Lauren Cook zips up the tent she set up with her partner during a Camping 101 lesson at Killens Pond State Park in Felton, Del., on Oct. 6, 2017. Cook participated in Delaware's annual three-day Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Fish & Wildlife. (Photo by Joan Smedinghoff/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Research overwhelmingly shows that spending time outdoors is beneficial for people’s mental and physical health. Despite the mounting support for spending time outside, research also shows that girls and women are not spending as much time outdoors as men.

This starts as early as preschool with girls being 16% less likely than boys to be encouraged to spend time outdoors and continues all the way to retirement age with men spending twice as much time outside by their mid-60s. But in a promising new trend, the number of women participating in outdoor recreation has grown in recent years—including a 44% increase in women hunting between 2007 and 2017 and a 24% increase in women fishing since 2011.

Creating safe spaces for women to learn together is key to keeping the momentum going. Women often lack mentorship and fear harassment when spending time outdoors on their own. Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW), a national program that teaches women the fundamentals of different outdoor activities, was founded for this exact purpose.

In 1990, Christine Thomas was a professor of resource management at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources when she led a workshop to figure out why more women weren’t participating in hunting and angling. As a result of the workshop, she learned that while many women were interested in outdoor recreation, they often lacked the mentors to help them get started.

The following year, Thomas launched the first outing of the BOW program. The need for the program was clear and the idea spread across the country with different states starting their own chapters. The program now exists in 46 states and several Canadian provinces. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the program is offered in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and West Virginia.

BOW offers hands-on educational opportunities for women in a non-competitive atmosphere. Both weekend trips and single-day activities are available in most 46 states where the program is available. No experience is necessary to participate and women of all backgrounds are welcome to join the program.

The weekend trips that Thomas originally designed include multiple classes focused on things like kayaking, birdwatching, fly fishing, archery, gun safety and cooking wild game. These trips also offer social opportunities with shared meals so participants can network and talk about what they’ve learned. The chapters also offer one to three-day trips that focus on a single activity. In Maryland, there’s a three-day outing offered for striped bass fishing in the Bay.

By the end of the trips, women will have expanded their skillset, built a sense of camaraderie, and hopefully made a few new friends to travel with on their next outing.

Programs like BOW are creating new opportunities for women in the outdoors and building the network of mentors for future generations. With increased networks and training opportunities, hopefully the trend of women spending more time outdoors will continue to grow.

Do you know of a similar outdoor recreation program for women? Let us know in the comments!


There are no comments.

Leave a comment:

Time to share! Please leave comments that are respectful and constructive. We do not publish comments that are disrespectful or make false claims.

Thank you!

Your comment has been received. Before it can be published, the comment will be reviewed by our team to ensure it adheres with our rules of engagement.

Back to recent stories