A Quick Note
Updated note: REI is no longer hosting Outessa as of 2019. They continue to offer women only classes and adventures as part of their Force of Nature programs.
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Outessa – Background
Outessa was a four day, women’s only outdoor event hosted by REI.
The event originated to encourage women to explore the outdoors. It offered a safe environment with top guides and instructors and a wide variety of classes and experiences.
While I can’t quite recall how I first heard of Outessa, I do remember thinking that it sounded like the perfect getaway.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire are a must-see destination for many outdoor enthusiasts, and the list of classes offered was extensive.
There were three separate Outessa events in locations convenient to each time zone. White Mountains was the last four-day weekend offered.
After signing up, I was a bit nervous and joined the Facebook page to hear how the earlier events were going. All of the feedback was positive and it seemed like everyone was having a great time.
Planning and Research
The Outessa organizers posted the schedule two days prior to allowing actual class registration. This gave participants time to put together a dream itinerary and, of course, a backup.
Forty-eight hours later, the app went live, and everyone began jostling for classes.
Even with less than a thirty-minute delay from when they said “go” to when I logged on, spaces were filling up.
Luckily I had practically memorized the schedule, so I was able to maneuver quickly and put together a great weekend.
Among other things, I packed my schedule with Intro to Mountain Biking, Intro to Rock Climbing, Intro to Kayaking, Orienteering, First aid basics, and Gear repair.
I also signed up for several seminars to learn more about vendor products. It may have been too much, but how often do you have the opportunity to do so much in one long weekend?
Checking In and Freebies
When I arrived at the location, everything was well marked and parking was easy to locate with plenty of available spaces.
I was self-camping so I set up my tent and headed over to registration.
After providing my name, I received a small Hydroflask to help encourage being eco-friendly throughout the event. They also handed me a heavily packed nylon day pack.
Even though participants to the earlier Outessa events talked about bringing a bag just to take home the freebies, I didn’t really comprehend how many samples I would amass throughout the weekend.
Big Agnes set out mountain-glo lights by all the self-camper tents. Osprey gave out 2-liter water bladders to participants in certain classes. Everyone got a second, larger Hydroflask bottle that you were able to customize.
Smartwool had contests where you could win socks and I came away with three pairs. Subaru provided bamboo utensils, and Lifestraw gave everyone one of their devices.
I found out later the nylon day pack contained an array of free swag. Included were sunscreen, random food samples, NUUN tablets, a trucker hat, bandana, NorthFace hat, and many more items that are too numerous to list.
The event kicked off with a welcome party.
Portable campfires to make smores lined the main area. There was also free beer and wine, of course, served in our new Hydroflasks.
Participants wandered around and met like-minded outdoor women.
Conversations were easy to start and the overall vibe was welcoming.
I have to admit, I was a little concerned that it was going to be a bunch of women standing around a campfire singing about girl power.
While some of the speakers over the weekend tended to go in that direction, I found the majority of the participants were like me and just wanted to spend four days taking outdoor classes.
Mornings started early with a breakfast buffet.
The Allegro coffee van was there if you wanted to purchase a specialty coffee. They would take the small Hydroflask you received at registration, put your name on it with a piece of tape, then hand it back with whatever happy concoction you requested.
If you did happen to have any downtime, ENO set up a “Hammock Haven” in a wooded area where you could take time to rest and hang.
You could also explore Outessa village and talk to the vendors.
Vendors and Sponsors
All vendors had knowledgeable employees and great gear in their tents.
The women from Leatherman tools knew their stuff and showed us the hidden toothpick in the multi-tool.
Big Agnes ran a class on gear repair. They shared multiple hacks that changed what I now bring in my emergency kit.
Leki ran a class on how to get the most out of trekking poles when hiking.
Lifestraw supplied water for everyone with stations throughout the entire area. NUUN added electrolytes to some water since it was hot that weekend.
ProBar was there and let you create your own bar. I know I’m biased, but mine was delicious and they should have created a bar from the recipe.
Instructors and Classes
The instructors and guides were the best of the best from REI. It was clear they loved their work and were good at it.
They were upbeat, kept things moving, demonstrated a wealth of knowledge, and did some excellent human herding.
The orienteering class was a lot of fun. I had the basics down, but in the four-hour course, they reiterated the basics then took it up a notch.
We walked around using our map and compass, answering where we were and then figuring out how to get to the next position. Participants also learned to pace ourselves so we knew how many steps equaled a mile.
I actually thought for a few minutes there that I could maybe find my way out of the woods with a compass if lost. It’s a use it or lose it skill so I need to get back to practicing.
The first aid basics class was also beneficial. I learned how to better label what is in my kit and monitor it for expiration dates.
The instructor was also helpful with advice regarding the different groups that teach Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder.
In the wilderness survival class, we went into the woods and built shelters using random supplies and what was available in the area.
We also learned how to catch the attention of a plane or helicopter searching for you, and various other survival techniques.
Outessa – Wrapping it Up
On the last evening, we celebrated with a Lobster bake.
The menu included lobster, chicken, rice, vegetables and tons of other goodies served family-style. Participants sat in long rows of picnic tables.
Luckily, I was sitting next to a New Englander who knew how to handle the lobster and taught the rest of us. Left to my own devices, lobster parts would have gone flying.
Even though I had a great time, after four days I was ready to head home.
Mountain Biking had been exciting and I was proud of myself for making it to the top of two Rock Climbing runs, but I was sweaty and had a bit of sunburn on my nose.
My brain felt overloaded with all this new information and I had a ton of freebies to try and stuff into my bags.
Why Women’s Only
I’ve been asked by friends if a women’s only outdoor weekend is really needed.
Since I’ve never had any issues with outdoor classes or leading mixed hikes, and my backpacking buddies are men, I was thinking the same thing.
After attending Outessa, I came to the conclusion that an event like Outessa is beneficial for two reasons.
Outessa provides a safe space for women who think they’re not good enough or strong enough in their skills and are nervous enough about participating with other women, let alone men.
I met women at the event who said they almost didn’t come because of fear.
They were concerned everyone else would have more outdoor experience and they would “hold the group back”.
The guides, instructors, and participants all did a really good job of ensuring participants felt valued, no one pushed past their abilities, and everyone had fun.
2. Gear that fits
It was amazing to have loaner equipment that fit.
I’m not the tallest person in the room at five foot three. Often, I’m forced to use equipment that doesn’t really fit because the organizers are limited in what they can bring.
In a mixed class, if you can only bring twelve bikes for ten people, no one is going to throw an extra small in the batch. I’ve had to wear a pair of rock climbing shoes a half size too small because no one packed a size nine.
Since only women needed equipment for the weekend, there were more options.
When I showed up for Mountain Biking, there were two extra small bikes.
Learning the skills was easier for me, and I felt more confident when we hit the trail.
Imagine needing an extra small bike and being put on a medium during an intro course. Now imagine actually having an extra small. It’s a much better experience.
When we went rock climbing, I actually got to try on a pair of size 8.5 and a pair of size 9 shoes. That never happens. I also had a harness that fit. Not “kinda” fit. Really fit.
This was my second time rock climbing and it was a more comfortable and much better experience.
While I like to think my improvement was partly due to skill, a lot of it was good instruction. The instructor understood my right foot was not going to reach my shoulder.
The rest of it was wearing a harness that didn’t feel like it would fall off and shoes that weren’t numbing my feet.
Outessa – Final Thoughts
Although it was a great experience, I didn’t go back in 2018.
Some women attended all of the Outessa events and looked forward to the next ones, but I don’t believe I would gain anything from attending again.
It was a great event and I’m glad so many women got out of their comfort zone and gave it a try.
I hope many of them continue to play in the outdoors.
Outessa provided a website to register. There did appear to be some confusion if you were sharing a tent and it sounded like a few participants paid more than they should have for shared accommodations.
All interaction was through the Outessa Facebook site.
The organizers were great at responding to comments and questions. Attendees from earlier events would also share their experience which was helpful.
I made all flight, car, and overnight stay arrangements. Attendees could connect via the Facebook site and find ride-shares as well as room-shares.