Hiking is a challenge – of course many of us reading this already know this by heart and experience. But for us women, hiking comes with extra challenges that are unique only to us.
From staying safety to being the topic of dirty jokes- this article hopes to bring to light some issues and concerns we, women, have to additionally endure in the toughest of terrains. As simple as they may sound, we carry these concerns like additional weights in our backpacks but do not let them impede us on pursuing our dream summits.
Hopefully, presenting these concerns not only raise awareness, but also inspire actions to have more women-sensitive trails, and hiking behavior, especially now that more women are going to the mountains.
Our first and foremost concern is safety. When I say this- it is more than the “buwis buhay” trails that borders on nothing but death, but the threat of “human predators” and creeps. It is a subconscious fear that lives within us women: that in every dark corner or those places with few people- there is always the possibility of someone (usually male) going to attack us. This is the reason not so many of us can hike alone, or go on in a hike with new people by ourselves.
During my first solo hike, my guide was a very nice guy who silently led me to a particular island’s highest point. No matter how nice he was though, there was a point during the hike when I was seized by a fear that this bolo wielding man can do anything he wanted with me in the forest, if he decided to. It was not a nice feeling and it lessened by enjoyment of the trail. I felt bad all the more because I was having bad thoughts about a good person. But this is how it is to be a woman- no matter how strong and independent you think you are. The fear will always be there hovering inside the mind.
Recommendation: For women hiking alone, it will be good to hire a woman guide if you think that will be more comfortable for you. If you are a participant in a group, you may pair-up with a buddy you trust.
For trail managers: it is best to balance the number of women and men guides so that women hikers have a choice.
To the men: We are sorry if we feel threatened by your presence sometimes. We can’t help it; since the dawn of times, there have been many assaults made by men to women. This feeling of threat may have already ingrained itself in our DNAs so that we take more precaution for the survival of our group.
Red Days + Hygiene
That time of the month is definitely a major, major concern for women that some just skip a hike whenever they have their periods. For those who push through, the red days mark a time of more suffering, and inconvenience on the trail.
First of all, it hurts when we have our periods- sometimes we have trouble knowing where. It makes us feel sluggish and fatigued, have headaches, nausea, and bouts of menstrual cramps which to me feels like having my insides ripped. It is a monthly torture where some can really be bed-ridden for a few days because of it.
Second, unluckily having a period on hike is very inconvenient. Without much access to water and a washroom, hygiene becomes a problem. We might not show our concern because we do not want to be labelled as “maarte”, but we cringe in silent helplessness worrying about how to clean ourselves especially during long hikes. Additionally, we have to add extra things to our already packed bags to solve our hygiene problems.
Recommendations: When someone backs out of a hike because she is having her period, be more understanding. The inconvenience we can overcome, but sometimes, it is hard to overcome the pain the red days bring.
On the trail: don’t make a joke out of someone suffering from her period. Don’t laugh at us and please be more patient with us during these times. Physically, we will not be on our best hiking self so we will be hiking slightly slower; we might also get more emotional so bear with our dramas, and our bouts of anger.
For trail managers: it will be nice to have a small outhouse near established campsites. A simple covered wooden stall where women can do their personal business will definitely do and be a lot of help.
For the women: be sure to bring down your trash. Leave no trace principle still applies to us even in the most inconvenient of times.
Dirty Jokes and talks with sexual content
We value the company of men during hikes- it offers other perspectives on things that women do not see and in other times, it makes us feel safer. However, when men gather and talks steer on the dirty jokes, we feel uncomfortable. When the conversation starts to involve another woman, we feel violated as though we, ourselves, are the topic. We can laugh about it with the guys, but the truth is, in those times we feel disrespected too because women have a connection with other women. We understand each other’s joys and pains, so we feel upset when you disrespect other members of our team.
Recommendation: For the guys who are with us, please know when your jokes are getting overboard. Be sensitive to the effects of your words. It might sound fun but it might already be offensive.
Discrimination on the trail often involves belittling the abilities of women sometimes through jokes and in other times, when showing “concern”. Below are two examples I have experienced:
Once I overheard someone saying that they finished a hike later than usual because of the women in the group. “Marami kasing mga babae eh” (there are too many women). Although it was said as a joke, it is easy to take offense. And I believe any woman who hears such will do.
Discrimination can also be hidden beneath some comments. In rigorous ascents, for example, or in muddy and slippery trails, I often hear such words as “naku, mahihirapan ang mga babae dito” (women will find this trail difficult) when in reality, even the men are having difficulties.
Recommendation: Easy on the words, guys! We know that men are stronger than women physically (most of the time but not always!)- that is why we double our efforts to prepare ourselves before hikes. If you are truly concerned for our safety, be concerned not because you see us as lesser beings that are weaker that you, but because we are hikers who are experiencing the same challenging trail you are facing.
PS: Other women may have more issues and concerns I missed in writing this. Speak up so that we can have better experiences in the mountains!
Pat Labitoria is an environmentalist, mountaineer, and trail runner.