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(Review originally published February 18, 2016.)
In the introduction to her book A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook, author Ruby McConnell describes her motivation for writing this practical manual. Turns out her drive to write was fueled by a fire likely familiar to many of us in the Misadventures community: sexism.
She writes, “Regardless of…what kinds of challenges I took on, there seemed to be an underlying current — a low hum of voices from the media, the mainstream, and men — insisting that the wilderness was no place for a woman.” A Woman’s Guide to the Wild sings loudly and proudly, drowning out that dreaded hum, as it provides women of varying degrees of outdoor experience with a practical handbook for wilderness adventuring.
Indeed, the book’s pragmatic approach is perhaps its biggest strength. I tend towards minimalism when it comes to annotating books, but A Woman’s Guide to the Wild was so chock full of helpful, practical advice, I found myself underlining, ear-marking, starring, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins with such diligence it would have made my tenth grade English teacher proud. It’s a lot of information, but McConnell orders it logically and arranges it in easy-to-digest formats: checklists, diagrams, and bullet points. Some of my favorite segments include Top Cities for Outdoor Recreation in Forty-Five Minutes or Less (highlights eleven spots across the country), Questions to Consider While Planning An Outdoor Excursion, Great Outdoor Apps, Car Camping Packing List, and Triangulation. Oh, and the recipes had my mouth watering. Who would’ve thought to add a dash of cayenne to a nutella-based s’more? Genius.
More female-centric pieces provide beneficial advice that more mainstream outdoor manuals ignore. McConnell walks readers through how to effectively master a trouble-free pee squat, french braid your own hair, find the perfect fit for a sports bra, and devotes several pages to the ins and out of menstruation in the wild (“it shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or prevent you from going outside”). Lists of women’s outdoor clothing companies, tour groups, and outdoor organizations connect readers to an assortment of female-based resources.
While some of this counsel might seem a bit basic to seasoned orienteers, she reaches a more experienced audience by including a smattering of entries from various outdoor experts covering a diverse array of topics. Dee Tvedt, a registered nurse and veteran rock climber, gives health and hygiene tips to keep in mind for engaging in outdoor sex. Roxanne Tenscher — a professional river guide — discusses safety and preparedness within the context of her own experience tearing her ACL while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Environmental advocate and outdoor entrepreneur Kate Blazar weighs in on overcoming the stigma of menstruating outside. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’ve never pitched a tent before or have served as a professional guide for years.
The book is also aesthetically attractive. Custom illustrations by skilled artist Teresa Grasseschi range from hand-drawn maps, to a step-by-step visual guide on how to load a pack, to knot-tying diagrams, to depictions of poisonous plants, to a drawing showing how to set up a sun compass with a stick and rocks, to other smaller, visually appealing sketches, and more. But these drawings serve a practical function as well. For example, the chapter describing different sorts of tents provided detailed visual guides that, for someone like me with limited camping experience, proved both interesting and useful. The drawings included in the chapter on navigation were incredibly helpful for a less experienced orienteer (and visual learner!) like myself. That the images are hand-drawn and not simply pictures lifted from a stock photo dumping ground gives the book a unique artistic charm.
A Woman’s Guide to the Wild is a book I know I’ll reference multiple times over in years to come, and McConnell infuses her informative, insightful manual with a humorous — and, at times, wry — tone. It’s an enjoyable read. And it’s inspiring, too: it had me itching to get outside. McConnell reminds her readers the value of doing so, arguing, “there is more to gain from your time outside than you can ever lose in trying.” Indeed, and this book equips its readers to do just that.