Backcountry Women

Canadian Parks & Recreation Association
/April 17, 2024

It all started with Instagram, back in 2017, when Ashley started seeing posts from women going out on adventures. She started to share her experiences and saw the opportunity to connect with others who, like her, were looking for other like minded people to experience the beautiful Manitoban outdoors. Ashley founded Backcountry Women, a social enterprise to “provide opportunities for community, connection, and outdoor adventure.”

Women are encouraged to become members which translates into having the first chance to register at discounted prices on events, activities, and workshops as well as discounts with partnering institutions and retailers. Ashley was keen to keep the program affordable, so it was accessible for all. This does mean that Ashley works on the program fulltime but is not (yet) able to generate a living wage for herself. Behind the scenes, she is seeking partnerships with aligning organizations and other fundraising opportunities to help keep Backcountry Women sustainable for years to come.

In 2024, the largest group of participants in Backcountry Women’s events are in their late 20’s to mid to late 50’s with some in the 65+ age bracket. Most women participate in multiple events and have been involved for several years. By design, it is an adult only experience so, as Ashley shares, “the adventures offer the opportunity for women to leave their other roles and focus on selfcare while engaging with peers and the environment.” Liability is another consideration for the group which further reinforces the focus on adult women, including individuals who identify as transgender, femme/feminine, genderqueer, and non-binary. Volunteers are crucial to the organization. As leaders for the Backcountry Women events, a volunteer would typically provide about 10 hours for each event or activity that could include scouting locations, assessing seasonal conditions, and supporting promotion and event coordination in addition to the actual event. Most volunteers work full-time as well. There are a few people contracted by the hour to assist with some of the work like social media.

The range of events offered by Backcountry Women encompasses trail hikes for various skill levels, Sunday Send Sessions (where to “send” means successfully reaching the top and finishing a climb), snowshoeing, skiing, paddling, and Full Moon Hikes. Some even involve an overnight option. Educational workshops and courses that serve to build confidence while addressing safety and skill building, are included on the docket on such topics as pitching tents, building fires, using various pieces of gear, “leave no trace” awareness workshops, Navigation 101: Basic Map and Navigation Essentials, Wilderness First Aid, and Backpacking / Hiking with Confidence courses. As is so often the case, funding is a challenge. As a sole proprietorship, options for grants are often not available as they are restricted to not-for-profit and/or incorporated entities. However, Backcountry Women has occasionally been successful in recruiting larger businesses in the community, particularly those, as Ashley notes, that are interested in “community-based work” and they “see value in the experiences being offered”. They have learned that approaching small businesses is not a wise use of resources because they have their own struggles.

When asked about the lessons learned over the last seven years (which obviously involved the pandemic years), Ashley shared the following insights:

• Realize that it will take more work than you think and ask for support when needed. People in the recreation and outdoor community are very willing to help. Build a network to rely on.

• It is important to have a strong foundation of leadership skills in both the volunteers and the leadership team. Ashley notes that, “at first, I felt an ‘imposter syndrome’ as from age 18-34 I worked administrative desk jobs so I wasn’t sure I could provide mentorship in leadership roles.”

• Understand that many women who are involved in outdoor activities can be more introverted and people struggle to get out of their comfort zone. Providing accessible, affordable, supportive, and FUN opportunities for personal growth is key.

• Expect some “pushback” from males who might claim discrimination. There is ongoing work needed to keep working on the value of this initiative as a women’s only endeavour.

So, what difference has Backcountry Women made? Impacts on several levels have been identified. “So many people are busy and are behind a screen. We have created a community that many people are missing as there is a lot of loneliness in the world today. Connecting on-line is not the same”, says Ashley. Other impacts noted: many women have so many competing pressures in life and need enhanced motivation to carve out time for themselves to get moving more regularly; time outdoors has a positive impact on mental health, and participants reinforce the value of creating an environment of like-minded people.

Visit Backcountry Women at, subscribe to their newsletter, and give them a follow on social media @backcountrywomen.

Subscribe for Updates

*By clicking "Sign up", you consent to receive periodic updates from Canadian Parks and Recreation Association by email, text and/or phone. You can unsubscribe or text STOP at any time. Message and data rates may apply. Read our privacy policy.

Be the first to comment

Profile picture for
Sign in to your account
Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.