Women now a strong presence in the outdoors

Luckily, for both genders, this attitude is rapidly slipping into oblivion. Today, there are female forest rangers, EnCon officers and fire jumpers. Women now rate highly as hunting and fishing guides, two pursuits considered the bastions of traditional guided adventures.

Women are also leading trips for whitewater rafting, ski touring, backpacking, rock climbing and ice climbing. They form the core of wilderness education programs and represent nearly 72 percent of the membership of the National Association of Interpreters, a professional organization of certified naturalists. Women now constitute the majority of instructors teaching the next generation about the out of doors.

Women have more opportunities today to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for wilderness adventures. At the same time they are acquiring these tools, they are also empowering themselves to better utilize this training, often while teaching others.

Additionally, as women began to take advantage of the opportunities to enjoy wilderness adventures, the outdoor industry took notice.

In 1984, Kelty, Inc., a premier manufacturer of backpacks, introduced the Kelty Woman, a backpack specifically designed for the female frame. Kelty was one of the first in the outdoor industry to recognize the potential for manufacturing and marketing products specifically for women. Previously, women had to use smaller sized men's equipment or products made for children. However, this equipment didn't fit, feel or look right.

How quickly the tide turned. Today, equipment technology features lighter, stronger materials that are easier to use and carry. These products are more accessible than ever since they are often designed, manufactured and marketed by women for women.

Companies such as Browning, Marlin and Rugar now produce firearms specifically designed and sized for women. So does Orvis, LL Bean and a host of outdoor equipment and apparel manufacturers.

Furthermore, the advent of gender specific gear has made skill sets and technique more important than brute strength. Materials such as kevlar have dramatically reduced product weight, while graphite has improved performance. Today, there are more women paddling remote regions and casting a flyrod than ever before.

Removing the 'macho' element from the outdoor experience has opened new horizons of adventure travel to a segment of the population that is appreciative, considerate of the environment and in many cases, 'just fun to be with.'

Gentlemen be advised! The next time you encounter someone you thought was just a "Babe in the Woods," keep an eye on her. You may learn a thing or two!

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net

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