by John Soltys – As an outdoorsy father of two girls I’m often asked for tips about raising adventurous daughters. The implication is that girls are somehow inherently different than boys and require some special care to ensure they grow up loving or at least appreciating the outdoors. The truth is that when it comes to being adventurous, girls are no different than boys, except that we have made them feel different.
My oldest daughter began her life on the trail at the tender age of 16 days. Before I had returned to work from paternity leave, she was strapped to my chest in an infant baby carrier and we were venturing into the woods. The same happened for my second daughter and my son, both at 11 days. Since then, they’ve all spent hundreds of days adventuring with me including at least one backpacking trip each year.
In all that time, I have not seen any non-biological difference between my daughters and son. But before we get to that, let’s tackle two obvious anatomical differences starting with the one on your mind: Going to the bathroom. This ought to be self-explanatory, but just in case it’s not clear, boys and girls have different experiences peeing.
It took a little longer to get the system down for the girls, but now that we know, here it is:
A Girl’s Guide to Peeing in the Outdoors
- Stand on a moderate incline, facing downhill.
- Your daughter stands downhill and facing you about half an arm’s length away.
- Place toilet paper by either of her feet.
- Pants come down, all the way to the ankles.
- Clasp hands and both squat down. It’s CRITICAL that her knees are at an angle more than 90 degrees!
- Wipe. (Advanced technique: Use a pee rag. Read more at Misadventures)
- Stand and pull up pants.
- Collect toilet paper for later disposal. (Advanced technique: Hang your pee rag to dry.)
(As my girls have gotten older they don’t want to be holding Dad’s hands while they pee so they tend to hang on to a tree or a stump, but the concept is the same.)
The second biological difference is that women have a slightly different anatomy. They tend to be shorter from shoulders to waist and their hips are wider after adolescence. As a result, boy’s gear won’t always work for a girl. “Shrink it and pink it” is not a valid product design methodology.
Girls don’t need pink gear or cute designs and they certainly don’t need boy’s gear that’s just smaller. They need quality gear that is specially designed with the female anatomy in mind. Many companies offer female lines that are designed for girls and women including Columbia, Merrell, REI, Black Diamond, Deuter, and Tubbs. See Outdoor Families Magazine’s review of the best family backpacking gear to get you started.
Raising Adventurous Girls Starts With You
Now that the biological differences are dealt with let’s talk about what a father needs to do to get his daughters outside as a result of the societal “differences” our girls are faced with.
Start with the idea that girls aren’t interested in the outdoors or are more interested in “girly” activities. Nonsense. The trick with raising adventurers, both girls and boys, is never letting them think they’re not adventurers. My kids have grown up with the expectation that they will be going adventuring with me.
In our family, we tend not to brag or show off too much. My girls are even less likely than my son to talk about their accomplishments. Some studies have shown that girls are less apt to brag than boys and will encourage others to speak before speaking themselves. This has a tendency to reinforce the concept that boys are more accomplished (and therefore interested) in the outdoors.
To combat this phenomenon I actively encourage my girls to talk about what they’ve done. Not in a bragging sort of way, but to not take a back seat when the topic turns to epic adventures. How many of my daughters’ friends can say they have climbed volcanoes in butterfly storms or circumambulated Mount Saint Helens? I’d wager it’s a low number regardless of gender.
Combating Sexism In The Outdoors
Finally, the elephant in the room. The culture of sexism and objectification in the outdoors. As girls develop into women they are faced with the fact that western society has a long history of valuing women for what they look like rather than what they can do. When girls think they need to look a certain way to be valued, they can develop eating disorders, change their behaviors, and become depressed.
Unfortunately, having a father-figure tell a young daughter that it doesn’t matter what she looks like isn’t an effective strategy. It’s far more effective if it comes from strong female role models in the outdoor industry. Here are a few of the examples I’ve shared with my girls that have resonated.
Outdoor Women’s Alliance: “Through the lens of human-powered adventure, [OWA works] to inspire confidence and leadership in women of all ages, believing that confident women have the power to build healthy communities and — quite literally — change the world.” OWA has active social presences that push positive images of strong women in the outdoors as well as programs to build the next generation of female adventurers.
She Explores: “A Website for Inquisitive Women in the Outdoors, on the Road, and Besides.” Start with the website full of inspirational stories and photos and then binge on the podcasts.
Tough Girl Podcast: “To motivate and inspire women and girls to: Get fit and active, Travel and explore, Dream BIG, Turn dreams into reality, Live life to the fullest, Do more and be more” Deeply moving stories told by those that lived them. Some stories might be too honest for younger audiences.
Sisu Girls: “By showcasing strong, healthy and positive role models and sharing stories of bravery, determination and resilience, we can inspire, motivate and support girls to live courageously and reach their highest potential.” Books, digital short stories, and great social presence provides examples of strong girls and women.
The most important thing to remember is that the more you are getting outside with your kids the more they’ll want to go outside. Show them that adventuring is a way of life. Let them know how much you love it and you’ll see them adopt that attitude as well.
John Soltys is a father, a husband, and adventurer. You can find him and his family where the highway climbs into the mountains, tucked against the river, at the end of a long dirt road. He writes at moosefish.com and elsewhere on the Internet: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.