These past few weeks, toxic masculinity has been a hot topic within the long-distance hiking community. There’s been a few blog posts on the matter, which have generated social media chatter.
Some women say, “Yes, the trail is rife with toxic masculinity.”
Others say, “I’ve never experienced anything like this from male hikers.”
Everyone has their own experiences, and both groups of people are right.
Some have found bro-hikers (I’m going to use this term to describe the overly competitive and condescending people you meet on the trail) to drain the fun out of their hike. Others have found mostly kindness and support from strangers met during their thru-hike.
What’s the Problem with Toxic Masculinity in Long-Distance Hiking?
In a recent article, Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles, the author Vanessa talks about her interactions with bro-hikers (I recommend reading it for reference). She experienced constant competitiveness of men questioning how far she’s hiked, what day she started, and giving unsolicited advice about her gear.
While these sound like minor things and could just be conversation starters, I understand where she’s coming from. In the early phases of a thru-hike, there are an abundance of bro-hikers who want to compare themselves to others and feel like they’re better. If you’re female, a slow hiker, over-weight, older, or a combination of these things, you’re an easy target for bros who want to inflate their egos.
I’ve had men assume I don’t know what I’m doing and explain basic concepts of hiking to me. I’ve had guys ask me where I’m headed before telling me that there’s no way I’ll make it (I always do). I’ve been the only girl at a campsite, while a big group of bro-hikers take turns trying to hit on me.
The last thing was not flattering. I did not feel special because random men I didn’t know deemed me cute enough to try to claim me (or probably just try to hook up with me).
(Outside Magazine has ran a few articles recently about sexual harassment in the outdoors. Here’s one that’s pretty in depth.)
More than once, men have straight up yelled at me for being solo because “it’s dangerous for a woman”. It’s unsettling to have a man I’ve never met get in my face and yell at me. They might claim it’s dangerous for me to be alone, but them yelling at me is the most danger I’ve felt in the wilderness.
Trying to express my discomfort later in regards to these situations, I’ve had trustworthy male friends and even my ex-boyfriend (emphasis on ex) tell me to take it as a compliment or ignore it or say I’m taking it too seriously.
People always want to question women on why we don’t speak up in the moment. Would you want to speak up in the moment if you’re alone with an aggressive stranger who’s yelling? Or if you’re the only female around and feeling intimidated? No, my physical safety and personal well-being is my primary focus. Not educating creeps.
However, for every negative experience I’ve had with a bro-hiker, I’ve had dozens of positive experiences from regular guys.
I created this blog with the intention of inspiring and giving guidance to women. However, my Google Analytics stats show me that 60% of my readers are men.
Guys message me all the time asking for beta on specific trails or just to let me know that my blog is helpful to them. Why? Because I know what I’m talking about and they trust my opinion. Me being a female does not get in the way of my experience where most people are concerned.
In 2015 in Nepal’s Everest region, I was going to base camp with an old friend. I had already done the more challenging Three Passes trek a couple months before, and a group of guys at the guest house heard about it. All day long they asked me for information about the passes, navigational tips, and my suggestions for stops along the way. They treated me as a person who had already done the trail and had insight for them.
I’ve hiked with plenty of dudes who see me as an equal and value my opinion just as much as anyone else in the group. My second trip to Nepal with my hiking partner Buckey was a good experience for me of male and female equality. We each had our own strengths, and we relied upon one another’s expertise when necessary. He was far more athletic than me, and I was more familiar with Nepal. We worked together without competition, which is how I like it.
What I’m trying to get at is that yes, bro-hikers exist and they suck. And also, most hiker guys do not fit into the bro-hiker category.
I’m not saying this to make a “not all men” argument, but to let future hikers know that there will be more grown-ass, respectful men on the trail than not.
The Inner Workings of a Bro-Hiker
For all you men and women out there who have been on the receiving end of condescending comments and intimidation, here’s something I think will make you feel better.
Those hiker-bros? They are just your average playground bullies. They act competitive because they are the ones who are insecure. They are so aware that there’s other people who are faster and stronger than them, that they have to put down the underdog to feel good about themselves.
A thru-hike is a major accomplishment that speaks for itself. There’s no need to step on others to feel good.
Edit: I’ve made some revisions to my original post after hearing that toxic masculinity is also a problem amongst experienced hikers as well as beginners.
Times Are a-Changing
Yes, it sucks that you are the person on the receiving end of this behavior. Keep hiking knowing that the following is true.
Bro culture doesn’t usually last after the beginning stages of a thru-hike. These bros drop off the trail because they don’t have what it takes to rise above.
Those who do remain on the trail don’t continue being bros. Doing a long hike is humbling. The wilderness offers enough competition, and everyone soon realizes there’s no need to squabble amongst each other. A few hundred miles of trail squashes bro culture, and the people who remain create the community that is revered as a true trail family of support and consideration.
While you may still encounter bros along the way, it will be far less the more you hike. Find a solid community and get more hiking experience under your own belt, and you will no longer be an easy target. And if you do still encounter these guys, it won’t bother you as much when you have rad people to offer emotional support.
Keep pushing through the BS, and you too will find your trail family.