On a particularly foggy San Francisco evening—the kind of night when the air is so thick with moisture that it feels like it should be raining—RootsRated joined a circle of women perched on camp chairs in the middle of the Panhandle Park. The group hovered over the flickering flames of a few backpacking stoves, taking turns assembling and lighting each model.
On a night like this, why choose to cook outside? The answer: for an evening of camaraderie, a lesson on how to safely use backpacking stoves, the good food cooked on them, and good wine to go along with it. The training and cookout was hosted by Sasha Cox and Jen Snook, the duo behind San Francisco’s Trail Mavens, a small business with a big mission: to build a skilled, confident community of women who explore the outdoors.
The fading daylight and thickening fog didn't dampen the lively mood of the event. Women who had never met beforehand chatted and laughed while practicing stove skills, pairing off to cook a backpacking-friendly feast of cashew-ginger rice.
A similar moment in 2013—crouched over a backpacking stove preparing a meal—inspired Cox to found Trail Mavens. Having left her job and life in San Francisco behind for a year of travel, Cox was backpacking from the Bolivian Andes to the Amazon. Day one of the trek was “completely miserable, raining all day, and the trail descended steeply over wet rocks,” Cox says. “We got to camp, and did one of my favorite things while backpacking: went to bed really early.”
The next morning, refreshed after a good night’s sleep, Cox had a pivotal moment of self-awareness and inspiration. “I realized that I felt really whole, sitting there, on a backpacking trip, cooking breakfast outside,” she says. She thought of her two closest friends back in San Francisco, and how she felt a similar wholeness in their company. Somehow, spending time in the outdoors was not something that they typically did together.
Cox’s mind started racing: “Why wouldn’t I try to combine those two things: the backpacking, and the support I get from my closest friends—both of the things that make me feel whole?”
She promised herself that when she was back in the Bay Area, she would take her two friends backpacking. “And then I thought, why should I stop with them? I should share this with as many women as want to! I didn’t grow up in a camping family; I learned the skills over time from friends, often guys that I dated. I started asking myself, why aren’t there more women teaching each other these skills?”
In that moment, boiling oats over a backpacking stove in Bolivia, the ideal behind Trail Mavens was born. After nurturing the idea for her business during months of travel, Cox says that nothing prepared her for the daily insecurity of sharing it with the world, not to mention all the logistical challenges that come with launching a guiding company, like the fact that her living room is constantly full of gear.
Cox never set out to be an entrepreneur; she just felt passionate about sharing her love of the outdoors with other women. And that enthusiasm is palpable: “So many women have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share, I like to imagine that there is a flow of knowledge, not from me down, but in a circle where each person has the opportunity to share something with others,” she says.
As she was preparing to launch Trail Mavens, Cox hosted focus groups and potlucks with women around the Bay Area. She heard the same thing over and over again: Women expressing a desire to get outside more. The main obstacles to their adventure aspirations, they reported, were gear, skills, friends to go with, and time constraints. Through Trail Mavens, Cox is trying to help women overcome obstacles like this, providing a platform for women to build skills and community.
Trail Mavens trips introduce Bay Area women—only women—to the abundant nature opportunities available within a few hours of San Francisco. Highlights include camping and backpacking trips through the stunning coastal mountains of Big Sur and Point Reyes, kayak expeditions across scenic Tomales Bay promising bioluminescence and secluded beach camping, wilderness first aid courses, exploring Yosemite’s alpine lakes, cycling in Napa, and many more adventures.
Trips are designed for women of all levels of experience, from novice hikers shouldering a loaded pack for the first time to adept backcountry enthusiasts looking to share their experience and meet fellow female adventurers, and everyone in between. Two to three-day trips typically run between $300-400 and include everything you need: gear, meals, permits, and, of course, pinot noir around the campfire. After all, Cox, says, women should walk away from a Trail Mavens trip skilled, inspired, and having had a "rockin' good time."