Kirstie Hall – On creating diversity in the outdoor scene

WOW. Where to even begin? We suggest you lean back, grab a cold drink and get yourself ready for an incredible and important summer read by writer, photographer, and wanderer behind the platform www.hallaroundtheworld.comKirstie Hall

Kirstie created Hall Around the World to inspire and inform people who are traveling by featuring stories from her suitcase, and curated guides about unique destinations and sustainable travel experiences around the world. For this particular piece, she’s been interviewing two inspiring women and explorers – Nicole Snell and Preethi Chandrasekhar, about their love for adventures and the lack of diversity in the outdoor scene. And we promise, their stories are truly captivating.

“In recent years, we have seen more and more women claiming their space in the outdoor world – There are more women climbers, surfers, hikers… you name it. 

Despite the fact that there is now significantly more female representation, outdoor media is still dominated by white faces and voices. This isn’t because there aren’t any BIWOC exploring the outdoors… because there are plenty… and it is past time that they got the attention they deserve.

To celebrate the recent launch of Astrid Wild’s Rosa Hiking Tights, lovingly named after Rosa Parks, I thought it fitting to diversify the women featured here on the Astrid Wild blog. 

Rosa Parks, as we all know, fought for equal rights by boldly and unapologetically claiming her space. I spoke with two fearless female explorers who are doing the same for themselves and all BIWOC in the outdoors.

First up is Nicole Snell, known as Nik, or @adventuresofnik on Instagram.

Nicole grew up in a small desert military town in Southern California called 29 Palms. It lies just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, so she was introduced to the outdoors at a very young age and had the desert as her playground growing up. Nicole believes being exposed to the great outdoors from a young age is what led to her being so passionate about exploring and conservation now. 

When asked why spending time in nature is so important she says, “Nature was and still is healing for me and it is where I feel truly free and at peace. I love spending time in nature because nature doesn’t care what you look like, your skin colour, your body size, your gender, what brand of clothes you’re wearing, etc. Nature simply exists!

I feel connected and joyful when I can walk along a trail and listen to the sounds of the wind, birds, animals and insects around me and feel like everything I’m experiencing in that moment is just for me.” – Nicole Snell

For Nicole, the experience is meditative and extremely personal. She is mesmerized by the diversity of the natural world, and her curiosity is constantly being sparked by the thrill of discovering something new.

Her current go-to outdoor activity is hiking, especially solo hiking, but Nicole says she loves anything and everything that gets her outside – “Horseback riding, backpacking, camping, scuba diving, snowboarding, kayaking, biking, surfing…you name it and I’ve probably done it or it’s on my list to try!”

Nicole’s favourite adventure so far was a trip to New Zealand where she hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This 12.1-mile trek takes you between 2 active volcanos in an area full of geothermal activity, up to alpine elevations and past the gorgeous Emerald Lakes and, on a clear day, views of Lake Taupo. You pass along volcanic landscapes and finally through a rainforest.

It was a truly magical adventure that I was grateful for the opportunity to experience.

Nicole shares her adventures in the outdoors to inspire other women to get out there, too… especially women who might think they don’t “belong.” 

There is an unacceptable lack of representation in much of the outdoor industry which needs to change because the outdoors are for everyone.

By sharing her story, Nicole hopes to change the narrative about who belongs in the outdoors and to inspire other BIPOC women to get out and try whatever adventure or activity that excites them, without fear of being discouraged by an industry that often has a singular idea of what an “outdoors” person looks like. 

I am what an outdoors person looks like. You are what an outdoors person looks like. The world is far too big for us to live within someone else’s limits. There is too much I want to see and experience in the world for me to let anyone stop me, and I want other women to know that they too, are unstoppable!” – Nicole Snell

Nicole says that by showing the diversity of those who are recreating in the outdoors, we can encourage and inspire others to pursue their outdoor dreams as well. Her advice for women who want to start exploring is this: Start exploring! 

Pick an activity or place you want to visit and just go!” she says. “It doesn’t have to be far or complicated…exploring can start in your own neighbourhood, city or park. Research the things that interest you and let that be your starting point to discovering activities you really enjoy and then adding onto your interest from there. The great thing about starting a new activity is finding others who also enjoy it and sharing the experience while learning from each other.

In addition to being an avid outdoor explorer, Nicole is also the CEO of Girls Fight Back, an organization that, among other things, teaches self defense courses for women who want to feel safe and empowered to explore the outdoors solo. You can read more about Nicole’s work on her website nicolesnell.com.

Next I spoke to Preethi Chandrasekhar, also known as @eagertravele on Instagram.

Preethi was born in India and grew up in Chennai. When she was 12 she moved to the United States with her parents and lived in the Midwest for a few years before moving to California. She is currently based in San Francisco, but is often on the go on outdoor adventures.

It wasn't until I graduated undergrad that I met a few people who were interested in the outdoors and that got me back into hiking & backpacking.” – Preethi Chandrasekhar

Preethi says, “I didn't grow up in India exploring the outdoors because it really wasn't part of the culture. When we moved to the States, that was my first introduction to camping & hiking. But as immigrants, my parents had to re-start their lives so to speak and find jobs to make a living, so going camping wasn't top of mind for them. 

After the initial few attempts we didn't really do any outdoor vacations as a family. Money was also an issue so they did not want to spend it on camping gear & clothes. It wasn't until I graduated undergrad that I met a few people who were interested in the outdoors and that got me back into hiking & backpacking.” 

Now, every year, Preethi and her husband take multi-day hiking trips in some parts of the world. She says, “Spending time in nature is important to me because it gets me out of my own head. I was diagnosed with borderline depression just before COVID began, and it was hard to talk about it then because of the mental stigma associated with depression, especially in the South Asian community. Getting out in nature last year saved me. Along with my love for photography, I find I am most in the moment when I combine hiking & photography together.” 

Preethi’s favorite outdoor adventure so far was a multi-day hiking trip around the Mont Blanc Massif which encompasses Switzerland, Italy and France

I shared that special experience of staying in mountain huts in the Alps with my husband. I also really loved the backcountry backpacking trip I did to Yosemite National park last year. It was humbling to see nature in such a raw state, especially at night when the Milky Way stood out so prominently.

Preethi says her goal is to normalize the outdoors for women like her. 

For ethnic minorities. It's easy to feel we don't belong here especially when you don't see people who look like you. All the big brands like North Face, Patagonia, etc. always feature white people in their ads. So when you don't see people like you doing those things like camping, climbing, bike riding...you feel intimidated. I want to change that and show women and minorities that the outdoors is for all of us.

For ethnic minorities. It's easy to feel we don't belong here especially when you don't see people who look like you. All the big brands like North Face, Patagonia, etc. always feature white people in their ads." – Preethi Chandrasekhar

Preethi’s advice for women who want to dive into the world of outdoor adventure is to first work on their mindset. 

Know that even though you might not have grown up doing these activities, it's never too late to learn. Start close to home with smaller activities like a small day hike, and get used to it before attempting something bigger like the iconic hiking trip to Mont Blanc or the 16 mile hike up the cables to Yosemite's Half Dome.

You can read about this and other adventures on her website TheEagerTraveler.com. Preethi shares detailed information about her adventures here to inspire readers to push past boundaries and explore the great outdoors, no matter their age, skill, or fitness level. 

Nicole and Preethi are just two of an infinite number of bada** babes who are unapologetically creating space, diversifying, and paving the way for more women to take up space in the outdoor adventure community.

Want some more inspiration? Check out these outdoor loving ladies on Instagram to inspire your next adventure!

Lyss @sofearlyss
Rehna @outdoors_with_rehna
Aisha @aisha_danielle_
Grizel @_grizel_
Lat @lat_gassama
Chelsea @she_colorsnature
Beth @lostwithbeth

And then there’s me – Kirstie Hall, the writer of this article.

Originally from North Carolina, I’m a bi-racial, British-American creative who now proudly calls Malmo, Sweden – home. 

I’ve always loved nature and being outdoors, but it wasn’t until moving to Sweden and taking full advantage of Allemansrätten that I truly realized how much I love a good nature escape. You can read all about my adventures in the outdoors on my website Hallaroundtheworld.com or follow along on Instagram @kirstie.hall.

Thanks for reading – and happy trails to you… wherever your trails may be. <3

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