REI is Challenging Gender Norms, One Adventure at a Time

Be pretty. Be careful. Be gentle. Women in our society are constantly told what we can and can't do, especially when it comes to the outdoors. The outdoors are associated with danger, physical challenges, and ruggedness. However, for women, these challenges start before we ever hit the trails.

Although the outdoors don't discriminate by gender, the industry does. Constantly underestimated in our physical capabilities, women encounter resistance when it comes to outdoor activities. It comes as a shock to people when they see a group of women hiking or camping, backpacking, or starting a fire without the help of a male counterpart; and god forbid you have a female guide when you go on a backpacking or white water rafting trip. However, REI is trying to break the trend by making the outdoors the "largest level playing field on Earth" with their #ForceOfNature campaign.

My household receives a REI catalog every month flaunting all sorts of gear we can shamelessly spend our entire paycheck on. However, this month was different. The pages of this month's REI catalog didn't contain information about new gear and the next big sale, but rather pictures of women in the outdoors with mud on their faces, sweat on their brows, and fierceness in their eyes. There were stories of female trailblazers, inspirational quotes, and statistics revealing the challenges women face in the male-dominated industry.

(Source: REI)

There's not only a lack of gender equality on the trails, but also in the stores. The industry for women's outdoor gear is plagued with the "pink it and shrink it" ideology, a common marketing tool used in manufacturing to make products more attractive to women. Although there is validity in the fact that women need different gear than men, a smaller, color-specific version is not the solution.

Comfort is important when it comes to outdoor gear, so it is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. REI is featuring gear designed by women, for women. However, it is important to note that when selecting the right gear it comes down to comfort, so there may be some men that fit better in women's gear and some women that fit better in men's gear. Regardless of your gender, having options available to all body types is crucial to everyone's success in the outdoors.

However, REI isn't stopping there. On May 6th, REI kicked-off a series of over 1,000 outdoor events designed for women that will continue through December. These events are made to introduce women to activities such as road biking, backpacking, wilderness survival, and paddle boarding. REI will also be donating a portion of its profits through this campaign to nonprofits promoting and creating opportunity for more girls to get outside.

(Author's own photo)

So whether you are an experienced outdoorswoman or have never stepped foot on a trail, this summer make an effort to get outside and challenge yourself and stereotypes.

Be fierce. Be daring. Be strong. Be a #ForceOfNature.

To read stories of female leaders in the outdoors, upcoming events near you, or more information about the campaign click here.

Cover image source: REI