The outdoor scene has seen a change in the 21st century. There are growing communities of women in every corner of the globe who are confident and capable, leading the charge in their chosen outdoor fields and sowing the seeds of adventure for generations of girls to come. We’re proud to call some of these fierce, female role models Brand Ambassadors, and in talking to them, we discovered a few common themes: there is strength in community, there is power in self-belief, and there is freedom in losing your fear of failure. In this 4-part series, we’ll introduce you to 4 women who have made a life out of outdoor adventure. Cristina Simpkins is a Canadian Adventure Guide, spending half her year in New Zealand’s South Island, and the other half in BC, Canada. Cristina and her partner, Ben run Yoho Adventures and NZ Single Track Adventures, leading backcountry tours by foot and by mountain bike, guiding anyone from seasoned outdoors-people to complete newbies.
What are the challenges that are unique to women in your area of outdoor expertise?
Cristina: I’d say most challenges are what you believe them to be, what you tell yourself. It starts in the mind. You can always find reasons within yourself based on fear that will hold you back from taking that step into a challenge. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can do, if you just let yourself overcome the fear and rise to the challenge.
Physically, at the start of taking on week long wilderness missions and mountain biking, I used to freak myself out with what could go wrong, that I wouldn’t be strong enough. But after just allowing myself to go and to trust – I entered into a new world of just how capable I was. Of course it’s hard work and sweat and you’ll be challenged, but soon enough those challenges become like and addiction and you seek the next big mission, summit or multi day trip.
I think women in general are good at comparing themselves – its part of human nature but women especially seem to compare more than men do. We get caught up in our heads with being able to keep up, be strong enough emotionally or physically and we allow that to rule our decisions or hold us back.
How do you overcome these challenges?
Cristina: Overcoming these challenges takes place the more you put yourself out there, and go on adventures. Go challenge yourself, ride with the boys, strap on that backpack – load it up and feel the burn. Embrace the feeling of nature and the wilderness kicking your butt. It keeps you humble, feeling alive and allows you to overcome a lot of emotional barriers. My breakdowns have always been from the mind, getting into my head about how hard the next few hours are going to be, as alpine scrub whips me in the face when I’m on the final countdown until a greasy burger.
Do you think it’s more difficult for women to take part in outdoor activities than it is for men?
I think it’s very easy for women and it’s encouraged that women take part in outdoor activities. I believe the outdoor industry is such a healing space for women to overcome and feel empowered by their strength and capabilities, if they just allowed themselves to do more of it.
Now a day’s there are so many outdoor communities, groups, women’s only riding camps, skills retreats, adventure tours etc that make it easy for women to join in the fun without the pressure of being around males – it’s just a matter of making the commitment and letting go of the mind to experience the great outdoors and all it has to offer.
Is there a strong community of female adventurers that you feel part of?
Cristina: Due to the nature of running wilderness trips, I am often living in remote areas of BC or on the road around the South Island. So unfortunately I don’t have a strong community of female adventurers. It’s one of the challenges of my lifestyle as an adventure guide, but I feel strongly connected to my clients and females that join us and share the challenges with me when we’re out in the wilds together. My community is pretty worldwide in that respect, and I often visit my fellow female adventures when travelling – I am grateful for that!
How can other women tap into these communities?
Cristina: I would suggest joining local women’s groups, hiking groups, bike groups and start going out on rides, hikes, paddles – start making friends with a tribe who share the same passion for the outdoors. Find someone who is better than you at the activity you’re interested in, and go outside with them. Follow them, see where they go and join in the challenge with them. All great outdoors people started somewhere, and they’re usually stoked to share the magic with someone new. I started by following a crazy Kiwi Mountain man through the Southern Alps, and he’s taught me everything I know today in the outdoors, and continues to. I learned a lot by following and letting go of my mind.
How do these communities continue to grow, and inspire more women to embrace outdoor adventure?
Cristina: I see more and more women’s only adventure tours and groups that are doing some awesome missions together. Women who share in outdoor pursuits, who sweat together, who cry together tend to create a special bond, and then that evolves into “Where are we going next”. I love it. I think a lot of the growth comes from other women sharing their experiences and then encouraging others to join them. Facing a challenge inspires me to take on the next one. If we can just share that feeling more with others, the mountains may become full of wonder women.
Are there women you’ve been inspired by in the adventure community?
Cristina: Yes for sure, I am continually inspired, especially by female mountain bikers. To me, mountain biking is such an intense and technical activity, that I’m wowed by female enduro riders like fellow Canuck, Casey Brown. Kiwi women who inspire me are Heather May, a mountaineer who has summited some super gnarly peaks in the Southern Alps, and adventure racer Sia Svendsen .
I am also inspired by the women who join us on our MTB Trips and Hiking trips, as they rise above their minds and fear – they are amazing women who just need that extra nudge. Most women on our trips have inspired me in some way; be it how to let go of my brakes more, how to manage 3 kids and a professional job and still summit peaks – it shines a light back onto what my own challenges are.