SAN FRANCISCO -- Camping reservations at California state parks are up more than 20 percent over the past five years, with an increase in year-round camping as well. The majority of campers are men, but a growing number of women are also ready to take on the wild and San Francisco's Sasha Cox is ready to help with an organization called Trail Mavens.
Cox said there are three main barriers that stop many would-be female campers. They don't have proper gear, they don't have friends who want to camp and they don't have the necessary skills or at least they think they don't.
Cox founded Trail Mavens in 2014 to eliminate those barriers. She has now run 26 all-women camping and backpacking weekends, with plans to run 40 more in coming year. Trail Mavens does all the planning, provides the gear, the food and teaches women the skills they need to lead their own camping trips in the future.
Participants get a lot of help, but Cox said this is definitely not a luxury vacation. "We use nice tents, you will set them up yourself. We use great cookware, you will cook the meals yourself."
The trips range in difficulty, but are all driving distance from the Bay Area. They are generally eight to 10 people and often sell out. Some come with friends, but many sign up alone ready to meet new people who share their love of nature. Most of the participants are from the Bay Area, but a few have flown from other parts of the country to join the adventures.
Bernadette Cay works at a technology company in San Francisco. She had never been camping until she went on a Trail Mavens trip to the Russian River. She liked it so much, she came back for another trip on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. Cay wanted to learn more camping skills saying she wanted to "meet more amazing professional women. And what better way to do that than out here in nature."
Marsha Lysen signed up for a Trail Mavens trip to Big Sur. "When men are around I think they feel an inclination to just kind of take over. And so when it's just women, it just makes it easier to step up and take initiative."
The trips cost $345 to $475, depending on how long they are. Lysen thinks it's a good deal, especially for people who don't have their own equipment.
For women who want to buy camping gear, there are a lot more choices than their used to be. Lynell Lacey with the Bay Area-based Sports Basement stores said there has been a big increase in the quality and quantity of women's outdoor equipment over the past 10 years. She said it reflects "a greater awareness in the industry that women are active in the outdoors and that women's bodies are different from men's."
Sleeping bags sold for women are smaller and warmer. That means a women's bag rated for 20 degree weather is actually heavier than a man's bag rated for the same temperature. Many women's backpacks are also sized and shaped for women's curves.
But no matter how good the equipment is, several Trail Mavens participants told ABC7 News it's the other women that really make camping weekends great.
"The conversations that come from being around a campfire or on a long hike are inevitably a lot different and a lot more substantial than the conversation you get at a cocktail party," said Kara Brodgesell, a repeat Trail Maven participant.
First timer Jenny Cook said she was exhausted and filthy by the end of her Trail Mavens weekend in Big Sur, but said "I have eight new friends. It was really everything I was expecting and more. It was awesome."
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.
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