The Weekend I Became an Outdoors Woman

I’ve always loved spending time in the outdoors and would consider myself a very outdoorsy person.  But loving the outdoors is only the first step – you’ve also got to know what you’re doing out there in order to really enjoy yourself outdoors.  So what’s a girl to do when she’s never been taught how to be outdoorsy but really wants to learn these skills?  It turns out that in many states across the US, there’s a program called Becoming an Outdoors-Women, or BOW.  The one in Alaska is partially run by the Department of Fish and Game, and the focus is to teach women outdoors skills while helping to build confidence in our abilities outdoors.  There are many one-day workshops held throughout the year in Anchorage, but the main event is the 3 day BOW Winter Workshop held in Chickaloon every March.  This year the competitive online registration for the BOW Winter Workshop was the same day as my dad’s surgery, which was one of the hardest days of my life.  Signing up for this made me feel like I was giving myself something to look forward to in a time when I felt so helpless and scared.  What I didn’t realize was that I was actually signing up for one of the most amazing and empowering weekends of my life!

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Last weekend, me and around 200 other women got together at a gorgeous camp located 2 hours away from Anchorage for the BOW Winter Workshop.  After checking in at our cabins and getting our goodie bags with some cute BOW gear, our first main “event” at the camp was lunch AKA time to make new friends for the weekend.  The women in attendance were young, old, total outdoor newbies, Iditarod participants, hunters, fisherwomen, moms – and they were all there to learn more outdoor skills together.  One thing I kept hearing over and over again during introductions was that they had signed up in order to become more confident in the outdoors.  So many women said that they follow whatever their husbands do outdoors, but have no real say in what happens out there because they’re not the “experts” on it.  For example, women said that they’ve gone backcountry skiing in conditions that made them uncomfortable, but because they were the less-experienced girl in the group their opinion wasn’t taken as seriously as the men there.  We were all looking forward to learning more about the things that we already loved to do, as well as falling in love with new activities.

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Views of our BOW Winter Workshop camp

Over the course of 3 days we all were able to take 4 workshops of our choice.  We ranked our top choices during registration, and I was lucky enough to get into the 4 workshops that I had requested:  Map and Compass, Winter Camping, Winter Survival, and Avalanche Awareness.  The other workshop topics ranged from hunting (classes on various different guns, field dressing, butchering, skinning, fur sewing), fishing (how to tie flies, ice fishing, how to fillet and cook a fish), cooking (sourdough starter, dutch oven cooking over a campfire, foraging for wild plants), and winter activities (skiing, dog mushing, snowshoeing, archery, etc).  There were so many workshops to choose from!  I ultimately chose based on the skills that I felt would make me a better hiker overall – although I was very tempted by dog mushing and the class on how to use a chainsaw!

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I took lots of notes.  But it was way more fun than being in school!

From the first moment of my Map and Compass class on Friday afternoon to the end of my avy class on Sunday morning I was hooked.  At first, all I could think about was, “Why didn’t I know any of this before?”.  But by the end of the weekend, all I could think about was how empowering it felt to finally feel like I knew how to stay alive in the woods.  I learned how to use a compass to find my location, how to pee standing up, how to keep my food and water from freezing on a long hike, how to set up a winter campsite (and that I definitely can’t afford winter camping gear right now), how to build and stay alive in a snow shelter, how to signal for help, what a survival necklace is and why I need to make one, and how to assess the terrain for avalanche danger.  I practiced starting a fire using a Frito as fuel, chopped wood, created a sleeping bag out of spruce boughs and a trash bag, cut snow blocks using a snow saw, lit 6 different types of cooking stoves, and found a “missing person” in the snow and dug them out in less than 5 minutes using a beacon and probe.  I felt like a total badass.  In between all the learning we did sunrise yoga, went skiing under the stars, went tubing, looked for the aurora, and hung out in our cabins like we were at summer camp.  I never wanted to leave.

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I’m afraid of fire, so this moment was a big deal for me
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Late night aurora viewing on the frozen lake

The most exciting part for a lot of us was finally learning more about the gear that we’d been carrying with us outdoors.  Some of the girls in Map and Compass, including myself, admitted to carrying a compass with us on hikes when we had no idea how to use it.  It’s one of the 10 essentials so you have to bring it, right?  That became a theme over the weekend as we all realized we’d been carrying gear because someone told us to, even though we didn’t know how to use it.  It might sound totally ridiculous, but I think most people can related to doing this with at least one piece of gear.  It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders as I learned how to do things that I’d always been told were important but I’d never been told why.  At the end of the workshop me and 2 other girls bought paracord friendship bracelets in honor of the fact that we had just learned about so many new and important uses for paracord!

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The big thing that our instructors told us at the end of the weekend was that we needed to share what we’d learned here with as many other women as possible.  We started doing that at the camp, where each meal was mostly just recaps from everyone on what they’d learned in their previous class.  I jealously tried on a beaver headband, listened to stories about ice fishing, and learned the commands my friend used during her dogsledding lesson.  And by the end of the weekend I had decided to sign up for as many future BOW workshops as possible.  I want to continue learning as many outdoors skills as I can – not just because it’s important, but because it’s a lot of fun!  I HIGHLY recommend checking out BOW to see if it’s in a state near you.  I can’t thank them enough for helping me become a better outdoors woman!

Have you ever taken any outdoors classes or workshops?  Have you ever carried a piece of gear that you didn’t really know how to use, but you knew it was “important”?

 


27 thoughts on “The Weekend I Became an Outdoors Woman

  1. That sounds amazing! I just looked up Indiana’s BOW – it’s mostly centered around hunting and fishing, and it’s not even as exciting as ice fishing! I would definitely try ice fishing, but regular fishing just doesn’t excite me haha. I’m glad you had such an awesome learning experience! I love classes that make you stronger / more competent in the activity you enjoy doing – my confidence was greatly improved after taking NOLS Wilderness First Aid class last year. And yes, I do carry a compass that I don’t know how to use.

    1. Thank god I’m not the only one! It was harder than I thought to use a compass. They suggested joining the orienteering club for more practice, that might help you out. I’m definitely going to try to take a wilderness first aid class this summer because I think that would be so helpful for hiking!

      1. Joining the orienteering club for practice sounds like a great idea! I highly recommend the wilderness first aid class! If you do it through NOLS you actually get certified in it. This is their website: https://www.nols.edu/en/coursefinder/courses/wilderness-first-aid-WFA/ Sometimes they do it in conjunction with REI, which is how a friend and I took it. It’s a lot of fun because you get to practice on each other and they give people fake wounds. I had “broken ribs” and my friend had a “head wound.” 🙂

  2. That’s awesome that you were able to take all these workshops and learn more outdoor skills! I’ve never invested in any actual classes, but I think they’d definitely benefit me.

  3. This sounds like a great organization. I had never heard of them before so I like that you’re spreading the word. I’m a Girl Scout troop leader, so we have to take outdoors certification classes, and I found them to be extremely helpful. There’s always more to learn, though!

      1. It’s rewarding to be a troop leader and fun to watch the girls grow up and mature in their own unique ways so I highly recommend it. When the girls are very young and you have to plan everything, it’s more of a time commitment than when they’re older and the girls do more of the planning. It gets easier when they’re around 5th grade, I’d say, then much easier around 7th grade and up.

  4. Awesome! I, myself, just joined Sisters on the Fly and immediately signed up for their Fly Fishing 101 course happening on Easter weekend. Another cool outdoor activity I’ve been dying to try! I’ll have to see if Missouri has a BOW group. Thanks for the great info.

      1. LOL I said that to someone at work … like what if I hook my eyeball or something …. LOL
        Anyway, I have a link to Sisters on the Fly on my blog page, so you could check it out thru that if you want.

  5. WHAT?! I am swooning over your recap and photos! I am so interested in seeing if we have a group here which I would imagine we would. This sounds amazing and is a huge asset to being in the wilderness. Plus all the friends you get to meet! I always carry a compass and would like to think I know how to use it but the truth is I don’t think I know it thoroughly. Super great post as always!

    1. Thanks! I hope you can find something near you, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have one where you live because it’s just as outdoorsy as Alaska! And I had no idea how tricky it was to use a compass to find where I am on a map and seriously hope I never have to use it when I’m tired and can’t figure out math.

      1. Yes I’m going to look into it I am sure there is something that would aid in my outdoor knowledge. Oh no math! Might take me awhile to get the hang of all that! Happy spring my friend!

  6. This sounds so awesome, what a great experience. I could seriously use some more outdoor skills, that’s for sure! Going to look up to see if California has a BOW workshop I could participate in!

  7. That’s so awesome! I just found the website for the one in my state and they have a fall retreat! Thanks for the info!

  8. Amazing! And I feel like everyone has something to learn. It’s the thing the unites us. And no one should ever feel bad for not knowing, be grateful to have someone around to show you.

  9. This sounds amazing! Years ago I took a sailing course for women, particularly those who travel by sailboat with their male partners. Their slogan was “No yelling!” – lol. It was wonderful to spend a week on a 44′ sailboat with a group of women learning how to handle it ourselves.

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