If you have ever typed in the words ‘adventure’ or ‘outdoors’ into Google image search or any stock photography platform you might have notices the same as me – the images in the search results that show people on the photos are predominantly picturing men in these adventurous outdoor situations. Whenever I look for photos to use on social media or for articles I ask myself the same question – where are all the outdoor women go?

I know they exist – I follow many of them on Instagram, read their blogs, and would even count myself as one of them. Women love to go on outdoor adventures, but somehow none talks about that (enough). I thought I’d change this and start a new series introducing you to some cool outdoor women who embrace the meaning of adventure in all its facets and talk to them about their passions and aspirations.

First up in the series is Madeleine Wilson, a Glasgow-based climber, hiker, cyclist and traveler who I met in the context of one of our newsletter giveaway supported by Trakke, a Scottish outdoor brand designing some really rad backpacks. You should definitely sign up for it as we’re always giving away cool things to our subscribers!

Reclaiming the Outdoors with Madeleine Wilson

How it all started…

‘Oh, where should I start?’ When you’ve been passionate about something for a while it is hard to always remember the exact details of how it all started… Madeleine tells me she spent a lot of her childhood and teen years indoors in a dance studio, not really being aware of the precious landscape that is at her doorstep, but then finally got into climbing when she started uni in Dundee. ‘It’s funny, I actually got into climbing through knitting, because a girl I met through a knitting club was also into climbing. We very quickly just ditched the knitting club and just continued to climb as much as we could.’

Ever since Madeleine has been an avid outdoor woman, traveling around Scotland and abroad to follow her passion for rock climbing and other outdoor activities. The problem with climbing in Scotland, or really any outdoor sport is of course the weather – it’s difficult sometimes to make yourself go outside in the rain. ‘Which is why I try and travel as much as I can. Basically, any time I have off, literally any period of time I have off, I try to dash out somewhere sunny and dry, to fit some time in at the crag.’ 

Reclaiming the Outdoors with Madeleine Wilson

A different kind of traveletting

One of Madeleine’s favorite places on her journeys so far has been Gorge du Tarn in the south of France. ‘Rock climbing is nice because you’re always in quite unusual environments out in the wild and you find yourself in places that a lot of people just wouldn’t experience. At the same time you’re also looking out onto all these other landscapes which are really on the verge of where anyone would ever venture.’

So in a sense, traveling for rock climbing sounds like quite a traveletty thing – off the beaten track, very intentional, and very close to the local community. ‘It’s totally different from your usual holiday where you go and look at popular things to do. You get to all these quite small and isolated areas. Things are just a little bit slower and simpler on these holidays. You get up and go climbing, or you have a rest day, or go for a nice hike somewhere.’ 

If you have every climbed before you will know how important it is to have a reliable partner – it is not the kind of sport you just go and do by yourself. However, it is still possible to combine climbing trips with solo travel – Madeleine has done it herself and tells me her story of traveling solo through Spain for three weeks. ‘There is definitely an element of risk, especially with climbing abroad because you end up climbing with people you don’t know – so you’ve got to be able to judge who you’re meeting. Eventually it is about allowing yourself to let go and going with the flow. At first that’s the most intimidating part, but when you come back it’s actually the most rewarding side of it.’ In a way I guess that is true for any kind of solo travel, so why wouldn’t you give climbing a shot on your next trip?

Where are the women climbers?

With a bit of climbing experience under my own belt I am of course particularly interested in the stereotype of climbing as a male sport – when two climbing women meet each other that is kind of a given topic. Madeleine agrees that is it quite a hot topic at the moment, lots of people talk about it and things are changing. ‘There are many female climbers who are really stepping up the game and achieving just as much as their male colleagues have.’ While not all her role models are women Madeleine recommends to follow climbers like Pamela Pack, who is an incredibly talented off-width climber from the States, or Hazel Findlay, who just seems to be the less fearless of them all. You should really check out some of their videos on YouTube to see what we can actually achieve if we work for it. (Pamela Pack videos here; Hazel Findlay videos here)

‘There is that obvious physical barrier that women are often just not as naturally strong as men, but once you realize that that is mostly a mental barrier, you can actually challenge yourself just as much as male climbers can.’ Climbing does not only take you to gorgeous places, it is also a problem-solving sport and the fact that it is really hard only makes it more appealing to women like Madeleine. ‘It’s all about working with what you’ve got and I love that about the sport. Of course sometimes it is frustrating because you can’t do certain moves, but then you just accept these things as your challenge.’

As with any other male-dominated field I feel it is important to make the women who do participate on a higher level visible, so I ask Madeleine for a couple of film recommendations. Climbing films are often focused on men doing outrageously dangerous or hard climbs, but one you should definitely check out is Operation Moffat by Glasgow-based filmmaker Jen Randall. It tells the story of Gwen Moffat, Britain’s first female mountain guide who can share a story or two about climbing barefoot and making it as a women in the mountains.

Climbing in Scotland

When it comes to women in pursuit of outdoor activities in Scotland Madeleine recommends to travel along the west coast as much as she can. Two places definitely not to miss are Gairloch up north by Torridon and Glen Coe which offer some of the most dramatic scenery of the Highlands. ‘That scale, the effect that you get when you look out over Scotland from the top of a mountain, and you see all the other mountains around you – it’s really breathtaking. It’s also very different from high-altitude mountain ranges. The round shape, the unpredictable weather and the history of Scotland have a lot to do with it as well. It’s really special.’

And if this does not convince you enough about how great Scotland is for outdoor women, listen to my favorite among all the stories Madeleine told me.

‘A few weeks back I had one of these moments. Alec (the founder of Trakke) and I were in Glen Coe and camped up on top of a mountain on almost 900m. The forecast had been terrible but we somehow found the motivation to go out anyway. As we were looking out over the hills and lochs below after dinner you could see the clouds rolling in and how the air traveled across the land through the channels and gullies of the hills. I had this beautiful moment of watching these clouds being made by the mountain, from the air rising up this gully, and it looked like this mountain was smoking and on fire, but in really slow motion. It was such a reward for making it out despite the weather. I tell you, Scotland is where it’s at!’

Reclaiming the Outdoors with Madeleine Wilson

The logical career choice

Working for Trakke and contributing her skills to an outdoor brand really seems like the only logical career choice for Madeleine. With a degree in product design and a love for the outdoors being involved with backpack design is a great combination. ‘I can get involved with the product design and then take out the bags on my own adventures and see how they work.’ Madeleine works closely with Trakke founder Alec and together they are constantly fine-tuning and improving the minimalist design of their bags. They are just about to launch a new collection which is very much stripped back to the basics of outdoor sports and promises to be a very functional addition to your outdoor wardrobe.

Do you know any cool outdoor women who you would like to see here on Travelettes – or are you one of them? Drop me a line as I’m always looking for adventurous outdoor women to introduce to our readers here on the blog!

I’d love to hear from you and find some inspiration!

This is a post by Kathi Kamleitner.

Kathi Kamleitner was a regular contributor at Travelettes from 2013 to 2019. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she packed her backpack to travel the world and lived in Denmark, Iceland and Berlin, before settling in Glasgow, Scotland. Kathi is always preparing her next trip – documenting her every step with her camera, pen and phone.

In 2016, Kathi founded Scotland travel blog WatchMeSee.com to share her love for her new home, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, island hopping and vegan food. Follow her adventures on Instagram @watchmesee!