This story originally appeared on The Drum.
The great outdoors has always been thought of as man’s territory, with rugged guys climbing sheer rock faces and braving severe elements. But women have long been a part of the outdoors and that number keeps growing towards equal footing. With women now making up 51% of outdoor consumers, Outside magazine saw this as a perfect time to call attention to gender.
To celebrate the many achievements of women on all fronts, Outside and REI have teamed up to put out the May issue of Outside that features, and is put together, almost entirely by women, on newsstands today (April 11), with strong women featured from cover to cover. Dubbed the “XX Factor Issue” the special production celebrates women who have made history over the course of Outside’s 40-year run, and shines a light on the issues, athletes, and thinkers who will define ‘Living Bravely’ for the next generation. The issue was produced by women, with the edit role filled by deputy editor Mary Turner, and contributors including Rahawa Haile, Florence Williams, Stephanie Pearson and photographer Annabel Mehran. Support from an advertising partnership with outdoor retailer REI, who is launching a major women-focused campaign in the May issue, allowed Outside to go all-in on women’s content.
“This is the first time women have taken over one of the 12 monthly issues,” said Turner, who added the magazine tried to spin off a women’s version nearly 20 years back but it didn’t end up catching on.
“It’s high time to give them the entire stage,” she added.
REI helped to strengthen the women’s message with its Force of Nature campaign, which is featured in the May issue.
“As a company they’ve also been looking at the issue of leveling playing field in outdoors. Their new CEO (Jerry Stritzke) is very focused on this as well. They’ve launched the Force of Nature creative in the May issue. It’s just as compelling as ours,” said Turner.
On 6 May, REI will kick off a calendar of over 1,000 events for women, ranging from backpacking trips to bike maintenance classes and trail runs.
Stritzke also wrote on the Force of Nature blog: “We’re committing $1m to support community organizations that are already doing great work to create opportunities for women and girls in the outdoors. Roughly $500,000 will support organizations like Camber Outdoors, GirlTrek and the YMCA’s Bold/Gold initiative. In May, we’ll be launching a new $500,000 Force of Nature fund, available through an open-call submission process, for organizations that join us in our commitment to make outdoors the world’s largest level playing field.”
Added Sam Moulton, content marketing director at Outside: “REI has ben a fantastic partner of ours for years…it’s a perfect partnership.”
A push for more women’s coverage
That women still aren’t portrayed enough as outdoor enthusiasts displays the importance of the women’s issue. But today, as Turner pointed out, 51% of outdoor consumers are women who have spent billions of dollars on outdoor gear and travel, a number that continues to grow.
“We’ve always pushed for more women’s coverage. Our readership has always been more male, but we want to portray a gender-neutral playing field. It’s time to recognize that. The outdoor industry needs a little push. In terms of advertising creative, seeing more women, more products and apparel…we still have a ways to go,” said Turner.
“We have a lot of women on staff. We can do a better job at speaking to our readers about it,” added Moulton.
Turner added that Outside has written about the lack of really good women’s outdoor products in the past; “why aren’t companies make better women bikes or skis?”
For a long time, the trend in the outdoor industry was to “shrink it and pink it,” meaning designing products for men, then essentially making them smaller and coloring them pink or other women-friendly colors. She said most companies have righted that ship and are doing better jobs, but there is progress to be made, since there more science and study behind those products and trends for fitness and women’s endurance athletes needs to be done.
That’s why the women’s issue is timely. Not only did Outside use all women writers and photographers to contribute to the May issue, it also featured powerful women for the cover shoot, including skier Lindsey Vonn, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, soccer star Abby Wambach and mountain guide Melissa Arnot Reid, among others.
“It really just filled the building with excitement. Men worked on this issue as editors and some were more excited about working on this issue than the women. Sometimes it’s a kneejerk reaction is to go to a man. This was an opportunity to almost overcorrect on that front,” said Turner.
Other features of the XX Factor Issue include a feature on the new icons represented on the cover, a story on the next generation of Girl Scouts, a gear guide for women, stories on spa treatments, the historic summit of Annapurna in 1978, a story on climber Beth Rodden’s kidnapping while on a climb in Central Asia, and exhaustive research on women in the industry.
Turner and Moulton both hope that the women’s issue becomes an annual, but they also have plans to feature outdoor women throughout the year and into the future, including on the covers and making lists of must-know women. Outside is also doing a podcast series talking about women’s issues, labeled the XX Factor and hosted by writer/contributor Florence Williams, and Outside TV is doing a program with Arnot Reid.
“There’s never been a more apt time to shine a light on women in the outdoors,” Turner said. “We are accomplished athletes pushing the limits of what’s possible – and increasingly beating men. And we are only growing stronger. But let’s be honest: the outdoor industry still has a long way to go before women are represented equally. According to a 2012 study by the women’s advocacy group Camber Outdoors, just 12.5% of outdoor companies with sales over $20m have female CEOs, and women make up only 37% of National Park Service employees.”
Added Laura Swapp, REI director of next gen marketing: “We launched this partnership with Outside to shine a light on the amazing things women are doing in the outdoors,” said Laura Swapp, REI director of next gen marketing. “Their story is under-told right now, and it’s created the misperception that women aren’t welcome or equal outside.”