Trail Hazard for Female Hikers: Mansplaining

'Backpacker' editor Zoe Gates recounts the frequent condescension
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2021 4:00 PM CDT
Trail Hazard for Female Hikers: Mansplaining
   (Pexels/julie aargaard)

It may as well be on the checklist for female hikers gearing up for a trek—the knowledge that somewhere along the trail, some guy, even a well-meaning one, is liable to explain in condescending manner the ins and outs of trail life. At Outside, Zoe Gates—who just happens to be an editor at Backpacker with a focus on skills and survival content—recounts her most recent such run-in. She and two female friends hiked to a Colorado lake on a windy, rainy day, where they met two men in their 60s who invited them inside their tent to get warm. That gesture of hiker friendliness was welcome. The subsequent barrage of questions from the men, not so much. They clearly thought the women were unprepared, even after learning that Gates worked for Backpacker and one of her friends for Outside. Apparently, their grave sin was being without rain pants (a deliberate choice).

“We ought to write letters to your bosses at Backpacker and Outside and let them know how unprepared their employees are," one of the men joked. "Their condescension put a damper on an otherwise great day, even more so than the rain," writes Gates. "It was far from the first time some aspect of outdoor life had been 'mansplained' to me. But it was a revelation into how other people—particularly men—view me on the trail, regardless of my recreational or professional accomplishments." It's time for people to stop making snap judgments about other hikers' abilities, particularly when it comes to "women and hikers of marginalized identities," she writes. The constant annoyance might be enough to drive people off the trail. And if this kind of treatment can happen to someone who gets paid to be a hiking expert, "it can happen to anyone." (Read the full essay.)

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