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Boreal Community Media

Cook County trio aim to reduce gender gap, build confidence in the outdoors with new program

May 08, 2023 11:30AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Neora Aylon 

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - May 8, 2023

Did you know that on average, about 66 percent of young boys participate in outdoor activities between the ages of 6 and 24, while for girls it’s only 55%?

What’s more, as children get older, there is a dramatic decrease in involvement in outdoor activities. For those who identify as women, the decrease is as much as 55% by age 26. 

For those who identify as men, their outdoor activity involvement actually increases to over 60% in their 20s (source). 

For those of us who live in or visit an area like Cook County where outdoor recreation is a staple in many people's lives, it may be easy to brush off the idea of a gender gap in the outdoors.  

The research shows otherwise. 

According to a research paper titled “Gender in Outdoor Studies:”, one study analyzing popular outdoor magazine advertising showed that women were depicted as participating in less physically and time-demanding engagements in outdoor pursuits, were shown as followers rather than leaders, and were seen as either escaping from motherhood or being the instigator of outdoor time with their families.

On a local level, Cassidy, a minority owner and operator of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters in Grand Marais (and expert on all things canoe trip planning), and Maddy, manager at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters (and has worked in the outdoor industry for 10 years in various positions as a guide, outfitter, and logistics coordinator), have witnessed the gender gap in outdoor activities such as camping and canoeing.

“When women are empowered to adventure outdoors we often see traditional gender roles appearing within those settings (i.e. men booking the permit and navigating the map, women calming the kiddos. Women cooking, men collecting firewood. Women in the bow, men in the stern. Women carrying packs, men carrying canoes),” they shared with Boreal Community Media. 

That’s why when Rachael, BWCAW guide of women’s empowerment trips for mindfulness and owner of True Earth Yoga, approached Cassidy and Maddy about the idea of creating a space for women-identifying people to gain confidence in the outdoors, they were immediately on board. 

Cassidy and Maddy mentioned that “In our years of working in the outdoor industry, we have found that women-only outdoor spaces empower participants to try new skills that they may not have had the opportunity to try when co-ed camping.”

Thus, the idea of “Canoeing with Confidence” was born.   

Canoeing with Confidence

In this inaugural summer, Cassidy, Maddy, and Rachael said that attendees can expect to learn:

  • logistics of planning a trip

  • paddling strokes

  • portage skills

  • camp set up

  • fire building

  • fun tips and tricks

  • and more!

(Participants can bring their own equipment if they want to better familiarize themselves with their specific gear. Equipment will also be available to practice with.)

“Additionally, attendees can expect to make connections with other locals that identify as women who they can adventure with and empower,” they said. 

This idea of building community with other Cook County residents is an important part of the program because the trio shared that they don’t think of themselves as the only experts in the outdoors. 

“We aren’t hosting because we think of ourselves as experts! We’re hosting to provide the space for women to share with one another so we can all benefit and broaden access to the BWCAW.”

And while basic skills are important to learn, it’s not the only thing that’s addressed.  

Specific women-focused concerns in the outdoors 

In addition to basic camping and canoeing skills, safety topics are discussed such as: over-planning and preparing (first aid, food, knowing the area), paddling and portaging safely, navigating and map reading, what to do in different types of weather, avoiding problematic animal encounters, and more. 

Rachael added that “Due to the world we live in, this also includes addressing concerns of stalking, sexual harassment, and assault in wilderness spaces. We will share ideas for planning for safety and minimizing risks” - a component that many outdoor programs don’t include, but are real concerns for women-identifying people when they’re outdoors. 

Gaining confidence with kids 

Another unique focus that will be included is gaining confidence while out with children. 

According to the three program hosts: “Being confident in your own skills and therefore instilling confidence into your children and teaching / leading them in safe outdoor experiences is the first step in raising kids who are comfortable in the wilderness.”

They believe that the BWCAW is a great place to start growing wilderness knowledge and having the option to learn a number of different skills.

“The Boundary Waters truly has so many options for working up to those bigger trips, and is a great way to introduce yourself into bringing children on trips with you,” they said.

Learn more about Canoeing with Confidence

To provide in-depth information about Canoeing with Confidence and to provide space for people to ask questions, the trio is hosting two virtual info sessions this week: one on May 8 at 6:30pm, and May 9 at 12pm. 

If you’re not able to attend either training, you can still sign up and a recording will be sent to you. 

“The info sessions will highlight our July 12 Skill Share Day as well as our partnership opportunities. We will close with an open Q&A about all things canoe camping. For 2023, some local women with BWCA experiences have volunteered to share what they know! We’re really excited to facilitate this exchange,” they said.

To sign up for an info session, visit:

For questions, you can reach out to [email protected] or [email protected]


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