Female athletes and adventurers may face unjust barriers to pursuing their outdoor passions, but that only spells opportunity for them to keep pushing for what they love. From cycling to peak-bagging to hiking in our local parks, trailblazing women have earned—and continue to secure—their rightful spots in the world of outdoor adventure. Here are five women who have conquered old-school gender norms, blazed new paths, inspired other women, and won a few competitions while they’ve been at it.
1. Heather Hodson
After catching her first fish on the fly 11 years ago, Heather Hodson dedicated herself to breaking down boundaries to encourage females to get hooked on fly fishing. While balancing a career as a nurse, Hodson founded the United Women on the Fly community, which connects female anglers with one another.
UWOTF serves as a one-stop shop for finding local women’s fly-fishing organizations across the country, female guides, angling education, women-specific gear, and women-owned businesses in the industry. Through her community leadership, Hodson also advocates for proper fish handling. She gives presentations to promote KeepEmWet principles and offer creative ideas for capturing fishing photos without harming the fish.
When it comes to reliable and versatile gear for her fly fishing and travel, Hodson relies on Sea to Summit products like the Flow 35L Dry Pack, the Sprint Dry Pack, and the uber-compact Aeros Premium Pillow. “Always being on the water, I'm continually impressed with the waterproof Sea to Summit products that always keep my gear dry!” says Hodson.
2. Rue Mapp
As the founder of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp has dedicated herself to inspiring African Americans to explore the outdoors and connect with each other as they experience nature. Growing up in Oakland, California, in an outdoorsy family, Mapp realized later in life that she was often the only African-American woman joining hiking groups and bike trips. She started Outdoor Afro as a blog in 2009 to share her story, providing women and girls of color a chance to begin seeing themselves outdoors.
Today, the trailblazing national nonprofit connects African Americans to one another and to experiences in nature through a thriving network of over 80 leaders who host outdoor events for their local communities. Through advocacy, storytelling, and community building, Mapp’s goal with Outdoor Afro is to continually lower the psychological and practical barriers for African-American men and women to get out in nature.
3. Maddy Afshar
When Maddy Afshar isn’t carving trails on her mountain bike or bouldering, she’s working as a product designer for companies like The North Face and REI. “I love working in the outdoor industry because it allows me the opportunity to invite others into the community,” says Afshar. “If I can get people more excited about doing things outside and show the importance of having open spaces to play in, then I think I am doing something right.”
Afshar appreciates Sea to Summit’s smart design and their dedication to “a higher standard for quality products while lowering the barriers of entry into the outdoor industry.” She applauds the versatility of the X Series cups, bowls, and pots, as well as the ingenuity of the Jet Stream Pump Sack to fill a sleeping pad.
Check out her uplifting adventure photos @madtron.
4. Bianca Valenti
One could describe Bianca Valenti in several ways: professional big-wave surfer, sports inclusion activist, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and sommelier. After years in the surfing competition circuit, Valenti nearly left the sport completely. She recognized that women had fewer opportunities to compete, and they faced a culture where companies would only sponsor female athletes with model looks.
That all changed when Valenti found her niche in big-wave surfing. Since then, she has created a place for herself and other females in the big-wave scene. In 2016, she joined with three other pro females to co-found the Community for Equity in Women’s Surfing. The group landed the first-ever spots for female surfers at the Maverick’s event and helped establish equal prize money for men and women at all World Surf League competitions. As she continues to ride the world’s biggest waves, Valenti uses her platform to advocate for gender equality not only in surfing but in all sports. Also, she works to raise awareness of ocean-health issues.
5. Lael Wilcox
Since she began cycling at age 20, Lael Wilcox has clocked in more than 100,000 miles in 35 countries and earned recognition as the best female ultra-endurance cyclist. In 2015, she set the record on the Tour Divide, a 2,750-mile, off-road cycling route from southern Canada to the U.S. border with Mexico.
She then became the first American and the first woman to win the Trans Am Bike Race, a 4,300-mile, self-supported race across the U.S. She set the women’s record for the Baja Divide route and two years later beat the men’s record as well. Most recently, she became the second woman ever to finish the 630-mile Navad bikepacking race across Switzerland.
In addition to racing and embarking on her own tours with a seemingly permanent smile on her face, Wilcox encourages more women to take up cycling. She runs a biking adventure program for teenage girls in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and sponsors women’s cycling adventure scholarships. Wilcox continually inspires female adventurers through her speaking engagements, documentary appearances, and nonstop accomplishments in the saddle.
Written by Jenna Herzog for Matcha in partnership with Sea to Summit.