5 Things You Already Do That Make You a Female Outdoor Leader

By Annalise Grueter

Oct 19, 2015

 The author looking out at the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado from 13,931 Mount Adams

The author looking out at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado from Mount Adams at 13,931 feet. Photo by Ryan Richardson.

Backpacker magazine recently posted this piece online touching on the fact that, regardless of outdoor experience, their female readership were less likely to view themselves as leaders than their male readership, and that needs to change. We agree.

Here are just a few things many women already do that make them leaders in the outdoor activities they love. If you think you’re not an outdoor leader, take a look, you might surprise yourself!

1. Own Your Talents

woman looking confident while steering a keelboat sailing boat in the PNW 
Looking confident while steering a keelboat sailing boat in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Ben Lester.

Are you really, really good at layering to stay warm when you are winter camping? Excellent at picking a line on a ski slope or down a rapid? Do you make mind-blowingly delicious cookies for trail-food? Acknowledge the areas in which you are strong, and practice sharing those strengths with your friends, both male and female. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but it’s easy for women to err on the side of being excessively humble. When you do something well, own it!

2. Build Your Skills

Elizabeth geeking out about Weminuche Wilderness maps.
 Tracing routes on maps. Photo by Annalise Grueter.


There are so many ways to do this. This could mean anything from going to pool clinic after pool clinic until you finally perfect that kayak roll, puzzling at a climbing gym wall until you master it, or dialing in the habit of checking on your partners’ well-being and your orientation or location with a map. Practice feeds passion (raise your hand if you’ve ever geeked out about building a one-match fire…)

3. Ask for Help

group of women taping up to climb in Cochise Stronghold
A group of NOLS instructors tape up to climb at Cochise Stronghold in Arizona. Photo by Jessica Fuller.


You don’t have to know everything to be a leader. It’s okay to feel uncertain about whether that spot on the topo map is a ridge or a valley. The important thing is to ask for help, whether you ask a rockstar female mentor or your brother or a significant other. We all have different strengths and asking for support is an important leadership skill!

4. Cultivate Inspiration

Be inspiration- a woman looking epic while mountaineering in India.
Mountaineering in India. Photo by David Anderson.

While it’s great to admire Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Chris Davenport, and other pioneering men, there are more role models out there. We can look to ladies like NOLS alumna Kit Deslauriers, first person to ski the Seven Summits, or to mountaineers Melissa Arnot or Christy Mahon. We can marvel at teenage climbing prodigy Ashima Shiraishi.

There are growing numbers of well-known outdoorswomen out there, and all we have to do is search the Internet for dozens of incredible outdoor resumes and backstories. These women aren’t just great—there are timelines behind how they became great, quotes and skills and passions we can observe and emulate. Just as we’re inspired by these women, we also have the potential to inspire our family and friends.

5. Geek Out!

ladies enjoying snow travel on 13, 823 "Lackawanna" in Colorado
Ladies enjoying a day of snow travel on 13, 823 "Lackawanna" in Colorado. Photo by Ryan Richardson.


There is beauty in being unabashedly excited about your favorite things in the outdoors. How better to empower each other and ourselves as women in wild places than by talking about it? Take a second to think about a time that a rockstar lady you admire got really excited about sharing anything with you—a favorite book or fishing hole or trail run or heck, Taylor Swift single. Enthusiasm is infectious. By getting excited about your passions, whether you are an expert or a novice, you’re being a rockstar female leader.

See NOLS courses for women and girls

Written By

Annalise Grueter

Annalise is a hiking fanatic and avid cloud-watcher. She is an alumna of NOLS Himalaya Backpacking Spring 2013 and was a Curriculum and Publications intern at NOLS. Her passions include cross country skiing, baking, trail running, backpacking, and calculating hiking times. She has taken several friends up their first 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado and looks forward to building her technical climbing and winter camping skills.

Up Next