Katherine Donnelly | 07.26.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Shanti Hodges.

Founder, CEO, author, hiker, and incredible mother throughout it all, this Woman In The Wild is an inspiration to thousands throughout the outdoors and is consistently working to empower parents and families around the country to get outside and Hike It (Baby)! Suffice it to say, she is a true force to be reckoned with when she puts her mind to something - and she puts her mind to a lot! Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Arika Bauer.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Shanti Hodges is.

Shanti Hodges: Founder of Hike it Baby, mama to 5-year-old Mason River, and hiking pusher. It’s my life’s mission to get families out on trails with kids, and the younger the better. I started my organization as a way to help support families get out there right away after having a newborn and as a way to help people find each other no matter where they were in the U.S. I am an enthusiastic nature lover and find that I’m happier and more creative when I host meetings on the trail rather than being in an office. 

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Shanti Hodges: I have always been somewhat outdoorsy, so I'm not really sure how to answer that question. It’s just always been part of who I am from early childhood. Over the years, and since having my son, I have become even more passionate about my outdoor time because I see the impact it has on him. 

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Shanti Hodges: Well, I have been hanging around this scene since the mid-90s, and so a lot has changed, but also we have a long way to go. Being a woman in the outdoor industry means creating a supportive environment for others to join in and get out there with us. While there have always been a few pioneering women in outdoor sports, it’s great that it’s becoming the norm. I recently had a man who helped found a hiking organization tell me he can’t find any men to hike with these days, and that it’s all women. That gave me a chuckle, but I'm also happy to hear that because we are really making an impact on women getting out there by sharing all of our stories. 

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Shanti Hodges: It has given me confidence, challenged me, and connected me to my partner and my son in a really deep way. It’s also helped me make every girlfriend I have these days. If you don’t hike, we probably won’t be hanging out, because I would rather get out on a trail than sitting around in a coffee shop. 

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Shanti Hodges: Be vocal. Share concerns about public spaces. March, write letters, encourage everyone around you to take a stance and speak up. It’s easy to just ignore the impact government is having on our public lands, but there are some clear lines being drawn. I am really happy to see the hunting/fishing world bonding so well with the crunchy crowd over public lands. It’s important that we all see this is not a partisan issue but a free-space-for-our-children issue. 

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Shanti Hodges: Rebecca Rusch was a big inspiration for me for many years. I was impressed by how she took her love of competition and the outdoors and made an evolving career out of it from climber to adventure racer to pro mountain biker. She cares so much about getting women into the outdoors, and watching her push on that topic in my mid-30s really helped impact what I am doing today. 

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Shanti Hodges: Adventure means getting down on your hands and knees with your little one and inspecting the tiniest little red spiders that you would have totally missed if it were not for the keen eye of a 4-year-old. Learning how to embrace adventure in many forms from sitting in the park to climbing a mountain and seeing the beauty in it all is one of the most important things to me when it comes to looking at what adventure is. I guess I would say I think recognizing that redefining adventure depending on what’s going on in your life is important. 

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Shanti Hodges: Doing a pretty intense waterfall hike on the Big Island of Hawaii six months pregnant. Carrying a 4-year-old 5 miles up a trail on a day when he’s just not having it. Stopping and sitting down to wait for a mama who has a toddler melting down in spite of your desire to get to the top of the waterfall. Knowing that next time it will be your kid who melts down and you will wish someone waited, so just being there for other women in the outdoors. That’s badass. 

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Shanti Hodges: I am an accidental leader. I never thought starting a hike group would blow up into such a huge national movement. I love it, and I love how it has connected me to so many more amazing women like the Adventure Mamas, Nicole from Women Who Hike, Haley from Girls Love Travel, Mirna Valerio from Fat Girl Running, Karla from 52 Hike Challenge. So many more!!! I feel so lucky to have all of these amazing women around me. I would say that if you want to get into this business, look for a strong woman and connect with her. She will probably be crazy busy, so start with how you can help her be a stronger woman and win her over before you start diving in to ask for help. All of the women who have a career in this are working so hard to keep it all going, so support them first and you will be rewarded with great connection and support in return. 

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Shanti Hodges: I think it’s just being softer in our approach to the outdoors. I know this is not all women, but for me it means approaching it with an openness. With questions. With support. After years being around dudes in the outdoor world, I am just seeing this awesome vulnerableness in the outdoors now that women are in the space. I am seeing so many more faces, and it’s giving the outdoor world a lot more dimension, and it is becoming more interesting for me to participate in. 

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Shanti Hodges: Jai Yen Yen - Calm heart, cool down. It’s so easy to go go go, and I have to remind myself to be calm and stay grounded. Also, I have a tattoo on my arm that I got in 2008 that says “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” While I am not sure if this is the exact Gandhi quote, what it meant for me was that I needed to be accountable for my life, and if I was going to preach or push it, I had to live it and make the changes I wanted to see happen around me to see the world change. 

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Shanti Hodges: Many voices, many faces, many ages out there enjoying the outdoors. I think brands need to really look at how easy it is to fall into the trap of being tragically hip and to just follow the flock. I know that there are changes happening and people want to see the industry change, but I think it starts with the visuals we are putting out there and doing things like carrying plus-sized clothes, addressing why some people really don’t feel welcome on the trails, inviting and holding space to encourage those who don’t feel welcome into the outdoors. Also, really looking at how we have overrun land in North America. It is key to recognizing that this is not our land, that we are all visitors, and that we need to give respect to both nature and the original inhabitants across North America. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Shanti Hodges: Baby wipes. Serious amounts of snacks. First-aid kit. 

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Shanti Hodges: Love some of it and not others. This last year I had the opportunity to work with Deuter on a new baby frame carrier for women, and it was exciting. Now that I have actually had a chance to test the product, I can say it really is lighter than anything I have ever seen out there. This matters for women who are excited to get on trail but feel limited and overwhelmed by heavy gear. So I can say this will have a huge impact on women getting out there and staying out there longer, so two thumbs up from me. 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Shanti Hodges: Don’t walk away from it all just because there are people who you wouldn’t normally associate with. Rue Mapp talked me down when I was feeling overwhelmed by how large Hike it Baby had gotten. She reminded me I had a space where a lot of different kinds of people were coming together, and so I had to really look at that and keep pushing on. She was right, and that was a year and a half ago, and so much has happened since then that is so positive in our community. 

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Hike It Baby, what would it be?

Shanti Hodges: Focus more on fundraising first. Grow a little slower. We are now playing a lot of catch up, and that’s challenging once you have a big machine rolling along.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Shanti Hodges: I am pretty active with it, and there are things I like about it, but I am clear with the fact that it’s also a persona. I like to share my life openly, but have had to learn that not everyone wants to be a part of the circus. So just respecting that nothing about social media can ever really replace real life experience. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Shanti Hodges: Book tour for five weeks. Then working on building out a comprehensive family guide online to help families with young children find trails nationwide. I also have a podcast I am ramping up. 

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Shanti Hodges: How to Lead a Movement Without Falling Flat on Your Face.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Shanti Hodges: Don’t be afraid to take an idea and let it grow. There’s a great children’s book called “What do you do with an idea.” Get it. It’s simple and really well illustrated and helps remind us in child-like simplicity that ideas can grow into movements and great things. 

Learn more about Shanti online, on Facebook, and on the 'gram, and make sure to check out her work with Hike It Baby and Family Forest Fest. While you're at it, grab yourself a copy of her new book, Hike It Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures with Babies and Toddlers!


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