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7 Stellar Women Inspiring Others in the Outdoors

Photo courtesy of Arlette Laan

Arlette Laan

There are 11 National Scenic Trails in the US, and in 2022 Arlette “Apple Pie” Laan became the first woman to hike them all. After being bit by the thru-hiking bug in 2003, it took 2 decades and over 16,000 miles to land herself in the record books - but next to all the other treks she’s done it’s clear the goal was secondary to her love of being in the backcountry. 

“The best moments are the times when I’m on top of a mountain, surrounded by mountains, [and] valleys, [with] no evidence of civilization,” she says in an interview with Backpacker. “Just pure nature. I breathe the mountain air, having pushed my body uphill, feeling fully alive, taking it all in.”

When she’s not on trail, Arlette is a talented doll maker and even has a line of backpacking buddies as a nod to her love of the sport. If you’re looking to build your backcountry confidence or would love to hear her tales from the trails, keep an eye on Arlette’s upcoming guided hikes to join in on the fun with this backpacking legend.  

Follow Arlette on Instagram or shop her line of fabric creations here

Photo courtesy of Patricia Cameron

Patricia Cameron 

For a woman who truly walks the walk of building an inclusive and equitable outdoor community, look no further than Patricia Cameron. A single mother in Colorado, Patricia struggled with the means and knowledge to take her young son on outdoor adventures. In 2019, this inspired her to found Blackpackers to address the gap in representation and economic disparities of people of color in the outdoors. Since, she’s been hard at work to find creative ways to engage the community (including last year’s Hiker Trash Prom) and expand her own backcountry knowledge through a Colorado Trail thru-hike, a PCT LASH, and an NOLS Mountaineering Leadership Course in Alaska. 

“I still remember the nerves I felt leaving for my first thru. But buried underneath the anxiety of leaving my family and work behind, I knew it would feel like home again as soon as I stepped foot on the trail.” Read more from her first trip report from the PCT on Backpacker

Patricia is a certified interpretive guide, Leave No Trace master educator, Wilderness First Responder, and a Wilderness First Responder instructor. Follow Patricia on Instagram or learn more about her nonprofit Blackpackers here

Lyla Harrod 

Photo courtesy of Lyla Harrod

Lyla took her first steps as an aspiring thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in 2021, and was quickly bit by the hiking bug. But two things set Lyla apart from the crowds of the bubble: she is sober, and she’s transgender. From navigating social situations to educating others, Lyla handles the nuances of life on and off trail with grace and empathy and believes above all that the outdoors is a place for everyone to feel like they belong. 

“In the hiking community, we need to be proactive in making hiking and backpacking accessible and inclusive to all people. To me, being ‘trans competent’ means knowing how to refer to people respectfully and accurately; learning how to be respectful of people’s truths; and listening to the experience of trans people on trail if they offer.” Read more from Lyla’s 7 Ways to Be Trans Competent on Trail on The Trek

Since her transformative journey on the AT, Lyla has picked up a Fastest Known Time record, thousands of more miles under her hip belt and is currently on a winter trek of the Florida Trail. Follow along with Lyla’s adventures on her Instagram

Photo courtesy of Zelzin Aketzalli

Zelzin Aketzalli 

Here at Sawyer, we have a stellar team of intrepid adventurers that are catalyzing community across a wide spectrum of outdoor enthusiasms, and Zelzin “Quetzal” Aketzalli is no exception. Zelzin took on her first thru-hike in 2017 on the Pacific Crest Trail as a Spanish-speaker with little to no backpacking experience. Since, she has become the first Mexican person to achieve the triple crown. 

“One of the things that characterizes me the most is not giving up due to obstacles. My country taught me to survive, that’s why I see mountains as a lifestyle that changed my perspective with which I saw life.”

Zelzin now teaches introductory courses in Spanish to those looking to embark on a long trail for the first time, and praises the lifestyle and sport of thru-hikers beyond simple recreation. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram

Photo courtesy of Teresa Martinez

Teresa Martinez 

For a dedicated trailblazer who has worked for over 5 decades to protect and maintain the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails, look no further than Teresa Martinez. After 20 years with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, she went on to co-found the CDT Coalition, the current nonprofit tasked with completing, promoting, and protecting the CDT and currently serves as its Executive Director. In her various roles, Teresa has helped grow and guide the community of support for both trails that will preserve these significant national resources for generations to come. 

“To know that I’m a small part of something that, for 50 years, has been protecting landscapes like this is pretty amazing. So there’s just this deep commitment to give back to that.” Read more from 9News’ interview with Teresa here

Over the last decade, Teresa has served on the Federal Advisory Committee for the development of the Pacific Northwest Trail, the inaugural Board for the Great Plains Trail Alliance, on the Board of Directors for the Partnership for the National Trails System, and currently serves as the Chair of the National Board for the Next 100 Coalition dedicated to working towards a shared vision of a more diverse and inclusive lands and ocean conservation movement. 

Follow Teresa on Instagram, click here to learn more about the history of the CDT Coalition, or follow this link to learn more about the Next 100 Coalition. 

Photo courtesy of Mary E. Davison

Mary E. Davison

Mary E. Davison is a retired pastor and grandmother of 10 - and she also completed the Triple Crown at the grand old age of 76. After keeping detailed journals over 16 years of backpacking, she has authored two books, Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76 and Aren’t You Afraid? American Discovery Trail from Atlantic Ocean to Nebraska

“It’s funny because some of the people who read my book get it, and some of the people say, ‘I wish she wouldn’t talk about being old so much. I’m of that age, and I don’t think I’m old.’ And it’s like, that’s because you don’t want to own up to the fact that you have that many years and other people think you’re old. I refuse to think it’s a bad thing!” Read more from Blissful Hiker’s interview with Mary E. Davison on The Trek.

Before she began ticking off long-trails, Mary was in the Peace Corps, worked as a physical therapist with a specialty in pediatrics, and was a pastor of a church for 16 years. Next is her continued section hikes along the 4,800-mile American Discovery Trail and a third book currently in the works. Follow along with her adventures under her trail name Medicare Pastor on Trail Journals

Photo courtesy of Shilletha Curtis

Shilletha "Dragonsky" Curtis 

Shilletha “Dragonsky” Curtis is a woman on track to becoming the second Black woman and first Black gay woman to complete the Triple Crown. New Jersey native, Shilletha thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2021 and last year tackled a major LASH of 1,500 miles on the Continental Divide Trail. She broke into the outdoor industry by authentically sharing her experiences with racial inequality and biases in the thru-hiking community, and continues to push for inclusion and increased diversity in the outdoors as she crushes miles. 

“We need to make these groups a safe space for everyone, not just white members, as black people do hike. We hike with love, curiosity, intelligence, and a drive that preserves us through the darkest of days. I hike for every black woman who has wanted to hike. I hope to pave the way for others like me, that they may have hiker communities in which they are welcomed.” Read more from Shilletha’s article “Not Just Another Hiker” published with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Dragonsky currently has her first book in the works and is a talented writer and content creator. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram

LAST UPDATED

October 4, 2023

Written by
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Katie Houston

Katie AKA Oats is a solo thru-hiker with over 3,000 miles under her belt, making her a passionate conduit for culture, lingo, and other backcountry knowledge. Through her work, she is able to educate audiences on good trail ethics and strive for an outdoor community where everyone feels like they belong. Check out her adventures with Thru the husky on her website and Instagram.

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