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REI Force Of Nature: How REI is inspiring and Encouraging Women in the Outdoors

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What is REI’s Force of Nature Campaign?

The outdoors has always been there for us all to go out and explore. But how many women have been actively encouraged to participate in outdoor adventures? How many barriers, physical, traditional or mental, have prevented someone from getting outside and exploring or learning a new adventure sport? Cue REI and their Force of Nature campaign, which seeks to level the playing field when it comes to female participation and gender equality in outdoor adventures.

What is it like when you don’t have an outdoor female role model?


The REI Force of Nature study conducted in 2017 found that 63% of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model. That is shocking and has to change!

I find plenty of male adventurers inspiring, but they aren’t all ‘role models’ to me – I value greater diversity in terms of the gender of people who can inspire, as well as age and background – for this same reason, young men in their 20s who grew up with the outdoors as part of their lifestyle are not that relatable to me, a woman in my 30s with an office job, who started getting dirty on trails in the last 10 years.

What about someone similar to me, doing something that is accessible to me, that inspires me to take that first step?

Female role models in trail running

We love being outdoors full stop. But there is a special place in our hearts and minds for the sport of trail running. Trail running is special for so many reasons, and one of those is that you are spoilt for choice when it comes to female role models. Whether they are professional mountain trail runners who have achieved great things at famous races, to someone you know (personally or via social media) who has taken up trail running recently and runs for the joy of being outdoors in nature without a care for speed or times, there are so many inspiring women out there hitting the trails.

One of the female athletes who inspired me early on is a friend of mine who took up running in her 30s and inspired me to do the same. She didn’t even directly tell me to take it up, I could just see how much happier it made her and all the amazing places she was visiting to run on trails, and it inspired me to seek my own path and start running – starting with a 5-minute jog around my neighborhood.

–> If you’re new to trail running, you should definitely check out our ultimate beginner’s guide to trail running as it provides tons of advice, including how to find trails to run, what gear to wear, safety tips, and much more.

Following in her footsteps, within a couple of years I went from doing no exercise at all to running mountain marathons all over the world, and founding Trail & Kale to share the love of trails and encourage others to get outside and spend time moving in nature.

Interview with Emelie Forsberg - trail and kale - 19

Inspiring Forces of Nature in the trail running world

Our runner interviews series interviews a range of female trail runners, from world-class ultramarathoners to people new to running. Some of my favorite athletes out there include these ladies – have a read of their interview and learn more by connecting with them on social media and via their websites:

  • Emelie Forsbergan ultra-runner and advocate for balancing work, life, play and appreciating nature and the plant-based lifestyle
  • Hillary AllenHillary is another advocate for achieving balance in life, and also overcame a devastating accident in the outdoors during a trail race – yet has come back tougher and stronger for it
  • Jacky Hunt-BroersmaJacky took up running relatively recently and has achieved some incredible things in such a short period of time – on a leg and a blade
  • Nicky SpinksNicky is one of the most badass female ultrarunners out there, and holds records for fastest-known-times on tough mountain courses – outright. If that wasn’t enough, Nicky is also a cancer survivor.

In addition to our interview series, I also put together this list of books by inspiring female adventures. Not all are trail runners although all have one thing in common – they are inspiring women doing great things in the outdoors.

72% of women say they felt liberated or free when they are outdoors

REI Force of Nature Study, January 2017

Encouraging female outdoor participation via REI Force of Nature events

REI has managed to create a community around the love of the outdoors (much like ourselves ?), starting with its business model being a co-op, through to the range of accessible events they host at their stores and in adventurous places, many of which are specifically designed to introduce people to new sports and adventures – and including Force of Nature, female-specific events and classes. How much better is a learning experience or adventure when you share it with someone? Whether that’s someone you know or someone you’ve just met who is going on the same journey as you, who just so happens to be in the same boat.

Some examples of the types of classes you can do include:

  • Women’s essential backpacking skills
  • Women’s backcountry navigation with map and compass
  • Women’s wilderness survival

To search for events by type and location (near you), this link will take you to the REI Force of Nature Events list: Force of Nature Events.

In addition to the REI classes and events are full-on adventure vacations that include womens-specific adventures. There are hundreds of adventures to choose from, from weekend adventures in your state (or a state near you) to South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Men as allies and advocates for women in the outdoors

In addition to encouragement from organizations such as REI, and other women, in order to achieve gender equality, male advocates of women are just as, if not more important, than female advocates. Why? Because if men are currently representing the majority in the sport/business/community that is lacking in equality, then they are in the best position to help drive the shift. I’ve always valued male mentors and supporters – whether that’s a friend, colleague, or family member – the best way for men to support the change is to provide encouragement and support – by being allies and championing women in their sport and community.

Women’s-specific outdoor adventure gear – ‘Closing the gear gaps’

Remember when you wanted to do a sport and had to use large kids’ gear or small men’s gear, and wrestle with the fact that the… insert gear type here – pants/lifejacket/race vest/shoes… didn’t quite fit right and moved around/chafed/didn’t belong to you? I know I do. It doesn’t help you feel included or that you should be partaking in or truly enjoying an activity if you feel like you borrowed your brother’s gear and it doesn’t fit around your chest/hips properly.

Over the past 5-6 years, in particular, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the quality of women-specific gear being sold by progressive brands and retailers like REI who are working to improve women’s gear design. Companies that aren’t on-board with truly designing and catering to 50% of the demographic in whatever outdoor sport they target are being left behind – and replaced by forward-thinking businesses who are developing excellent world-class women’s gear designed to help us get out and enjoy being in nature, whether that’s by running, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking… you name it.

Some examples of women-specific gear that I love and appreciate are:

I hope you enjoyed learning about the REI Force of Nature campaign and the great things it is doing for women in the outdoors. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions for me.

For a full list of women’s running gear available at REI, click the button below.

Women’s specific content on trailandkale.com

Did you know, I often write women’s specific advice and gear reviews on trailandkale.com? Here’s the link for you to bookmark for future reading ?.

Helen is one of Trail & Kale's co-founders, where she reviews premium outdoor gear and trains our resident trail dog Kepler. Helen enjoys hiking, trail running, watersports and experiencing new and fun adventurous activities, as well as working on lifestyle sustainability projects such as converting our Sprinter van into a tiny home-office on wheels. Learn more about her journey, and everything that Trail & Kale stands for.


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