How Arizona women are helping each other gain confidence in outdoor adventuring

How Arizona women are helping each other gain confidence in outdoor adventuring

By Alyssa Bickle

April 18, 2024

Two female-oriented outdoors groups in Arizona encourage women to get on the trails, and to not be afraid of doing it solo every once in a while.

Solo hiking can be considered more dangerous for women than men out on the trails—even though everyone is at risk to the elements.

For many female adventurers, the thing to avoid is not only hostile wildlife, but also men on the trails with bad intentions.

“I don’t take bear spray for bears,” said Melissa Wright, co-owner of Women Who Explore, a worldwide travel group. “I take bear spray for predators of the two-legged variety.”

Groups like Wright’s can make outdoor adventuring less dangerous for women not only by providing safety in numbers, but also by providing resources and knowledge that allows women to venture out alone with more confidence. 

How Arizona women are helping each other gain confidence in outdoor adventuring

(Photo courtesy of Women Who Explore)

Wright, who is based in Phoenix, started the business due to a lack of female friends in the outdoors. After tackling many adventures by herself, she found empowerment in the experiences.

The organization has about 110 groups with 170 ambassadors that manage the groups mostly in the US and Canada, with Arizona being one of the more active groups, Wright said. 


Exploring Arizona’s beauty

Arizona offers some of the greatest launch points to get outdoors, from the classic wonders of the Grand Canyon to hundreds of thousands of hidden gems along the way.

The state boasts 22 national park properties, 12.1 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and 34 state parks.

To help prepare women for solo adventures in these places, Women Who Explore teaches various safety classes for backpacking, camping, hiking, emergency response, and more.

RELATED: Lace up with these 14 running and hiking groups in Arizona

Another group, Girl Take a Hike, hosts weekly hikes around Arizona with the mission to empower women to get outside, explore, and feel safer while doing so.

Patricia Rosciano, an administrator with Girl Take a Hike, joined the group in 2017 to make more female friends in the outdoor space. 

In her experience, she said, joining a group can give new hikers exposure to other people who have years of experience, who are almost always willing to teach newcomers tips and skills.


Taking caution

Rosciano loves to hike solo, following a set of rules to ensure her safety—like telling her husband or friends where she is going, sharing the map of the trail with them, staying on the trail, and being prepared with supplies. 

“I don’t think a woman should be scared to hike by herself—just plan for it,” Rosciano said.

But that doesn’t always work out. She said she has abandoned hikes at the trailhead because she felt she was being watched.

This is not an uncommon sentiment—Wright said that something as simple as getting the question, “Are you out here all by yourself?” from a male passerby can be threatening.

There is a male-driven narrative of always making it to the summit of a hike, Wright said, but it’s OK to listen to a bad feeling and turn around. 

Robert Stieve, editor of Arizona Highways and an expert hiker, has a top rule for hiking in his Arizona Highways Summer Hiking Guide: never go alone, which he says carries some hypocrisy as someone who has logged many miles by himself.

That other person can be the voice of reason, another set of eyes in navigating, and an extra brain for remembering to follow important rules like bringing enough water, studying a map beforehand, being aware of surroundings, and making the decision to turn around when necessary.

About 11,000 injuries related to hiking and backpacking are reported in the US every year. Fatalities from hiking-related accidents have decreased by 63.5% since 1990, while nonfatal injuries have increased by 54.5%.

Stieve said to consider the trail as a solo hiker, and if there is going to be some authority that might be patrolling it such as in a national park. 

“Things can happen whether you’re alone or with somebody else. You’re never going to eliminate risk,” he said.


Creating a welcoming environment

Part of Women Who Explore’s mentality is creating a welcoming environment for all women—all ages, ability levels, and more—who bring all sorts of experiences to share. A recent group trip had hikers ranging from ages 24 to 75, opening a space for everybody to learn things like safety tips from one another.

Often, people grow up hiking and learn all the skills and tricks from family members, so for people who didn’t grow up that way, it’s intimidating to ask the “stupid questions” to try and learn, Wright said.

The group believes in taking adventures at a comfortable pace, and they never push someone to go solo without being comfortable first. 

“I don’t think men sometimes understand the full breadth of the scariness of being solo, and then also how empowering that can be,” Wright said. “They can do it anywhere they want; they can travel the world; they can go to any country and not have to worry about it.” 


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  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is a multimedia reporter for The Copper Courier. She graduated from ASU's Walter Cronkite School in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press.

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