It was August 2017, and Sonya Pevzner stood on a small ledge, halfway up Washington’s imposing Mount Shuksan. With eight hours of climbing in the rear-view mirror, only a single belay pitch stood between her and solid ground.
Nervous jitters coursed through her body, leftovers from the stressful rappelling. But she felt something else, too: elation.
She glanced around the ledge and saw a handful of women – no men – packed together to accommodate each other in the cramped space. They came from different backgrounds and different parts of the country, and each had her own reason for being perched thousands of feet up the face of a mountain. But none of that mattered. They were in this together.
For Pevzner, 27, a blogger and multimedia storyteller, an all-female course was the perfect way to experience mountaineering for the first time. She didn’t seek out an adventure designed for women only; she stumbled upon it while chatting with a friend. But, once she thought about it, she realised it was the safest space for her to learn a new skill set.
“Single-identity spaces are incredibly powerful for finding kinship,” Pevzner says. They free people “from the power dynamics” that she thinks exist in mixed groups.
She isn’t alone. According to Megan Behrbaum, manager of strategic communications at REI, 59% of travellers on REI excursions in 2018 were women. Moreover, registrations for REI’s women-specific travel adventures – which launched two years ago – more than doubled from 2018 to 2019.
Becky Marcelliano, outdoor marketing manager for adventure brand Salomon, says a special kind of magic happens in female-only groups.
“Conversations tend to be more open and vulnerable, empowerment creates a landscape of growth and friendship, and emotional intelligence tends to lead the space. In co-ed spaces, this strength tends to be shadowed,” she says.
Salomon recently hosted a series of all-female trips in Europe to celebrate the launch of its new women’s line. But Marcelliano is quick to say that this is not just about the gear; it is a company-wide movement that isn’t going away.
“We want to encourage women to go their own way; find their own path; discover balance in being sweaty, brave, beautiful, loud, funny or courageous,” she says.
Elinor Fish is the founder of Run Wild Retreats, a company dedicated to all-female running experiences with itineraries in Iceland, Spain, Ireland, Italy and the United States. She, too, has noticed an increase in business but notes that the intersection of adventure and wellness travel seems to be the sweet spot.
The Wellness Tourism Association defines wellness travel as travel that allows people to “maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle.” Such trips focus on healthy food, fitness and nature. In short, these trips aren’t for women who want to sit on the beach for a week.
Fish believes women need these trips to feel supported in their everyday lives.
“Women come away with a greater understanding of their own power, and that carries over into how they conduct themselves” when they return, she says. “When women feel strong and powerful in their personal lives, they are able to show up and contribute more to the broader society.”