HikerBabes: Empowering Women Hikers
(From the archives: this piece was written in Spring 2021)
In a picture posted on the HikerBabes Instagram page on April 17, 2021, Jessica McDonough (@thevioletexplorer) smiled for a selfie. Rocky cliffs in Yosemite National Park loomed behind her.
McDonough wore sunglasses that reflected her outstretched arms. A small glittery crown with the number “100” sat atop her head. At the time of the picture, McDonough celebrated completing her 100th hike in the HikerBabes “100 Hikes—No Timeframe” challenge.
“I started my journey to 100 back in October 17, 2017. It took a bit longer than expected but I couldn't have enjoyed it any more,” said McDonough.
HikerBabes is a world-wide hike-at-your-own-pace community. They empower women through safe opportunities to get outdoors and hike in groups. Who are the HikerBabes though?
One Woman’s Empowerment Story
There is no limit to the number of HikerBabes Facebook groups a person can join.
Bonnie Jones-Kline lives in Oregon and is a member of the Willamette Valley, Oregon Chapter; the Oregon Coast Chapter; the Portland, Oregon Chapter; the Central, Oregon Chapter; and the Southwest Washington Chapter.
She joined HikerBabes in 2019, while going through an “emotional reconstruction phase” after her divorce. Jones-Kline wanted to spend more time in nature.
“I also had fear of being out there by myself,” said Jones Kline. Jones-Kline is not alone.
“Safety in numbers, always. I know the draw of solo hiking, and all of that, but as women, and especially in these days, it’s so much safer to be in a group,” said Monique Redmon, the founder of the HikerBabes Community.
The first HikerBabes hike that Jones-Kline went on, was at the McDonald Forest in Corvallis, Oregon. She recalled it being sunny, but cool enough to wear a hat. The converversations flowed and had a lot of fun.
“I wasn’t big [into] hiking, but then the year that I joined HikerBabes, I hiked 84 hikes in one year,” said Jones-Kline. Her story is not unlike other HikerBabes. “Within the first 15 minutes of being outside, even if it’s torrential downpour, I feel better,” said Jones-Kline.
HikerBabes allowed Jones-Kline to safely pursue her passion and connect with other women.
How HikerBabes Got Its Name
HikerBabes founder, Monique Redmon, of Bend, Oregon, was in her thirties when she grew tired of house parties, barbecues, and the bar scene.
“[I] just woke up one day and was like ‘I want something more in my life,’” said Redmon.
She wanted to hike.
None of her friends were interested in hiking, so Redmon adopted Brodie, a Boxer mix. Brodie loved hiking and took on the nickname, HikerBabe.
Redmon and HikerBabe hit the trails to complete the 52 Hike Challenge. The challenge encourages people to do 52 hikes within one year.
Partway through her third year of the 52 Hike Challenge, Redmon started receiving messages on Instagram from women asking how she kept up the weekly hiking routine.
There were plenty of hiking groups available for these women to join, but none of them focused on educating beginner hikers and helping women feel comfortable on the trail.
“I’ll just start my own movement,” said Redmon. She began organizing hikes via Facebook and named the group HikerBabes.
Early on, Redmon hosted a hike at Potato Chip Rock in California. She drove 14 hour from Bend, Oregon to Southern California and met with three women. Redmon didn’t know any of the women previously.
“We did it all together and we just had the best day,” said Redmon. “Hiking with these women that I just met [and] already having that sisterhood.” She felt reassured about her budding movement.
Four years later, the HikerBabes Community has 183 chapters listed on it’s website and 32.8 thousand Instagram followers. There is no membership fee and the email registration is optional.
“It was a whirlwind,” Redmon said. She grew her organization quickly, focusing on education, safety, diversity, and community service. “We’re all about giving back.”
Redmon started giving back by raising money for animal rescues. She wanted to honor the canine hiking partner, the original HikerBabe, Brodie.
Now, HikerBabes also does food drives, breast cancer awareness, and trail clean ups. They have a line of swag that funds tree planting and a line that raises money for Outdoor Afro.
How does Redmon keep up? An army of badass women.
HikerBabes has chapters in the U.S, Kenya, Australia, and more. Redmon oversees the global organization and stays in contact with local chapters through volunteer leaders.
Every chapter has an ambassador. The ambassadors manage their local Facebook group and organize hikes and community service events.
Trekking into the woods with strangers is daunting, but HikerBabes emphasizes women’s safety. Ambassadors make sure everyone is taken care of.
“You kind of gotta gauge your group,” said Trista Lee, the ambassador for the Willamette Valley chapter of the Oregon HikerBabes community. There have been times when she doesn’t know anyone at the event and other times when there is only one new person. “It’s important to wrap them in and include them and make them feel comfortable,” Lee said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, HikerBabes ambassadors were constantly on the move, hitting the trails for group hikes, backpacking, and retreats. Meetings went online, events had fewer participants, but ambassadors continued supporting their communities.
Last fall, Lee started a reading group to help her HikerBabes stay connected during quarantine.
“I don’t think any of us finished [the book], but we decided to go Astoria[, Oregon] anyway,” said Lee. With COVID-19 vaccines becoming increasingly available, Lee is planning a socially distanced trip to Astoria for her book group.
“It’s a fine line when you’re running a group and you’re trying to make everyone comfortable,” said Lee.
Currently, mask wearing is required while attending HikerBabes events, but if someone is unable to hike with their mask on, they can join as long as they keep a safe distance from the other hikers.
Inclusivity, Diversity, and Community in Hiking
“We are all about diversity and inclusion, and telling every woman out there, ‘You can do it,’” said Redmon. “You can start with a one mile trail and six months from now, you might be climbing a mountain,” she added with a laugh.
The HikerBabes mission statement begins, “We are a community of like-minded, diverse women who share a passion for the outdoors.”
In 2020, HikerBabes released their “Women Come Together” (WCT) line of swag. The line features T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and stickers with a new logo. Four silhouetted hikers of varying skin tones, gather with mountains and a sun in the background. The logo reads, “When women come together, beautiful things happen.”
Every month, HikerBabes donates one dollar from every WCT sale to Outdoor Afro, a national organization that makes outdoor recreational activities more accessible for Black people.
HikerBabes is inclusive of BIPOC women, LGBTQ+ women, and Trans women. Anyone who identifies as a woman. Lee explained that once in a while someone’s husband or kids will tag along, but the atmosphere changes when men are around.
“Women are so much more comfortable with other women,” said Lee. She and Redmon can tell story after story of women getting “empowered by the trail.” They meet new people and feel independent. Some lose weight and others leave abusive relationships.
“We want to get out and empower each other,” said Lee. “Come hike.”