Women in the Backcountry of Isle Royale

Breaking at the Feldtmann Ridge Fire Tower

When women contemplate hiking and backpacking, they have obstacles to overcome, a lot of social conditioning that impresses on women to fear being attacked. Social media reinforces those fears. Well-meaning ideas about keeping sister, mom, or daughter safe can heighten the obstacles.

Beyond that, we develop self-doubts because we are so often told what we cannot do, what is for women and what is not. Social conditioning says women want bubble baths, satin robes, and candlelight when they relax, that women glamp, not camp or hike. It tells us that we should not prefer to strain or sweat. But we love a challenge, we want to test our limits, we want to be extraordinary!

Crossing the Boardwalk
Feldtmann Ridge View

If women listen to themselves, they know that fear is minor.  Instead of living in fear, they flex their muscles and do not let it inhibit them from taking opportunity to truly be themselves. They want to experience the backcountry with a backpack, scaling rocks and ridges to experience spectacular views and wild adventures.

Once you give yourself permission to take up the challenge of a backcountry experience, you can start to take the steps to provide yourself with what you need to be successful. Backcountry hiking takes some stamina, mental and physical, and the ability to provide for yourself a circumstance in which to enjoy the wild out of doors. Let’s look at each in the context of hiking Isle Royale.

Hiking through the Ferms
An Easy Boardwalk near Daisy Farm

You can be a woman and still be strong, and you can enjoy the company of other women on a backcountry adventure.

Isle Royale trails are difficult. Make no mistake about it. The trails are rugged, and sometimes difficult to follow. However, summer days in the north extend to 14 or 15 hours in peak season. The days are long. What the length of the day means is that you have plenty of time to hike from campsite to campsite and that there is plenty time to see and photograph the scenery. You have time to break and relax however often you need.

To hike Isle Royale, you need to prepare and plan for your limitations (which of course you will challenge in this experience). Your first adventure will accomplish three feats: (1) you will give yourself permission to enjoy the outdoors and the company of other women, (2) you will teach yourself that you can hike, and (3) you will teach yourself what you need to know to hike safely.

Hiking a Ridge
Near Three-Mile

To backpack successfully, you must give yourself permission to be strong and independent, to take on the challenge that will demand training and stamina, and to assert yourself rather than letting someone else decide for you what you do as a woman. To prepare for a beginner hike, you would need to be able to hike with a backpack for three to four miles.

To practice and work up strength, you can start by walking around your neighborhood that distance every other day. Then you can add a backpack to which you add weight, little by little, until you can hike comfortably carrying about 25 pounds. Then change from hiking in your neighborhood to hiking in a hilly area so that you can climb up and down hills. If you can do these things, you are ready to try Isle Royale.

Late Season Campsite
Viewing Sleeping Giant

Then you need to focus on your gear. To backpack, you need to know what you need, including which clothing, gear, and shelter is required. A standard gear list and some good advice from experienced backpackers will get you part of the way, but all advice reflects the perspective of the advisor. Advice from an advisor who has backpacked the island is not the same as the advice from a guide whose job it is to help you make the best choices for yourself prior to getting yourself into a backcountry experience.

For solid advice, you can take our free courses at www.courses.wiseoldmanofisleroyale.com that are prepared by qualified guides. You will be able to see what the choices are and what you will need to consider in order to backpack Isle Royale safely. You can also visit our Guide Services page and click on the Gear List button to see our recommendations.

At Monument Rock Prefire

Remember, the lighter the gear the better. You cannot have a great time backpacking with a pack that weighs 45 pounds. Your goal should be a pack—with 2 liters of water—that weighs less than 30 pounds. To do that you need to limit what you take, have lightweight clothing appropriate to the season, and have ultra-light gear. Three or four times, I had a pack over 32 pounds, and I was miserable.  

To accomplish a pack that light on a budget, you can visit your local outfitter and check out their used gear sales. You can also rent a lightweight gear package. Renting is usually a good option for beginning hikers who do not want to invest thousands of dollars in gear for their first outing.

On your first excursion, you can consider joining a guided hike. I am guiding three women-only beginner hikes on Isle Royale this summer, one in each of the months of June, July, and August. These hikes start in Copper Harbor for the night to depart on the Isle Royale Queen the next morning. Once we arrive on the island, we get oriented and briefed by park personnel, and then we hike three miles on the rugged island to Three-Mile Campground. We will have at least seven hours to make the hike.

On the Daisy Farm Trail
Hiking the Feldtmann Loop

On the second day, we will hike 4 miles directly to Daisy Farm or we can take the optional 6.5 mile route up to Mount Franklin for the views and then back into Daisy Farm for a night near the shore of Lake Superior. If available, we can hear the Peterson talk about the wolf-moose study that evening. The next day, we return to the Three-Mile Campground for the night. On the last day, we hike back to Rock Harbor (3 miles) to do some shopping before taking the Queen IV back to Copper Harbor.

To book a hike, you should reach out via the contact us button on the website, or drop us a note at our email, wiseoldmanofisleroyale@gmail.com, so that we can talk about your needs and your level of experience and match you with a hike that works for you.

Swimming in Todd Harbor
On the Feldtmann Ridge

I will make sure you have the right gear and the right expectations, and you can join a group of women with similar experiences and goals so that your hike will be what you hope it will be. Once you have an excursion selected, we will meet by Zoom to help you to prepare prior to departure so that you are well-positioned for an experience of a lifetime.

The most important part of backpacking is believing that you can do it. Once you give yourself permission, you need to prepare physically and to prepare your gear for hiking. Know that you can take on this challenge in the pristine environment of Isle Royale among like-minded women who want to have a first-hand experience that you always knew you could—if only the circumstances were right. Let’s do something wonderful together!

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