Girl power in the great outdoors

Sometimes it’s a better adventure with only the girls along (in this adventurer’s opinion).

I love my man – and I very much enjoy his company on our many outdoor adventures. But. (There is always a but!)

On some occasions, the company of only women when walking, kayaking, cycling, openwater swimming or running is very appealing.

There is, I find, a difference between outdoors pursuits with guys, or in mixed groups, and with other girls only.

Some of the benefits include:

Girls’ talk: The chat that I enjoy in a women-only group is different from men’s talk. I would go so far as to say it is better (although, I do still relish a good one-to-one chat with my partner). When women are on their own they mull over life, get to the end of stories, exchange female sympathies and generally feel at ease chatting among their own kind.

Relaxed camaraderie: In a female-only group I have noticed there is far less competition. I have experienced several navigation and map reading courses and the women-only courses are more discussion-based, empathetic and far less competitive.

Great common sense: Not all men are full of bravado but a great many are. On a day out walking or cycling I have sometimes been cajoled to “just reach the top of the mountain even in difficult conditions” or “push on for the final 30 miles of tough riding”. In an all-female group, it is far likelier than the consensus of opinion will be the commonsense route, that is, to turn back from the top of a hill because of the weather.

Like-minded people: Women understand women. They know how to empathise and are better readers of emotions. I am generalising here but this is my experience of the average woman. Being able to look after each other makes for a much better outing.

Learning together: I have enjoyed a range of outdoors learning courses and I always find it easier to pick up information and add to the conversation in a female-only environment. I am less afraid of sounding silly.

Lots of laughs: In women-only groups it is easier to laugh with, and kindly at, each other. Being able to laugh and have a sense of humour is a huge aid on an outdoors adventure.

Group will: Women together can be very encouraging. We like to see each other doing well and as a group this can prove to be a great advantage when trying to reach a goal.



The rise of women-only outdoors courses

Outdoors instructor Rosie Goolden has witnessed a growth in demand for women-only courses as a natural part of increasing numbers of women spending time outdoors.

She said: “It’s fantastic how popular the women-only courses have become and it’s great to see so many women embracing outdoors adventures.”

In Rosie’s experience the women that inquire about female-only instruction believe “rightly or wrongly” they will feel more comfortable working and learning among single-sex groups.

She said: “It’s not that we’re male-bashing in any way but what does appear to be true is that women seem to thrive and learn more in outdoors activities, such as navigation, climbing and winter mountaineering skills, without the guys around.

“I find women are usually much more relaxed without the men. They enjoy a less competitive atmosphere and they offer a lot more support to each other.”

Lynne, a lawyer, has enjoyed a women-only navigation course. She believes that discussion is easier in female-only groups. She said:   “When it was my turn to lead the group of all women on a set course I still felt I wanted to discuss my decision.

“We chatted it through without anyone being possessive of the map and without any arguing. It was so different to the times I’ve spent with men on the hills. The day out in the hills was easy-going, friendly and non-competitive.”

For Judi, a maths teacher, the “unexpected encouragement, inclusiveness and camaraderie” experienced on a women-only climbing day has led to three other climbing and mountaineering courses.

She said: “Before I discovered women-only courses I had attended numerous mixed group mountaineering sessions but I always felt the pressure of competition and uneasy bravado. I did learn new skills and I did enjoy myself but I never had as much fun as when it is with only the girls.”

Some instructors believe that women and men learn in different ways. While women might look at a map and visualise landmarks, men are more formulaic in their map reading and tend to prefer the system of grid references.

Research about gender difference in spatial awareness confirms this, so it can be helpful to teach in all-female and all-male groups.

In defence of men

No one is bashing the guys. As I said, I enjoy my outdoors time with my partner and with lots of male friends. But there is definitely a place and time for women-only adventures.

Janie Andrews, of outdoors company GlenTrek, said: “We lead hills navigation courses and they feel quite different if it is a mixed group compared to a women-only group.

“There is nothing untoward in this and everyone enjoys the courses. I think that it is also a perception thing, in that many women believe that outdoor activities with men will be testosterone-fuelled or too competitive.

“But once women have tried a few courses and learned to navigate effectively they realise that it’s about the people, as much as the genders.”

It’s only fair that my partner, Gordon, also has his say. He tells me: “I like to walk with people who are keen on the outdoors and I enjoy the company of both men and women.

“However, there is a time when I like male-only groups, too, because the chat and type of trip is different. So, I guess, I can see that women might also like to walk on their own, although I think I would prefer not to be the only man in that situation!”

Women-only courses and events

Women-only courses with Talisman Activities

Breathing Space Outdoors at www.breathingspaceoutdoors.com

Walking Women offers women-only walking holidays.

Check out Ski Like a Woman for Scottish centres that offer women-only courses.

Belles on Bikes offer group rides in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Coast 2 Coast can arrange all-girl surf classes. Also look out for female surf tours.

Women’s Sea Kayak Festival takes place August 23 to 25 at Ettrick Bay on the Isle of Bute. Enjoy the company of female coaches, guides and paddlers.

Ride Like a Grrrl is a mountain bike challenge on September 27 somewhere, not too far from Aviemore, but the exact whereabouts is “hush hush” at the moment. Keep an eye on the website.

Macmillan Cycletta Scotland is a women-only cycle event with a choice of route distances in Perthshire on October 5.



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