweight, and breathable, at least! Sigh.

Later, our group was discussing an article about women’s outdoor apparel where the author lamented, please stop making women’s activewear pink! 

Well, what’s wrong with pink? I thought. The point is that there should be options. We should be able to embrace the color, fabric, adventure in which we personally feel the most comfortable. This thought led me back to “being a babe.”

Maybe being a babe isn’t an objectifying thing. I contemplated. Maybe it just needs a more vocal group of advocates to speak its true definition.

As the gutsy gals of Wild Wilderness Women kept chatting about this topic, we realized just how perfect our trip name actually was. It would give us a chance to reclaim “babe.” It would give us a chance to explore its true definition. It would give us a chance to provide visual, verbal, and written evidence to the world of just how diversely bodacious being a babe really is.

In just over a month, eight of us head out for our inaugural Babes Off the Beaten Path annual adventure. We’ll be spending four days in the great wilderness of Glacier National Park—being total babes.

And, leading up to it, we’re bringing our exploration of “babe-ness” to you! Both our group’s members, and the wild wilderness women of our broader communities will be sharing their stories and art of what it means to be a babe—and we hope you’ll join us!

Interested in submitting a piece to our blog? Head over to our contact page and email us your pitch! Would you like to help our first eight babes in this August journey? Please consider giving a donation toward our trip, so that we can ensure this adventure is as accessible as possible.

Finally, make sure to check out this educational video from our Annual Adventure Maven, Allison Strauss, who has been critical in making this upcoming trip a reality. It’s a little lesson in babe-dom.

Thanks so much for following along on our wild ride—we can’t wait to hear and share in your stories!

XO—Korrin, Co-founder & President

Header photo credit: Mika Weinstein