Women in the Outdoors

“You can’t protect a place unless you understand it. You can’t love it until you know it,” says Kristine Tompkins, an American conservationist and former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. In 2018, Tompkins was designated as the UN Environment Patron of Protected Areas and has received numerous other accolades related to sustainability. As someone who has experienced firsthand the impact of growing up outdoors and with opportunities to engage with the world through discovery and hands-on learning, it is my goal to ensure that others have access to the same empowering opportunities that have influenced me to pursue a path in sustainability education and policy.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, or OIA, we as American consumers collectively spend nearly four times more on recreation than we do on education. Having access to these kinds of experiences, however, comes with a great deal of privilege. While women, particularly those of color, and other diverse groups are regular participants in outdoor recreation, a lack of representation fails to make this known. For this reason, we must continue working to “change the faces of the outdoors” by providing more opportunities to support and share the stories of those who love the outdoors.

While studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand during the fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to go on a 5-day “trekking tour” in the mountains of northern Thailand, providing my peers and me with insight into the unique ecology and biodiversity of the region


As a student, environmental educator, and member of the outdoors community, I envision a world where girls and women of all backgrounds and identities are ensured equitable access to opportunities to learn about, experience, and develop a sense of wonder and stewardship for the places that surround us – and of which we are a part. Without this equitable sense of empowerment, we cannot have a relationship to the outdoors that is truly sustainable and accessible for all.

I will be leading Claws trips this summer that allow students who may not have been in the “backcountry” before to experience these places. Our Osceola Mountains + Sandwich Range Wilderness trip is open to all female-identifying individuals, allowing us to create a space where we can grow, lift each other up, and face the challenges and joys that present themselves on the windy mountain peaks and in the solitude of the alpine forests that we visit. Through these experiences, we will simultaneously sow a deeper sense of strength and humbleness as we learn more about ourselves and the wild places that leave us in awe.

Backcountry skiing from the summit of Mt. Cardigan (above) and Tuckerman’s Ravine (below) with the UMass Outing Club (UMOC) during the spring of 2018
Lapping the bowl at Tuckerman’s Ravine, White Mountains, NH


About the Author

Phoebe Gelbard is a senior undergraduate student at UMass Amherst. She is designing a major in Sustainable Systems with a focus on food justice and policy. Recently, she has delved into the world of “Geographic Information Systems” and hopes to use this form of visual storytelling to accompany her love of writing about the outdoors and topics in sustainability. Phoebe is a leader within the UMass Outing Club (UMOC), which has given her an opportunity to learn backcountry leadership skills while spending time outdoors with friends both old and new.

This will be Phoebe’s 6th year working with Biocitizen. During this time, she has seen the school flourish and grow, and she has been on (almost) every single Claws trip to the Presidentials. In January of 2017, Phoebe traveled to Chile during the first iteration of the “Now Voyager” program, and she will be returning to Chile in December of 2020 as part of the “Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program,” an NSF-funded International Research Experience
for Students (IRES) opportunity.

Phoebe has grown up hiking, backpacking, and swimming, and more recently, she has been getting into backcountry skiing. Phoebe has been a lifeguard for six years, wilderness first aid (WFA)-certified for two years, and she is in the process of obtaining her AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) level 1 certification, a course that prepares individuals for recreating more safely and responsibly in wintry backcountry conditions.

About the author

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