Trail Mavens

Looking to give experiences instead of stuff? Enter Trail Mavens, a Bay Area organization that teaches urban women how to camp, backpack, and thrive in the outdoors
December 13, 2015Words by Liv Combe

I didn’t grow up in what you’d call an outdoorsy family. I went on my first camping trip right after I'd graduated from high school in Ohio, and four of my best guy friends and I took a road trip north into Michigan and spent a few nights next to a lake. I had to borrow a sleeping bag and didn’t set up a tent or build a fire once during those handful of days, which I'm embarrassed to say is how I preferred it at the time. 

Years later, the first time I went camping in California, I’d changed my tune. I was more than interested in how to do this outdoorsy stuff; it was one of the main reasons I moved here. So my boyfriend and I headed down to Big Sur, where he showed me how to build a fire, pitch a tent, and blow up a sleeping pad without passing out. This is the same boyfriend who, just earlier this fall, showed me how to pack and prepare for four days in the backcountry, my first ever backpacking trip.

The overarching theme here? I learned almost everything I know about the outdoors — and have some of my best memories in it — primarily from and with dudes. Until recently, that is.

Sasha Cox, the founder of Bay Area-based Trail Mavens, was more or less in the same boat as I was when she was getting into the outdoors world. After an enthusiastic college boyfriend took her on her first camping trip (Yosemite National Park) and her first backpacking trip (Peru’s Cordillera Blanca), she was hooked. “Being outdoors made me feel grounded,” she says. “I felt confident, competent, and deeply connected to myself.”

I realized that I had never adventured outdoors with my best girlfriends; I only explored nature with male significant others.

And a decade later, in 2012, Sasha was inspired to begin Trail Mavens. 

“I was backpacking in Bolivia with my soon-to-be husband, and on the second morning of our four-day trek, I was cooking oats over our Whisperlite as the sun rose over the mountains and cast a warm, golden light on everything around me. That moment was a pivotal one — I was filled with all those same wonderfully grounded, confident feelings, and I was fully aware that they stemmed from where I was and what I was doing. In the next moment, however, I realized that I had never adventured outdoors with my best girlfriends; I only explored nature with male significant others. Furthermore, I learned everything I knew about camping and backpacking from men. I had never had a female role model.” 

And Sasha never looked back. Then and there, she vowed to take her closest friends out on a backpacking trip as soon as she got home, making sure that these women in her life had the skills they needed to have their own experiences in the outdoors. 

“But why stop there?” Sasha wondered. “Wouldn't it be great if there were a place women could come together to teach and learn from each other to become outdoor ninjas, without needing a guy there to get macho about his fire-starting abilities?” 

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Trail Mavens empowers women to be the fire-starters, the tent-pitchers, and the map-readers.

For many women — perhaps urban women in particular, and even more specifically, women in the Bay Area where Trail Mavens is located — there can be a pretty intimidating barrier to entry to outdoors activities like camping and hiking. You may not have the right gear, for example, or don’t know how to do seemingly simple tasks like find a campsite in the first place. When there are so many people all around you that seem to have these skills and know-how down, it can feel easier to avoid the activity altogether than to risk looking, well, stupid.

Trail Mavens’ mission? To “empower women to be the fire-starters, the tent-pitchers, and the map-readers, creating opportunities for adventure, and starry night campfire conversation in the great outdoors.” Another way to put it? Sasha and the Trail Mavens give women an incredibly tall boost right on over that barrier to entry. 

“Before we ran our first adventure,” says Sasha, “we talked to a lot of women to figure out what their relationships were like with the outdoors, what they wanted them to be like, and what lived in the gap between the two. Every single woman we spoke to wanted to get out more than she already was, and Trail Mavens was designed to eliminate the most common barriers keeping more women from making the leap.”

No gear? Trail Mavens provides it all. 

No car? Trail Mavens arranges carpools. 

Not sure how to pitch a tent, build a fire, read a map, or work a camp stove? You will after an adventure with Trail Mavens. 

Haven’t quite gotten the hang of the high-maintenance, highly-competitive, non-intuitive California State Park reservation system? Lucky for you, Trail Mavens woke up early six months ago to snag that impossible-to-get campsite. 

Don’t know any other outdoorsy women to go with? Well, Trail Mavens does. And you’re going with them.

“When I get asked about what I do,” says Sasha, “most women — including experienced outdoorswomen — respond with something like, ‘This is exactly what I want in my life, and I didn't even realize it existed.’”

For women looking to explore the Bay Area, there’s no better way to do it than with Trail Mavens. From Yosemite to Big Sur, Point Reyes to Tahoe, any woman who’s interested in learning more outdoors skills — or experienced women who just want to meet and hang out with more likeminded ladies in the great outdoors — would greatly benefit from a weekend with Trail Mavens. 

Writer's Note: I can personally vouch for this one, having spent an October weekend up in Marin County on Mt. Tam with Trail Mavens getting a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) certification in Wilderness First Aid (WFA). Thinking about getting WFA or Wilderness First Responder certified? Couldn’t recommend it enough. Thinking about doing it with Trail Mavens? Even better. 

As Trail Mavens grows and develops within the Bay Area, the baseline ethos will remain the same: making it easier for women to go into the outdoors together.

“Women relate to nature in a fundamentally different way than men do,” says Sasha. “For many men, nature is something to be conquered. A woman’s relationship is marked by a sort of symbiotic gratitude — ‘It’s you and me, nature. We’re in this together.’ Women are also natural leaders. Teach a woman outdoor skills, and all of a sudden her friendly, family, and kids have those outdoor skills, too.”

Furthermore, as many of us already fully comprehend, nature is a transformative force, providing the perfect setting for women to forge connections not only with themselves, but with each other. “As it turns out,” says Sasha, “the quality of conversation and connection fostered by sharing s’mores and a camp mug of Pinot Noir around the campfire is pretty much unbeatable.” We’ll raise our mug to that. [H]

Is your girlfriend, wife, friend, sister, or mother into experiences more than things? Lucky for you, Trail Mavens has gift certificates from $50 all the way up to $450 for you to get your lady to put toward any future Trail Mavens adventure. Check out the developing 2016 lineup of trips.


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