All posts by BGT

VPODCAST EPISODE 4: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 4: How to Approach Money

How does one handle the finances to live a nomadic lifestyle? Tune in for the next upcoming episodes as Brown Gal goes over the approaches, challenges and ways to address the financial part of her journey.

Read also Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

VPODCAST EPISODE 3: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 3:  Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the fear of aging. Is it a factor when it comes to going after your dream? Yes and no. Tune in for this special Mother’s Day Episode.

Articles referenced in the podcast:

I Turned 40 and Became a Superwoman

Why Your 40s is the Best Time to go on a Grand Adventure

Accepting Myself Through My Mother’s Eyes

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Susan Elliott (aka Hadija)

The universe at times can do its wonders and connect people who share similar aspirations.  In this case, the shared aspiration happens to be Jordan Trail.  If you happen to be following the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, you’d remember one of our features, Vix Harris, who planned to trek the Jordan Trail.  Shortly after her feature was published, I met Susan who has done the Jordan Trail herself a few years prior.  I was delighted to find out that both women knew of each other before my knowing either one.  It further amazed me to learn that Susan happens to be the oldest female hiker to complete the Jordan Trail at the age of 65!

I’m beyond honored to have the opportunity to meet Susan.  Ever since we first chatted about her being featured on the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, she’s been hiking non-stop.  To me, Susan’s life and her dedication to hiking serve as the ultimate inspiration because her relationship with hiking entails challenges including her own unique set of physical challenges that render hiking a much more difficult pursuit to her as compared to most of us.  What impresses me the most about Susan is her determination to do it anyway.  Her “can do” attitude is contagious.  In my world, she has impacted my level of self-confidence in that no matter what difficulties come my way in my pursuit of becoming a mountain nomad, there’s no other way to handle it but to forge ahead.  I also appreciate her ability to break the norms by showing the world that age should not deter you from pursuing your passion.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Susan Elliott aka Hadija was born in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands and grew up in Mbabane, Swaziland from age 7 to 16.  Circumstances require her to divide her time between Maui, USA; Kent, UK; and Jordan, Middle East!  Currently, she’s looking after her health and giving aromatherapy massage in Maui; working in UK as a healthcare assistant in a psychiatric hospital; visiting her daughter and three grandchildren, who are between 1 and 5 years old, in their Bedouin village in Jordan…and hiking in all three locations.

When and how did you start hiking?  

You could say I started hiking, together with  my love of the outdoor world, when I was inside my mother who was five months pregnant and who, with my father, was hiking for a week across the Falkland Islands camping and carrying equipment and  food in big heavy old fashioned rucksacks! Once I could walk, I was struggling through peat bogs to a beach for fishing with my parents.

Who or what inspires you to hike?   

My parents definitely inspired me, although as a teenager, I did not appreciate going on long hikes in Swaziland’s mountains every Sunday! Thank you so much my school friends, Yda Gibbon and Cynthia Hooper, for coming on some of these hikes. Then, as a young adult, I just took for granted my love of the outdoors and hiking. Only when I got older did I realise what a gift my parents had given me. Sadly, they had both died before I thought to thank them.

What do you like the most about hiking?  

The solitude and beauty of the natural world and being free of the daily complexities and troubles of our world. Some may say escapism but for me crucial renewal time and space.

What do you like the least about it?  

Nowadays, the pain and fatigue which comes with having fibromyalgia and arthritic knees, but overall hiking still rejuvenates me!  

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?  

Definitely hiking the Jordan Trail! Not only because I accomplished this not inconsiderable challenge at 65 years of age,  but also because for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to hike a long distance trail – one of my dreams. The Jordan Trail gave me everything I needed and at exactly the right moment when hiking – miracles of iced water, sweet energising tea, thick coffee; beautiful flowers to focus on when the way was long and tiring; soaring wheeling birds of prey uplifting me from the rain; camping spot surrounded by mountains alive with animal bells and distant adhans; nourishing food prepared with love by strangers and their unconditional kindness;  mountain rock colours soothing my tiredness; space to allow my inner intuition to find the route and to be safe; making new friends when I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final trail sections.

My tent at remote Wadi Gsieb, November 14, 2016.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?    

“Mindfulness” and extra discipline since, in remote areas, one has no choice but to keep going to the end of the hike! Truly, hiking teaches the importance of being mindful and in the present, without wishing it were different and without fearing it will always be this way.

What advice would you give to those new to hiking?  

Set realistic goals taking into consideration your physical stamina and strength, distance, difficulty of terrain and climate, availability of food and water, nearest assistance. Plan thoroughly with a back up plan or two for changes which are guaranteed to happen in the natural world – such as  a weather change or delay in finding the way. Take blister care items and support bandages for twisted knees or ankles. Better to start with modest goals and enjoy your hiking than try to do too much too soon and end up in difficulties. When you go to hike, communicate your plans in detail to those close to you.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite hiking photos.

(Alas, I have only taken digital photos over the last three years so cannot depict my wide range of hiking. Also, I didn’t have a camera/ smart phone for my first Jordan Trail trip.)

The quintessence of an English right of way for walkers on the 1066 Trail at Winchelsea, Kent! Beautiful stone stile, clear waymark signpost, nearby bench, information board for ancient ruins, no rubbish, well-maintained, December 7, 2016.

Skyline Ridge Trail at 10,000ft,  Haleakala, Maui. One of my recent hikes on January 22, 2017, for my WALK 1000 MILES 2017.

A surprise on a Maui neighbourhood walk – part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge, February 10, 2017.

What treks/trips do you have still on your bucket list?

Sinai Trail   

Lebanon Mountain Trail   

Turkey –  the Sufi Trail   

Turkey – Lycian Way   

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker?

A real challenge has been finding other women among my friends  to hike with me due to factors such as terrain, distance, speed, elevation.  Also, as the years went by, I became more wary about hiking alone in Maui in remote areas in case I fell – bodies of fallen hikers have been found from time to time in Maui! Hiking the rural and new Jordan Trail as a solo woman was especially challenging since rural women do not hike, although some women will be out alone grazing their family’s goats or sheep. Indeed, hiking, in general, for Jordanians seems a new concept. Everyone felt responsible for my “plight,” and drivers wanted to “rescue” me and take me to a town. Others were reluctant to help me find a taxi driver to take me to my daily start/end locations! The taxi driver in turn would be reluctant. I was repeatedly warned of the dangers such as wild animals, the cold, finding my way, and once of bad men!

One of the wild animals! The two side-winder snakes didn’t hang around long enough for a portrait. November 13, 2016.

How did you overcome these challenges?

In England, I made new friends who had a similar hiking style – one from a yoga class and the other a sponsor for my War Child hike in Jordan. In Maui, I joined a Sunday Meetup Hiking group whose key members are strong hikers and who explore new territory. I’m challenged to keep up at times, but they always wait for me! In Jordan, since I was a woman in a Muslim country, I kept my arms, legs, and hair covered, and when the trail sometimes followed small roads, I hiked with my eyes down when vehicles passed. This worked really well. Only cars with families stopped, a couple of police cars, and two trucks with secret service agents.  All along the Jordan Trail, I showed those whom I met a laminated card with information in Arabic about the newly developed Jordan Trail, who I was, and why I was hiking. Not everyone could read, but the card still seemed to help allay concerns.

I proceeded to ask Susan about her Jordan Trail journey.  She happens to be the oldest female hiker to have completed it.

I hiked the Jordan Trail which tracks 650 km (405 miles)  from Um Qais in the far north of Jordan to the Red Sea not far from the border with Saudi Arabia in the south of Jordan. The trail crosses rolling fertile hills in the north, plunges into 1000 metre wadis, climbs steeply back up to the plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, meanders through the fabulous ancient city of Petra with its carved pink sandstone facades, winds through spectacular remote canyons, and crosses over the deserts and multi-coloured mountains in the south. At 65 years old, I am the oldest person and the oldest woman to have hiked the Jordan trail, although it took me two trips to complete.

November 21, 2016, I finished the 650 km Jordan Trail for War Child at the Red Sea south of Aqaba!

When did you do it?   

February 23 to April 1, 2016 and November 3 to 21, 2016.

What was the itinerary?

Since my first trip was in the spring with unpredictable rain and cold, I first hiked from Ais to Petra.  I rested and then moved north to the beginning of the trail at Um Qais, skipping the Dead Sea Wadis, and finishing at Ais. On my second trip, I tackled the tough Dead Sea Wadis, and then completed the Jordan Trail by hiking the final sections from Petra to Wadi Rum to the Red Sea south of Aqaba.

A total of 42 hiking days: 27 days in February/March and 15 days in November. 30 days solo finding the route solely by GPS (which I had never used before!), 3 days with a guide between Feynan Ecolodge and Qbour Al-Wahdat,  and the last 9 days with the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike and walking 18 to 30 km (11 to 19 ml) a day.

Have you done something like this in the past? 

No, but in spring 1980, my husband and I spent two months travelling among the mountain areas of Spain, camping and hiking along the way.  Also, when growing up in Africa, I travelled widely with my parents camping and hiking every long school holiday.  In 1962, we drove by car all the way from Swaziland to Alexandria in  Egypt. Then, we caught a boat to Lebanon and continued by road through Europe, finishing in England.

Tell us about the logistics of this trek.  

Originally,  I planned to hike the Jordan Trail camping and using the excellent Dixon Roller Pack to carry my equipment,  food, and water.

Pulling my Dixon Rollerpack after Ma’tan Siq on Day 3, February 25, 2016.

Photo by Leon McCarron, adventure traveller and filmmaker.

Unfortunately, much of the terrain turned out to be vastly more rugged, rocky, and steep than anticipated! Consequently, on my first trip, I only camped a few nights. The rest of the time, I stayed in family home stays along the way or stayed at a basic hotel for 3 or 4 days and hiked along the nearby Jordan Trail, using local buses or taxis to my daily trail start and end points.

My room at Rocky Mountain Hotel, Wadi Musa, near Petra, November 10, 2016.

I was bitterly disappointed to abandon camping, but even with today’s ultra-light equipment,  I couldn’t backpack the weight with my arthritic knees and fibromyalgia. On my second trip, I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final nine days of remote hiking with camping at night. Thus, solving the problems of food and water, since we had support vehicles to bring supplies and carry our bags.

My tent – near Jebel Kharazeh, November 16, 2016.

Did you receive any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?

I  relied totally on information from the Jordan Trail website. Indeed, once I got to Jordan, I was very strongly discouraged from continuing after only three days. My ability, organisation, planning, and experience were severely questioned. I think perhaps because of my age and the unsuitable Dixon Rollerpack! So I abandoned pulling the Dixon, pressed on, and kept a very low profile.

On my second trip, the Jordan Trail Association took the risk of allowing me to join their technical thru hike for the final nine days which are impossible without support for food and water. I will be forever grateful for the team’s openness and welcome, in spite of their reservations. I feel very honoured to have had this opportunity to hike with the three Jordanian women, Dinah Aqel, Duha Fayyad, and Karmah Tabbaa – the first women to accomplish the thru hike – and with Olivia Mason, talented researcher.    

Practical essential help in the UK came from a great friend, Jill, who trained with me every week through miles of mud on English footpaths, and from her husband, Paul, who loaded all the GPX files on my Garmin eTrex 30x and lent me a power charging pack. My grateful thanks to you both and to Minnie, who sent me off with a kilo of super healthy flapjacks!

How did you come up with this idea  for a trek?

I have always wanted to hike a long distance trail but life, work, job, health, and family responsibilities did not give me enough space until recently. My daughter and three grandchildren live in Jordan, so when I heard about the new Jordan Trail, that was the  perfect choice, especially as I don’t like the cold and rain of the UK. Then, War Child found me, and their work in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan became the final piece of the puzzle.

What inspired you to do this?

I like challenge, and the Jordan Trail became a personal challenge in memory of my parents who planted the seeds for my love of hiking in the wild. My father, Frank K Elliott, who lived to 103, was an extremely accomplished rock climber and Antarctic explorer as well as, along with my mother, a life-long traveller and hiker.

What was the purpose?

My journey, in a small way, was also about helping to create positive understanding about this part of the world. I wanted to give some hope and support via War Child to children of our future and do something beautiful for God in our troubled world.

Did you do it solo or with others?

30 days solo; 3 days with a guide Feynan Ecolodge to QbourAl-Wahdat; 9 days with group Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike.

Have you hiked solo before? 

I often do solo day hikes and am looking forward to some long weekend hikes this year as part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017. Although I very much enjoy hiking with a friend, I also like the freedom of being on my own, pausing when I want, and  not having any thoughts concerning my companion’s needs. Indeed, I can be gloriously selfish!

How did you decide to do a fundraiser for this trek?  

War Child found me! I was travelling through London with a big backpack when I was stopped by a War Child volunteer. I had never heard of this organisation,  but when I did my research and discovered their work with children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, I knew this was the perfect cause to motivate me on my Jordan Trail challenge. Since I work in a psychiatric hospital, I was delighted that post-trauma counselling was available for the children from war-torn Syria. My commitment to the Syrian children, who were given hope and the tools with which to live positive lives, helped to keep my legs moving forward since the Jordan Trail was a tough challenge for me, physically,  mentally,  and emotionally.

So far donations total £2,691/$3,560(53% of my goal of £5,000).  This money will be used by War Child for their work with Syrian refugee children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. War Child focuses on mental health first-aid, trauma counselling, creation of ‘Safe Spaces’ and provision of informal education to help the children heal from their traumas, as well as training of local staff in psycho-social care.

The money I have raised will make a real difference to children like Nour, whose lives have been devastated by conflicts around the world. After Nour fled her home in Syria, she was withdrawn and aggressive, lashing out at her younger sister. With War Child’s help, she’s beginning to recover – she’s making friends and is a lot calmer. It’s just the start and War Child will continue to help Nour and her family cope with their experiences. Through “I Deal” counselling sessions, I have helped War Child reach the most vulnerable and traumatised children like Nour, and their families, to help them better cope with everyday life after conflict, bringing happiness and hope back into their lives. It’s not a simple or quick fix and it’s down to people like myself that War Child is able to provide long-term support to children and their families.

War Child is the only organisation dedicated to delivering this kind of specialist support for children affected by conflicts around the world.  

What were the challenges you encountered on the trek?

Every day in the north, I had to deal with groups of stray dogs. Often they would be asleep in the bushes and wake up when I was almost on top of them. However,  I just had to pick up a rock, and they’d mostly run, not knowing my aim was useless! Once some men watched me walk up a long hill. When I got closer, they went into the house and left me to the mercy of  a pack of very fierce dogs. Some of the dogs were loose and others bouncing around in a frenzy on huge chains! Wielding my pointy trekking poles helped me feel a bit safer! Thankfully, the Bedouin shepherds always called their well-trained dogs off me.

Dehydration was a constant struggle most days, as I just didn’t seem to be able to drink enough to counteract sweat loss on the steep hills. This meant I only needed one toilet stop, but oh what a challenge as there always seemed to be a village in view, or a farmer or a shepherd somewhere on the surrounding mountains, and no cover. One day my kind taxi driver had bought me cardamon coffee so in time the bathroom break became all consuming. Then, when I was finding my way down a mountain with no trail, I found a perfect deep grassy pit where I was completely hidden! So often the Jordan Trail gave me exactly what I needed!

My almost total lack of Arabic made me very sad as most people I met had little English, so our communication was very limited. A language miracle was when a policeman  stopped his car when he saw me at a bus stop in a village and phoned a number I had and arranged instant transport,  with price, to my accommodation with a driver with no English.  

My first trip was also bitterly cold at times, especially on the high plateau.  One night in a small hotel, I needed two extremely heavy thick woollen blankets from Iran. My thick socks regularly took 2 days to dry after washing. The cold probably contributed to my loss of 12 pounds in weight, in spite of forcing myself to eat more than usual!

How did you overcome them?

I was so happy to start walking each day and leave behind everyone’s worries and could just concentrate on finding the way and not falling down! Each day was spectacular and full of interest. Miracles occurred when I needed something in particular.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite moments along the Jordan Trail.

Elegantly scattered black rocks – so beautiful.

Miracle of crocuses bursting out of the rocky ground. 

Surprise of new friends! Dina Aqel is one of the three warrior women who were the first women to complete the whole 650 km Jordan Trail in the technical thru hike. 

I was unbelievably touched when just before we got to the Red Sea, the thru hike team waited for me – I was lagging behind with horrendous blisters on blisters. We had to go under the road by a tunnel, and as I went through, one of the Mohammads played his flute and everyone clapped and sang. For me, that was the ultimate recognition for finishing the Jordan Trail!

What did you hope to accomplish from the trek?

Simply to hike the 650 km from Um Qais to the Red Sea, taking as much time as I needed to be safe and to enjoy the experience, and to raise £5,000 for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal. The first goal was accomplished, but I am still working on my target for donations!

How did it impact you as a person?

The Jordan Trail touched my soul. On the trail I felt whole, no fragmentation, deeply at peace, and in awe of the beauty of creation. The Jordan Trail experience made me feel more confident again. I realise now that gradually and subtly my confidence had lessened over recent years. Probably due to a combination of increasing age, three bouts of early breast cancer with surgery and radiation, and onset of fibromyalgia and arthritic knees. I had to give up my Hapkido training and rethink my limits. My world seemed to be shrinking, especially as friends died. Not only did  the Jordan Trail broaden my horizons – literally, as well as physically, mentally, and emotionally – but the trail also introduced me to some wonderful new friends!

How was it like interacting with the locals along the way?

I had such heart warming experiences.  For example:

Day 1: The one man who did not seem alarmed by a lone woman walking down the road heading for wilderness was the driver of a minibus with special education children and their staff. I stood at the window in the rain near Ais and was introduced to the ladies and children, and he cheerfully said that he would see me in Aqaba at the end of the Jordan Trail, on TV. He beamed so much positive energy, and I thought someone who works with challenged children understands more is possible than most of us can imagine – I smiled.

Day 4:  Not far from Feynan Lodge, a woman’s  voice called me, literally from inside some bushes! Nearby, another woman and a young boy were squatting by a tiny fire and offered me shai. An old cup was rinsed and tea poured for me. We tried to communicate and the voice in the bushes joined in, but all I could understand was the Shahadah. I was offered a donkey ride to my destination, but had to refuse since I had to walk the whole Jordan Trail. I left some money with the child for the shai – somehow they seemed extra poor.  The voice in the bushes remained a puzzle.

Day 10: A few miles north of  Little Petra, at the start of the day, some children and their Aunt invited me into their traditional goat’s hair Bedouin tent for shai. These tents are very strong and last for years, but this one had holes in the roof and the recent rains must have poured through onto the family and their few belongings. Of course,  I am again hampered by my lack of Arabic, so I gave the twelve-year-old girl my explanation sheet. In spite of its complexity and the unfamiliar material about War Child, she read the piece aloud so beautifully and with so much energy and expression. Her Aunt looked so proud of her, and I was really moved. When I left, to thank them for my tea and the reading, I gave the girl 5 JOD. Alas, I cannot remember her name.

Are you currently trekking or doing a project?  

Yes, I have joined the WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge to continue to raise funds for War Child’s work with Syrian refugee children and young people in Jordan.   

 Tell us about it!

The aim is to walk a 1000 miles in 2017. I am challenging myself to walk on planned walks beyond my usual everyday running around. I am motivated by the well publicised health benefits of walking. I am continuing to raise funds for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal to reach my target of £5000/$6500. I’m excited to return to the beginning of the Jordan Trail on March 31, 2017, for some of the first public Jordan Trail thru hike –  an historic event.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Waikalai Ridge, West Maui Mountains, February 19, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Iao River close to my apartment in Maui and good for the daily walks, February 13, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Another neighbourhood for daily walks – Sugar Cove, Spreckelsville, Maui.           February 7, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Bewl Water, Kent, UK.  A 13 mile circuit, March 10, 2017.

Susan then shares with us her favorite quote on and off trails.

“Breathe and Believe.”  A friend of almost 50 years who is now severely limited in her own mobility courageously and generously gave me these wise words before my Jordan Trail hike. The many long steep ascents were “breathe and believe” moments! I send my utmost respect to this friend and to whom I dedicate this piece of writing.

To wrap up, Susan noted the following gratitude for her life-changing adventures:

I cannot say enough about how honoured I was, in the final nine days of my Jordan Trail journey, to meet and hike with some of the pioneers of the long and difficult development of the world-class Jordan Trail, especially Amjad Shahrour,  Mark Khano, Bashir Daoud, David Landis, and Nasser Tabbaa. Not forgetting Mahmoud Bdoul, Zaid Anwar Kalbouneh, Ali Barqawi, and Mohammad Al-Homran and Mohammad Al-Zaeadeen – the first two Jordanians to complete the thru hike, October, 2016.

One day, I hope to meet Tony Howard and Di Taylor, cornerstone pioneers of the Jordan Trail over many, many years!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to all my sponsors so far  and for all the words of encouragement from friends, family, and strangers which keep me going as I walk towards my £5,000/$6,500 target for War Child’s  Children of Syria Appeal.

Thanks, Susan!  I wish you more amazing trail journeys and hope to hear from you as you forge ahead!

You can follow Susan via her fundraiser page through Just Giving.   

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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7 Reasons to Try Hammock Camping Instead of Tents

A Guest Post by Rich of Rolling Fox

Summer is just around the corner and that means camping season is almost here! I’ve got my camping weekends marked on the calendar and this year my plans include a new essential piece of equipment: a hammock.

My love for hammock camping started when I noticed my camping trips were relaxing, but left me bone tired from nights of poor sleep. A friend suggested I try it and it totally changed my experience.

You don’t just have to take my word for it. Here are 7 reasons you should give hammock camping a try.

1, The Ground Can Be Uncomfortable

Sleeping on the ground in a tent means bumps under your sleeping bag, overnight moisture, and curious bugs creeping around your tent floor. Sleeping in a hammock gets you up off the ground, away from all those annoyances and can actually be good for your health. Experts in sleeping posture found the angle of incline and lack of pressure points in a correctly installed hammock can increase circulation and oxygen during sleep, and can dramatically improve back pain. After a day of hiking or chopping wood for a camp fire, anything that makes my back happy makes me happy.

2. It’s Lighter

An average hammock can fold up into a pouch smaller than your water bottle and weighs less than a pound. That means you could hit the trail with your bed in your back pocket and what tent could say the same? With a hammock comes the freedom from a bulky tent leaving you able to take longer hikes without the heavy gear. See more undiscovered off trail areas or get to higher elevations where carrying extensive equipment would be too physically demanding.

3. You Can Sleep Better

A great night’s sleep can literally transform your camping experience when you wake up feeling rested and physically ready for the next hike or a long day of swimming. When I first started camping I went sparse on the sleeping arrangements: just a tent and a sleeping bag. Soon I upgraded to an air mattress, and then a double air mattress with the battery powered pump and a padded mat and a leak patching kit… You can see where this is going. No matter how much more gear I bought and dragged with me, I never really slept well outdoors until I started hammock camping.

There are the obvious benefits, like being elevated off the rocks and tree roots that inevitably complicate tent sleeping, but there are properties of the hammock itself that make your sleep better. Studies show you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper in a hammock and the gentle swaying motion can actually change your brain during sleep to help you stay in a restful state longer.

4. Create A Better Connection with Nature

One of the main allures of camping for me is the uninterrupted time to connect with the way nature changes throughout the day. When I spend the entire night and early morning cooped up in a stuffy tent, I miss some of the most magic experiences. My first hammock camping night, I lay awake staring up at the stars in utter comfort listening to an owl serenading the night. In the morning I awoke not to the sight of errant bugs trapped in my tent net, but to the soft dawn light slowly warming the air around me. Yes, a tent gets you out of the house and into nature, but a hammock gets you out of the tent to experience more of those rare moments that really make camping magical.

5. There Are Plenty of Accessories to Keep You Warm

A simple hammock will be enough for many camping scenarios, but if you want four-season comfort, there are many affordable add-ons that can make your hammock the most versatile piece of gear you own.

Staying warm starts with staying dry. With an optional rain cover, a hammock neatly sidesteps moisture problems, keeping you off the damp ground and letting air circulate without condensing. If it rains or snows, there are no walls to drops to seep in and no floor to collect puddles. And tearing down a nice dry hammock when you’re ready to break camp in minutes is a mess-free experience. A mylar blanket can function as a rain fly, but also works as a layer of heat retention under your sleeping bag.

Get some easy insulation between your sleeping bag and the elements with a sleeping pad. If you have the funds, an underquilt will keep you warm and toasty even in the coldest camp sites, but you may want to choose your product based on the temperatures you expect to encounter.

6. Camp in More Locations

It’s no secret for anyone who has tried tent camping that the roots and rocks are only one element of what makes the ground uncomfortable. Uneven soil, cold puddles from rain or condensation, and even the slant or grade of your site can make your tent awkward for relaxing. Without a tent to consider, you can set up for the night on a slope, over water, and in rocky terrain without sacrificing comfort. You can even set up your hammock camp in places without any trees!

7.  Fast Setup

With a little practice, you can set up you hammock and be ready for bed much faster than a traditional tent. Some seasoned hammock users can get set up or torn down in less than two minutes! Think of all the extra time this will leave for exploring, making a delicious campfire meal, or just relaxing in the wilderness.

Now that you’re familiar with the main benefits of hammock camping, you might be ready to ditch the tent for your next camp out. I personally can’t wait to hit the trails this summer and see what new experiences my hammock allows me to enjoy. If you enjoyed this list, or are ready to try a hammock yourself, let us know by sharing this article.

Photos via Creative Commons

Author Bio

Rich is a hiking and camping enthusiast who runs the blog over at Rolling Fox. Rolling Fox is regularly updated with outdoor guides, recipes and gear reviews. You can find us on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

If you are interested in submitting a guest post, please see the guidelines here.  Looking forward to your articles!

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V-PODCAST EPISODE 2: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 2: What am I afraid of?  SOLITUDE.

In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles one of the fears with going for an unconventional dream of traveling for a lifetime.  She shares her thoughts on what solo traveling means from a “fear” standpoint and some ideas to mentally conquer it.  Would you add anything else?  Questions? Thoughts?  Feel free to share them!

For more, check out 8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for a Solo Adventure

To learn more about what this v-podcast is about, check out the INTRODUCTION.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

Why Your 40s is the Best Time to Go on a Grand Adventure

Quit your career when you hit your 40s.  Seriously, quit it and take on some grand adventure.  Take  a break from it all and just indulge in guilt-free freedom.  I know. That sounds so against the norm.  After all, it makes more sense to tell you–

“don’t quit your job, pretend you like it, pay your bills, and if you’re single , then hurry, and find that partner!”

Two years ago, I wrote an article about how it felt to be a global backpacker in my late 30s.  In that article, I confessed my feeling a tiny bit awkward carrying a 70 liter pack as I mingled with the millennials at hostels.  Two years later, I’m thinking, why the hell not?

While so many in their 40s re-evaluate their progress in life by looking at the increase in their income, their career progression, the success of their marriage and the existence of children in their lives, this doesn’t have to be the case for everyone who reaches this age.

In my world, my 40s is meant to be spent outside playing.  To be more exact, it’s meant to be spent hiking and trekking countless mountains, and then some.  At first, I too, felt this was such an insane idea.  And perhaps, my dream of becoming a mountain/digital nomad frolicking around the globe was simply too late for me to pursue and that maybe I missed my chance in my younger years.  It took time for me to realize that doing this at an unpopular age of 40  is actually a blessing in disguise.  In fact, it’s the best time to partake in a major extended travel or adventure.  If you are in your 40s and  are fortunate enough to get a chance to partake in a grand adventure, then I’d say go for it!  Here’s why:

  1. In your 40s, you are past many of the insecurities you had in your 20s. Your 30s typically are spent challenging the existence of every insecurity you might have that was carried over from your 20s.  As we enter 40s, many of us have more or less learned how to deal with our insecurities and hopefully most of them were outgrown in the process.  By getting to this point, our adventures tend to be more meaningful and devoid of unnecessary stress.  Forgetting to bring that nice evening attire to look good on a trip wouldn’t dampen our spirits nor do we care if we need to skip showers for the sake of enjoying a life-changing trek.  Petty things dwindle as we age and that’s priceless.  Anyone who has yet to reach 40 should be jolted with excitement to look forward to a much more carefree version of themselves.
  2. Assuming you have spent part of your 20s and all your 30s building your career, by the time you’re 40 you know you have built yourself a solid career.  There’s no longer a question whether you’re a real doctor or a lawyer or an accountant because you are!  We manage to shrug off the other set of insecurities – those that challenge our ego as to whether we are good enough at what we do.  Heck, yeah, we are!  So, go on that adventure and remember if you tire of it, you can always come back to that career that you built. If not, chances are, by the time you’re 40, you have established skill sets that can be transferable to other types of endeavors.  If that company doesn’t rehire you, with creativity and persistence, you can even start your own company and run it in your own way.  Either way, you come out on top.
  3. With over two decades of adult life experiences under our belt, being 40 should render us more courageous and fearless.  We’ve been hurt, disappointed, criticized and fired.  But we lived and survived. We ought to know by the age of 40 that failure is merely a redirection.  We no longer cry or get angry over it.  We just strive to find another route that we believe will take us to where we need to be.  By this time, we experience lesser amount of invalid fears and worries.  We trust life more and allow it to bring us closer to our desires.  In our travels, we then find no reason to stress out when itineraries fail.  We lived long enough to realize that unexpected events happen for a reason and so we refrain from fussing in the same manner that we did when we were in our 20s.  We just let most situations be, regardless of whether they’re wanted or not.
  4. We are likely to be richer than the younger version of ourselves, and in some cases, fortunate enough to pay off a mortgage or student loan.   When we compare ourselves to others, sure, we might say we’re broke but if you were honest with your situation, you’d soon realize that graduating from college or grad school had led you to incur thousands of dollars of student loan debt.  By the time you’re 40, you would have had at least a decade to pay off some or most of the loans.  That’s something to smile about since that only means more money to put towards that grand adventure.  And if you’re the savvy kind, you may even have an investment or two which will then afford you more disposable cash for your grand adventure.  Lucky you!
  5. Do you feel wiser now that you’re 40 or older? I hope so.  That’s the point of living – growing and learning and then growing, and learning, and so on and so forth. By the time we’re 40, the expectation is that our life experiences should have taught us a thing or two about love, loss, success, failure and everything else in between.  By 40, we’re likely to know ourselves and our goals better.  But if not, we ought to have enough tools to figure out our own destiny in our own way.  All that therapy and counseling should have yielded the outcome we hope for by now.  We are ready to re-do everything – relationships, career, and even ourselves.
  6. Simply put, when you’re in your 40s, you hardly give a damn.  Nothing will ever be as serious as when you were in your 30s.  In your 40s, you begin to realize life starts over again.  But, this time around, you’ll makes sure it’ll be done in a more lighthearted fashion.  After all, this is the age when your health becomes more relevant and therefore stress is your number one enemy.  In your 40s, you naturally start to value your time and how you spend it upon realizing that life is limited and that success is defined by the frequency of joy in our lives.  You also begin to enjoy the authenticity of being “you” without giving into societal pressures and living our lives based on others’ expectations.  True to not giving a damn, you do what your heart tells you even if it’s unconventional and weird.  Doing so doesn’t at all make you feel uncomfortable; rather, it makes you feel empowered to be “you.”
  7. As a result of wisdom gained over the years, you know what you want when you reach 40.  When you decide to travel extensively or become a nomad of some kind, you mean it.  You have never been this sure in your entire life!  Since you now value time more than ever, you wouldn’t just quit a career that you put forth effort, money and time just to travel without a purpose.  You are deliberate in your decision to travel on an extended period of time or even for a lifetime!  When you decide to venture into some kind of an enterprise to give you that freedom to roam the world, you initiate it with all your might.  In fact, you have never felt this driven in your life because this time around you are answering to the calling of your deepest desires.  And you simply know you have to go that direction even if the path can get bumpy along the way.  You know that if you traveled in your 20s, it would only be temporary because you have yet to experience the contrast of the life of a 9 to 5 to decide honestly whether a life of travel is for you.  In your 30s, traveling is a break from the 9 to 5 but you may still be uncertain as to your true desires or unskilled at the endeavor you wish to pursue or still in need of wisdom to learn how to succeed or have yet to muster the courage to risk it all.  So, rejoice in taking a leap of faith in your 40s because chances are you’ve gone through all the necessary steps to finally be ready to experience a real adventure.

As you can see, being in your 40s should not be  the reason not to travel; rather it should exactly be the reason to do so!  You’re in the prime of your life and you have nothing to lose except the opportunity that you can create for yourself to experience the greatest adventure of your life.  Don’t hesitate for a second to hop on that adventure.  Don’t doubt yourself, and most certainly, don’t doubt your desires. Do it now!

To learn more about Brown  Gal Trekker’s plans on leaving her job and becoming a mountain nomad, check out her podcast:

ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD (intro)

Episode 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Reasons To Leave My Career

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings

Living a life of freedom takes many qualities including persistence, faith, courage, among a few others.  But when you really think about it, even if your original plan to live a freedompreneur type of lifestyle doesn’t work out long term, you will always be okay no matter what.  Luckily for our feature,  Sofie, her leap of faith into the world of traveling full-time worked better than she anticipated and she continues on with her journey in which she’s able to sustain her traveling lifestyle.

Let’s hear from her directly on how she made this transition and how she’s able to make it work. She has a new project worth knowing about as well that has to do with chasing one’s dreams!  Sofie is from Belgium and is a full-time travel blogger and copywriter.

Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings

Before I dive into questions regarding your online business/project, tell us a little bit about your background and life growing up.

I’m afraid there’s not much exciting about my childhood. I grew up happily in a small Belgian town between the cities of Leuven and Brussels. My parents kick ass and my little brother’s not too bad either 😀 I went to the same school my entire childhood and teenage years before going to university in the city of Leuven, where I now live with my boyfriend.

What are your interests and passion in life?

Travel, obviously! And aside from that I love everything language-related. I studied Literature and Linguistics and am fascinated by how languages is used and how it changes throughout time. I love helping people put their ideas into words and crafting texts that do exactly what they need to do, whether that’s sell, inspire or inform.

Related to that, I also always loved reading fiction but have to admit I’ve let that slip ever since I started blogging. Most of the books I read nowadays are related to marketing.

And lastly, I love dancing. I’ve been taking dance classes for more than 10 years now and although I only dance a couple of hours a week, I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

Nope! I handed in my resignation letter December 1, 2014 and left the office February 5, 2015, less than a month before my 3-year anniversary at the office. The company I worked for was the Belgian branch of an international publishing house specialized in B2B publications concerning “dry matter”, as I call it: personnel policy, property management, business legislation… Basically everything that had to do with money and law for businesses.

I started there as a copywriter and marketing coordinator for the Flemish region of Belgium and the Netherlands, writing sales copy in Dutch and overseeing our direct marketing campaigns from creation until the moment they went to print. Later I transitioned to doing the same for our campaigns in France and Spain, with the difference that I then had local writers delivering the copy.

It was a very typical office 9-to-5.

How was the process like to quit something so stable?

Liberating, really. It was so unlike me to quit. I’m someone who hesitates for ages before taking a decision on just about anything and for most of my life, I’ve always taken the safe route. I did well in school, went on to study what I’d always planned to go study, found a job right after in-line with my studies and then… I got so terribly bored.

I launched WonderfulWanderings.com as a passion project but it soon turned into a way out. When I quit my job, I knew it had potential but I wasn’t nearly making enough yet to sustain myself. Yet I had the biggest smile on my face when I handed in my resignation letter and wasn’t nervous to do so at all. I’m pretty sure that was the first and only time in my life I did something important without dying inside.

In terms of finances, I did have savings. Being Belgian, it’s kind of in my blood to save up and I’d always been saving for something important. The first two or three months after quitting my job I used a bit of that money for living expenses, but quickly earned it back and I haven’t had to touch my savings since.

What are your current projects/business/plans?

I’ve just launched #Anydaysgood, a year-long project going against all those posts that tell you you need to visit x countries before you’re 30 or do y things before you’re 25. I want to tell people any day’s a good day to start chasing their travel dreams and to prove that life doesn’t end at 3° (I’m kidding, of course it doesn’t), I’ll be chasing 30 travel experiences I’ve always wanted to had but never went for while I’m 30.

While some of them are pretty “big”, like wanting to ride a hot air balloon, others are much smaller and personal, like wanting to spend a night out partying with a local somewhere.

The goal is to get people to create their own list of travel goals and to motivate them to check those of one step at a time, and to help them not to postpone those steps indefinitely 🙂

I’m curious to know more about your project (this can be a travel website, business etc). What led you to start this project?

A few months ago I was talking with a friend and she suddenly remarked that I should throw a party for my 30th birthday. I absolutely didn’t want to do that, but it did make me aware of the fact that even though it’s just a number, that birthday might be a good reason to start a new project and do something cool. When I later bumped into one of those “30 before 30” articles, I knew what that something had to be.

When did you launch your project?

I’ve actually just launched it as my birthday is February 12 so I’ll be doing the #Anydaysgood challenge from now until February 12 next year!

What is your project’s mission?

To inspire people to chase their dreams no matter where in life they find themselves and however silly they think those dreams might be.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

Because I only got the idea late November, it’s been a bit challenging arranging everything logistically. I was stressing about it rather badly in the beginning but now I’ve just decided to plan things as I go. I know I could just book everything, but as I don’t want this to be about having to money and time or not to go after your dreams, I’m also trying to partner up with some cool brands along the way. It adds a difficulty level – but I need to look out that it doesn’t become an excuse to postpone things!

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I’m still working on them 😀 As it’s a year-long project, I’ll be planning, traveling and reporting all-year-long. Maybe you should ask me again in 2018 🙂

Who or what helped you along the way to make your project a success?

So far I’ve gotten great responses from the travel community, which is really motivating.

Tell us more about your traveling life. How often do you travel?

My friends and family ask this all the time and I always say the same: it depends. Sometimes I’m home for a month and sometimes I make four different trips in a month. I really depends on the projects I’m working on, the assignments I get and my mood, really.

How does your project complement your passion for traveling?

It’s all about having special experiences while traveling the world. There are definitely things on the list I could do at home in Belgium as well, but that wouldn’t really be a challenge 🙂

Sofie shares with us her favorite travel moments.

My first trip to Los Angeles. It opened up a whole new perspective on life for me, making me realize there’s more than the traditional path I’d always envisioned I’d follow.

My trip to Quebec in winter with my Boyfriend. It was the first time I tried skiing and snowboarding and thus also the first time I really tackled my fear of heights. He’s passionate about winter sports, so this trip really allowed me to connect with him on another level while doing something I’d always been afraid to do.

Every first 15 minutes in a new city. No matter how much I hate the whole getting there part, as soon as I’m walking around in a new place, I’m reminded of how much I love to travel.

How do you define success for your project?

It’ll be successful if I manage to experience all the things on my #Anydaysgood list and inspire people to create their own list and go through the challenge together with me. Even if just one person has an experience they’ve always put off until now, it will have been a success.

What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?

It’s not really a discovery, but I’m quite the chicken. I love interacting with locals and doing new things, but I’m often too shy or not confident enough to take the first step. This project really forces me to get out of my comfort zone and do exactly those things.

How do you manage to afford traveling? 

As a travel blogger, I earn money in several ways. I do freelance travel writing for other websites and magazines, I work with travel brands and destinations on marketing campaigns, I have Adsense up on my site and I do a bit of affiliate marketing. Aside from that, I also do copywriting and the occasional translation work (English <-> Dutch).

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursing their passion that require quitting their 9 to 5?

Before you do, ask yourself if your passion can be a job and if you’re sure you even want it to be a job. Maybe you love doing what you do exactly because you do it in your downtime. Or maybe you’re crazy about it but only five other people in the world are. Make sure there’s a demand for what you want to do and… make sure you save up first.

It might work out, it might not. Either way, it’s easier if you don’t have to worry about rent and being able to buy food.

Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be? 

Better, actually. I honestly thought I’d give it a go for a year, but would fail and then have to find a new job. Luckily, that’s not how it turned out. I love the freedom and being my own boss. It’s hard. I have the occasional panic attack and the “I’ll never really make it” thoughts, but I never consider quitting. Doing this energizes me just as much as it occasionally wears me out 🙂

I realized that I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to work. I never liked the structure of school: not being able to advance at your own pace, needing to be there at specific hours of the day and not being able to choose who I surrounded myself with. But I loved university: planning my work as I saw fit, having a much more flexible schedule and mingling with like-minded people. I guess you could compare school to the 9-to-5 and university to freelancing – although there’s still a lot more freedom in freelancing.

Are you living a life with more freedom now than before? Feel free to elaborate.

Yup, see above 🙂

 How many countries have you been to?

I always have to count because honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. There are people who’ve been to 80+ countries but they’ve only been there once for three days. I tend to travel a lot around Europe and visit the same countries over and over again to really get to know them. But so to answer your question, 20, I think.

What other countries are on your list?

There’s hardly a place I wouldn’t want to visit.

Name one thing you miss the most when on the road?

My boyfriend.

To wrap up, I asked Sofie a few more questions:

Which do you prefer? Mountains/nature or city life?

City liiiiiife! I honestly don’t know why. I like discovering new bars, new eateries, cultural things… I guess that’s more related to cities. I love being in nature too, but there has to be something to discover or eat 😀 I’m not someone to go hiking for days at an end just to look at a green scenery.

Describe the word, FREEDOM.

Freedom comes from choice. As soon as you can choose, you can choose freedom.

Name 3 qualities that you think are the most important in accomplishing one’s dreams?

1.Persistance – to work hard and keep at it even when things don’t go well
2. Down-to-earthness – to realize what’s achievable and what it takes to get there
3. Patience – lots of it

Thanks Sofie for the wonderful and real insight on how it’s like to transition into a life with more freedom.  Many of us are intimidated by the thought and you just proved that no matter where you are in the process, with faith and persistence, it is possible to sustain a life where you get to be your own boss and travel on your own terms.  Goodluck!

You can read about Sofie’s travel life via her website, Wonderful Wanderings and social media:  Instagram and Facebook

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

V-PODCAST EPISODE 1: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reasons for Leaving my Career

Welcome to Episode 1 of the V-PODCAST SERIES: ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD.  In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the question, “Why leave a stable career for pursuit of an unconventional dream?”

Tune in and share with us your own reasons or thoughts about the topic! Thanks!

To learn more about what this v-podcast is about, check out the INTRODUCTION.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

The outdoors appeal to most of us as a safe haven to let ourselves go from our day to day routines and stress in life.  But the reality of it is that life in the outdoors is not as perfect as any paradise we conjure in our minds, especially when, as a female hiker, we don’t fit the looks of women as portrayed by the outdoors media.

That has been the case until Summer and Lezley came into the forefront of leading women entities in the outdoors world to serve as the voice for women who may feel different, weird, strange, unsuitable or unacceptable.  Summer and Lezley not only love hiking but they also made it their mission to encourage women of all backgrounds to find pride in who they are as women hikers.

From my own personal experience, my being featured on Fat Girls Hiking’s Inspiring Women series clearly demonstrated that feeling of belonging and self-acceptance.  I’m no exception to feeling different as a woman of color who continues to wait for inclusion in the media.  Fat Girls Hiking provided a voice on my behalf and echoed my presence to the social media world of the outdoors. That’s a good start towards a long road in promoting diversity and women in the hiking world.  For that reason, I’m absolutely delighted to come across these two lovely souls and be a part of their mission to promote diversity in the outdoors.

Women Trail Leaders: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

Summer is from Minnestoa while Lezley is from New Mexico. They currently live in Portland, Oregon.  Off-trail, Summer works as a nanny while Lezley is a Data Analyst.  They typicall hike in the Portland area, and around Oregon and Washington states.  They also have traveled overseas for on trekking trips.  Summer is also a writer, a photographer, crafter and reader while Lezley is a sports enthusiast, daredevil, traveler and a board game and film geek.

When and how did you first start hiking?

Summer: My love of hiking started about 4 years ago.  I had been on a few hikes before then but not on a regular basis.   At first, I didn’t like it.  But it grew on me. 

Lezley: I started hiking 10 years ago while living in Nevada after getting a taste of hiking while in Zion.  My uncle was an avid hiker in New Mexico & would take me with him but I didn’t appreciate hiking until I got older & moved to Nevada. Now I hope to hike more in my home state to experience the things I missed when I was younger.

What do you like the most about hiking?

When we hike, we feel strong & capable.  Worries & stresses of everyday life are wiped clean.  We hike to be connected to nature & our selves.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Summer: I like hiking alone a lot. There is something therapeutic about being out there by myself that makes me feel self reliant. When I face challenges & solve problems on the trail, I feel empowered.  But I also love leading hikes with Fat Girls Hiking, I love watching other people gain confidence & feel inspired in the outdoors.

Lezley: I prefer hiking with a group or another person. For me, I feel safer being with others. Plus, I like getting to know people or spend quality time with people away from the distractions of everyday life.  Also, having another person on the trail with me motivates me to keep going when the trail gets challenging.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Summer: Hikers are creative problem solvers.  When I am miles away from civilization on a hike, if something goes wrong, I have to figure it out.  Also, I love feeling small in the grand scheme of the world. It puts any silly or trivial problems in my head in check when I can look around from the summit of a mountain and say, “Those things don’t matter, not really.”

Lezley: Sometimes trails can be intimidating but if I keep on pushing myself forward, then there always seems to be a reward at the end.  It’s a daily reminder of life off the trail: keep pushing forward, no matter what might scare you.  The other lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the aspects of nature that we often take for granted.

Summer and Lezley share with us their favorite hiking moments.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. 

We had spent the night before the hike sleeping in the back of the truck in a 24-hour grocery store parking lot because all the campgrounds in the park were full.  We wanted to get up early to beat the crowds because we heard this was a busy hike. 

On the hike in to the lake, we counted seeing only 5 people. It was amazing to witness the sunrise over the mountains onto the clear lake cluttered with logs at the bottom. We ventured around the still lake and the mountains were reflected perfectly.  There were glacial waterfalls above us that we heard would be extinct in less than 10 years.

Then we met another hiker who was gathering sand from the beach, he said he proposed to his fiancé at that spot & they were getting married later that day in the park. As we were heading back to the trailhead & the sun began to shine onto the lake, it was a bright green color that matched the leaves on the trees.  On the way back to the trailhead, we counted 207 people making their way to the lake.  So glad we hiked early!

Saddle Mountain, Oregon.

We were so excited to do this hike.  It was the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago & we were ready to conquer one of the Oregon Coast Range’s biggest mountains.  The hike starts out really steep & 2 minutes in we were taking layers off.  This is the most elevation gain we’ve ever done on a hike, it felt good & really difficult.  We were stopping a lot but enjoying ourselves.

About 45 minutes into the hike, Summer’s stomach started to ache.  Oh no.  The trail is mostly switchbacks & there isn’t any spots off-trail to dig a cat hole.  Ugh.  Finally, we found a spot where Summer scrambled up to some bushes for privacy to “use the bathroom.” 

Much better…Ok, let’s do this.  We get to the summit & WOW what an amazing view.  There’s the ocean to the west, and it’s a clear day so Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are visible.  It was incredible.  Then we notice the trail keeps going.  Oh. Shit.  This is what they call “the false summit.” Ok, we can do this.  We are tired & the rest of the trail feels painstakingly steep.  The trail is covered with chain-link fencing, and there is ice in some spots, but we make it to the real actual summit. 

The exhilaration of the view, being up there with the wind as it whips our hair around. We know we are strong enough to carry our bodies to the top of a mountain. This is the reason we hike.

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada.

We knew this hike was busy & touristy.  The photos we had seen online were amazing & we really wanted to see it for ourselves.  So we got up really early to beat the crowds.  The trail is paved almost the entire way. There’s no “roughing it” on this trail. There are catwalks along the side & bottom of the canyon that allow access to the canyon in a way that usually could only be accessed by repelling.  The natural beauty of the rock & the pure clear water was stunning.  However, the trash & plastic water bottles underneath the catwalk were less than desirable. Nature Tourism is over rated.

Sometimes the crowd of inconsiderate tourists can overshadow the beauty around us. Well, at least it changes the experience. We carry on. There are three waterfalls along the trail that we enjoy & then decide to turn back & head to a less busy trail.  The trail was really crowded  the last half mile & there is a group of twenty slower hikers ahead of us.  We just want to get out of the crowds.  Summer finds an opening & jogs around the tourists & Lezley gets stuck among the crowd. 

After Summer jogs by one of the men Lezley gets stuck behind says, “Wow, you could really feel the ground shake when she went by.” It’s attitudes like his & comments like these that intimidate plus size people from feeling safe in the outdoors.  Even though we are avid hikers, most likely more experienced than the man who commented on Summer’s body size, this comment changes our experiences on trails.  It’s easy enough to shake off an ignorant comment from someone who arrived via a tour bus & carry on with your love affair with the Canadian Rockies.  Needless to say, we found many other gorgeous places to explore while we were in Banff National Park but Johnston Canyon was the most memorable.

What advice would you give to women who are new to hiking?

Start out on some easier trails with a fabulous reward at the end (waterfalls & viewpoints are good).  Don’t worry about how fast or slow you hike.  It’s not a race.  There are no prizes at the end.  Research the trail & the weather before you go. Have more than one source of information on hand (a screenshot on your phone is good, but a backup is never a bad idea). Print out driving directions & don’t rely on Google maps.  Many trailheads do not have cell service which is a blessing in our overly “connected” world, so make sure you know where you’re going.  If you are hiking alone, tell someone specifically where you are going & when you are expected to return.  Bring enough water, snacks, and weather appropriate clothing. Most importantly, listen to your body.  If something isn’t feeling good, don’t do it.  Savor your time on the trail & have fun!

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Summer: All the hikes are on my list.  Seriously, all of them.  If I could travel endlessly & hike everywhere I went, I would. I definitely want to spend more time in the Canadian Rockies & Glacier National Park. 

Summer at Falls Creek Falls.

Lezley: Patagonia and Machu Picchu are on my list. But any time we travel, we like finding a hike in the area so we get to enjoy that peaceful part of a city.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

Summer: As a plus size hiker, finding gear that fits is not easy.  There are such limited options for women’s plus size outdoor gear that I usually end up buying men’s gear. Ill-fitting raingear is the only option I have.  However, I do have an amazing Granite Gear backpack that fits well and has hip pockets for little things that I need accessible while hiking.  And I love my Platypus hydration bladder—it’s really easy to clean & dry out. Black Diamond trekking poles are my new favorite gear…wish I would have gotten them sooner.  And of course, my Canon 5D.

Lezley:  I like my Granite Gear day pack.  Everything else I’m still testing out.  I haven’t found the exact right gear for me yet.  My $1 bandana is pretty sweet though!

What is your favorite quote that motivates you on and off trails?

Summer:  As an avid reader with a degree in writing, words always motivate & inspire me. Mary Oliver, Cheryl Strayed and Audre Lorde are among my favorites. My recent favorite quote is by Judith Thurman, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”

Summer at Mt. St. Helens.

Lezley: “Why you crying? Are you bleeding? But did you die?” –traditional Mexican words of inspiration.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

There are many challenges to being a female on the trail.  Often in our society, women aren’t taken as seriously as men. In any athletic endeavor, women can be even more patronized.  The idea that women aren’t as tough or as knowledgeable about the outdoors is merely an extension of our sexist society.  Women are still treated as novelty in the outdoors. We face these challenges by going outdoors anyway, by proving them wrong.  For the most part people are kind on the trail & there’s a wonderful community feeling while hiking but these challenges can be intimidating for women to face on the trail.

Summer and Lezley are the women behind Fat Girls Hiking – an important female led entity in the outdoors world that promotes diversity.  Below they tell us more about FGH. 

Fat Girls Hiking started on Instagram in early 2015.  We were hiking a lot & looking to social media to find outdoor communities that represented us, but they didn’t exist.  There were a few accounts that focused on women but they were very homogenized & always featured a specific type of woman that we couldn’t identify with.  We are both fat queer women.  One of us is covered in tattoos, one of us is a woman of color.  We do not look like typical hikers.  But the lack of any diversity was staggering.  So, we decided to change that.  We wanted to celebrate all these amazing, beautiful people who aren’t usually featured on blogs or outdoor Instagram accounts.

What is the mission of FGH?  

Fat Girls Hiking is a body positive outdoor community. We believe that all folks should be represented in outdoor media.  We want to take the shame & stigma out of the word FAT & empower it.  Our motto, Trails Not Scales is to focus on self love in the outdoors instead of weight loss.  Trails Not Scales reminds us that the more we hike, the more love we have for ourselves & our bodies just as they are.  We want all people to feel comfortable outdoors & to be able to claim their space on the trail.  We know that bodies of all shapes & sizes are capable of anything.  Our community is for those folks who have felt like they didn’t fit the typical hiker mold. We encourage & support folks who want to get out & hike, to do so!

How do define success with respect to FGH?

Empowering people through group hikes is how we define success.  Any time we get an email saying “thank you for including people who look like me” is how we define success. People who don’t feel represented in outdoor Instagram accounts commenting on a photo & saying, “I love this account” is how we define success. Watching people who come on group hikes grow & gain confidence is how we measure success.

What are the current and future projects that you have for FGH?

Fat Hiking Club is a documentary about Fat Girls Hiking that is still in production.  Some amazingly talented filmmakers from Vancouver, BC contacted us about FGH & filmed a hike we did with our group & interviewed us about body image, the outdoor community and why it’s important to create this space for fat folks, queer folks, people of color, trans & gender non-conforming people and women.

The Fat Girls Hiking Adventure Club is a new endeavor that is starting January 2017.  We love hiking & will continue to lead group hikes once a month but we also want to have other outdoor adventures with folks in our community.  Parasailing, fat tire biking on the beach, kayaking, snowshoeing, high ropes, climbing and many more activities are on our bucket list of adventures.  The Adventure Club will sometimes be a body positive yoga or dance class, other times it will be a weekend getaway with outdoor activities or a group camping trip.

Besides Fat Girls Hiking, Summer and Lezley also have a blog called Be Heard and they tell us below what it’s about.

We have a blog called Be Heard.  On the blog, we post photographs (taken by Summer) of people in the Fat Girls Hiking community or other body positive folks & have them answer a few questions about themselves.  We want to hear people’s stories & photograph them in a space that feels comfortable for them.

Thanks Summer & Lezley! Fat Girls Hiking certainly symbolizes the awakening of women to loving themselves more in the outdoors.   Without your organization, the hiking world would be less celebratory and appreciative of women who are different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to see what other projects you have in store for us.  So, keep doing what you do to inspire women of all types.  After all,  for the rest of the world to love us, we have to first love ourselves.

You can follow Fat Girls Hiking via their website & social media: Facebook & Instagram,

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS SERIES, OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES or FREEDOMEPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

No Boundaries (VBlog Poetry)

NO BOUNDARIES

I go where there are no boundaries

Because the other side brings me closer to my self

I embrace the unknown

For what we don’t anticipate

Takes us by storm

In a good way, that is.

We glide through life with ease

When we  allow ourselves to be

Just you and me.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because when I do, I find myself frolicking in the playgrounds of the mountains

Where I rise and fall

From dust til dawn

Letting myself go from it all.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because when you reach the peak of that unnamed summit

You know damn well there’s a hidden gem

Right below your feet

Don’t let time pass by

Without digging through the dirt

To find your diamonds.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because right there and then

I bask in that glow of hope

For I have learned to be the courageous version of me

The “Dora, The Explorer”

That I’ve become.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because life just so happens to be as vast as the sea

Creatures abound around us

To inspire us to be free.

I go where there are no boundaries

I’m the yin and the yang

The stars to the moon

The clouds to the sun

The sky to the mountains

Engulfing me in secrecy.

And only then I sit in silence.

For there are no more words to speak.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.