5 Badass Female Role Models

The face of adventure continues to change in the outdoor industry and beyond. More women than ever before are venturing into the unknown: climbing, hiking, backpacking, paddling, biking, and generally crushing it. Nearly half of all outdoor participants are female. We’re moving towards having gear options that fit us (not just smaller, pinker versions of what our male counterparts are using). We’re also a major part of important environmental and social justice causes, which are absolutely linked to our outdoor pursuits. These five women have opened doors for today’s activists and adventurers in a serious way.

Read their stories, get inspired, and get after it—be a part of changing the face of adventure and telling a new narrative.

Bessie Coleman

Coleman and her plane, around 1922. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Coleman and her plane, around 1922. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Bessie Coleman left rural Texas at the outset of the 20th century, few Americans had pilot’s licenses, and only a tiny percentage of those permits belonged to women—let alone women of color. In 1915, when Coleman was 23, she moved to Chicago and began hearing stories of World War I pilots, which kicked off her aviation dreams. American flight schools wouldn’t let a black woman enroll, so Coleman taught herself French and headed across the Atlantic to learn to fly. Just a few years later, Coleman became the first black woman in the world to hold a pilot’s license. In 1926, Coleman was tragically killed in an aviation accident before she could realize her dream of opening a flight school for aspiring black pilots, but her legacy continues.

Winona LaDuke

LaDuke speaking at the Tar Sands Healing Walk. Source: taylorandayumi via Creative Commons

LaDuke speaking at the Tar Sands Healing Walk. Source: taylorandayumi via Creative Commons

A member of the Ojibwe Tribe and a graduate of Harvard University, Winona LaDuke has a long list of accomplishments to her name. In addition to publishing six books and being recognized by Time and Ms. Magazine, LaDuke is the recipient of a Reebok Human Rights Award and a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She’s also run for vice president twice on the Green Party ticket—and in 2016, she became the first Native American woman to receive an electoral vote for the vice presidency. LaDuke is a tireless advocate for human rights and environmental protections. These days, she’s the executive director of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization that advocates for Indigenous environmental justice.

Barbara Washburn

In addition to her climbing, Washburn helped create this map of the Grand Canyon, among many others. Source: brewbooks via Creative Commons

In addition to her climbing, Washburn helped create this map of the Grand Canyon, among many others. Source: brewbooks via Creative Commons

Boston native Barbara Washburn didn’t picture herself climbing mountains, and certainly didn’t dream of being the first woman to climb Denali in Alaska. She was so surprised by her adventurous life, in fact, that she titled her memoir The Accidental Adventurer. But when she met her husband, the man who would one day be legendary photographer and first ascensionist Bradford Washburn, she started tagging along on his expeditions. Soon, Washburn was an adventurer and climber in her own right, claiming first ascents on Mount Bertha and leading a particularly corniced, terrifying pitch on the first climb of Mount Hayes. Washburn and her husband were also cartographers, completing maps for National Geographic based on their exploration.

Rachel Carson

Carson conducting marine biology field research in the Atlantic in 1952. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

Carson conducting marine biology field research in the Atlantic in 1952. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

It’s rare that we’re able to pinpoint a single person with launching an entire movement, but Rachel Carson holds that distinction. Carson, a marine biologist and conservationist—and the author of Silent Spring, which catalogued synthetic pesticides’ harmful effects on the environment, among others—was a champion of the global environmental movement. Her research helped prompt a national policy that banned the use of DDT, and citizens incited by Carson’s book came together in a grassroots campaign that eventually led to the creation of the EPA. After her death from breast cancer in 1964, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and her legacy continues to inspire environmentalists today.

Junko Tabei

Tabei, standing second from right, atop Ismail Somoni Peak (the tallest in Tajikistan) in 1985. Source: Jaan Künnap via Wikimedia Commons

Tabei, standing second from right, atop Ismail Somoni Peak (the tallest in Tajikistan) in 1985. Source: Jaan Künnap via Wikimedia Commons

Junko Tabei has countless firsts to her name: first woman to climb the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents, among others. She also began her career in a time when women weren’t often considered worthy of joining international climbing expeditions, and were stuck with ill-fitting men’s gear—you can bet Tabei was used to the feeling of being the only woman on an expedition otherwise made up of men. So Tabei took matters into her own hands, establishing a Japanese women’s climbing club with the slogan “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.” As one of the leaders of the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition in 1975, Tabei met that goal, becoming the first woman to summit Mount Everest despite being buried in an avalanche less than two weeks before.

Story by: Emma Walker