Are you a #ForceOfNature ? Hike it Baby Founder Shanti Hodges shares her feelings about the Force of Nature campaign by REI and what it means for women to support each other in nature.

Group of 20 women and 26 children all ready to go hiking

Upper McCord hike with Hike it Baby Portland (April 3, 2017)

A few weeks ago my friend Beth posted a hike and shockingly 20 women (and 26 babies) showed up to hike with us. Of the women three were carrying two children and two were pregnant and carrying toddlers. Do the math on that one and 1/4 of the women in our group were carrying 2 humans!

As we stood in the parking lot getting our little ones ready for the hike, I surveyed the group. There were smiles all around. Women were offering each other carriers to borrow and warmer clothes for their kids because there was a slight chill in the air when we started out. It felt so welcoming and I couldn’t help but feel my heart soaring. This is what it looks like when women support each other in nature.

But I wasn’t really alone. I had my friend Sunny in my mind with every step I took.

When I was 20 years old I did a solo backpacking trip hiking from Aspen, CO up to Conundrum Pass, a hot springs that was 18 miles above Aspen. It was a long hike and pretty intense if my memory serves me correctly. When I got to my campsite I remember how proud I was that I had done this and how strong I felt for having gone for it alone. But I wasn’t really alone. I had my friend Sunny in my mind with every step I took.

A year earlier I may not have ever considered doing something like this, but while at University I met this woman who had just come from cycling across New Zealand by herself for a few months. She was only a year older than me but seemed so confident as she talked about pulling off to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and just sleeping under the stars. I remember being so in awe of her and thinking, if Sunny could do it, so could I.

Over the years as I started getting out there and trying different things outdoors, I can say I definitely saw a pattern of when I saw another woman do something, I got inspired and it made me start thinking about whether I could do it or not. Women inspire women. We look to each other in a different way than men do when it comes to stepping into nature and adventure. We don’t necessarily look to compete with each other as men often do (I catch my husband watching videos of other men kayaking and saying things like, “I used to be a badass like that, but not anymore.”) when it comes to the outdoors.

5 women, 5 babies and 2 strollers on a lush green nature path

First five women I hiked with who inspired “Hike it Baby” to begin. You have these ladies to thank for helping me not freak out and give up that day!

Hike it Baby started because when I had my son Mason, I didn’t feel like I had a “Sunny” around to cheerlead me on and get me into the outdoors. In spite of all the time I had spent hiking in my past (right up to the day Mason was born), I suddenly felt like I was starting all over. I’ll never forget the first hike I went on. I met up with 5 women in a park. Two of us had strollers, which was ridiculous because this was not a stroller trail. I had tucked the carrier into the bottom of the stroller, but I still felt like a bumbling idiot when it came to putting it on. I was actually a little embarrassed that I didn’t know what to do with it, or my baby for that matter, so I didn’t ask for help. Instead we headed up a little trail, me pushing a huge stroller up a trail that quickly went from All Access to single track. I was a hot, sweaty, postpartum mess. The women I was with were so supportive, and after about ten minutes they encouraged me to lock the stroller to a tree and showed me how to carry Mason.

That was the beginning of Hike it Baby for me. Those first few weeks of getting comfortable on trails, carrying Mason, figuring out what to bring and what was excessive were a huge learning curve, but I got it easily thanks to having women around me give me tips and just keep me going week after week. Women excel quickly with support. Over the last three-and-a-half years I have watched women all around me push further on hikes, get out more often than they ever thought they could, and explore terrain they maybe wouldn’t have before we all started hiking together.


4 women all with babies in slings hiking

Beth (on the right) has been a constant source of inspiration in getting
me on trail during the hard months for the last four years

By now you have probably noticed the #ForceOfNature campaign by REI that’s been all over the media. Last month REI came to me and said that I was chosen by their team to be a representative and partner with them in the campaign. Even though I already know that what I’ve been doing is impacting hundreds and maybe thousands of women, it was a huge honor and a reminder that women do inspire other women to get after it.

After 20 years of being involved in the outdoors world, it’s exciting to see such a big mainstream brand take a strong stance in helping encourage women to find the adventure in their spirit and unleash it. What’s also great about this campaign though is it’s not about any one sport. It’s about just stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things. This is an important part in breaking down barriers for women. I can’t tell you how many women have written me over the last few years to thank me for starting an organization that helped them get out there and hike, something that pre-baby they maybe had dabbled in or if they did, they thought would end when they had a baby.

2 women and 2 babies bundled up to go hiking on a 30 degree day
This hike would have never happened if I had to go it alone. Anke (The Romaniac) and I hiking on a 30 degree day 

This blog isn’t about how awesome Hike it Baby is in getting women out there though or about me. It’s not about how REI is completely awesome for doing this campaign or saying “it’s about time!” This is about recognizing that there’s never been a more important time for women, and all families really, to connect better with nature. And women are the perfect conduits of this message.

One way to help make this happen is by pushing constant reminders out there, whether it’s through ad campaigns by REI or organized groups like Hike it Baby. Seeing women getting after it daily in the media, on our personal feeds, or in our neighborhoods helps give us all that nudge after a long day when you find yourself diving down an icky Facebook rabbit hole of angst.

I, for one, hope that this beautiful imagery of real women doing things like walking, hiking, yoga, paddling, and camping, keep bombarding me long beyond this campaign. This is the imagery I want my son to look at as he grows up. Real women connecting with nature and sharing that with their families.

#ForceOfNature is not about climbing Mt. Everest and hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about connecting with nature and connecting with each other. It’s about encouraging women to try new things in nature before they even know they want to try these things. #ForceOfNature is about all of us taking a moment to recognize that adventure is all around us and nature is just outside your door, even if you live in an urban place. It’s about how we can get out more often and go further if we do it together. I love it. I can’t wait to see how this campaign jams up my newsfeed all month.

If you want to participate in the campaign this month here are a few things you can do to help inspire!

  1. Plan a hike and label it #ForceOfNature in your hike submission on the Hike it Baby calendar (example:  #ForceOfNature Tryon Creek)
  2. Tag your adventures on social media all of May with #ForceOfNature
  3. Write about women who have inspired you to get outside (your mother, your friend from college, the pro mountain biker you worship and got to hang out with one summer, the woman who you met on a hike who was carrying TWO children) and tell her story on social media.
  4. Purchase the #ForceOfNature bandanas from REI. 73% of the proceeds from these are going to help fund organizations (like Hike it Baby) to help get women outside.
  5. Share all of the awesome posts and blogs you see out there from women power websites like these. There are so many more out there, too, so check each of these out to lead you to other amazing gals. Adventure Mamas Initiative, 52 Hike Challenge, Altitude 7, Snow Queen and Scout, She Explores, Outdoor Women’s Alliance, Hike Like a Woman, Tales of a Mountain Mama, Mommy Hiker, Born Wild Project

Mom and Daughter looking at a desert lake

This post was not sponsored by REI and their #ForceofNature campaign. However, I was compensated this month to share my feelings and inspirations about getting outside on my social media. Everything in this article is based on watching the campaigns rolling out and how excited I am to see this taking hold all around me far beyond the “sponsored” campaigns. 


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