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The Broad Outdoors

Local writer Ruby McConnell pens a handy outdoor guide for women, but men should take a look, too

If Cheryl Strayed had access to A Woman’s Guide to The Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook, she probably wouldn’t have had so many hardships on the Pacific Coast Trail to write about in her bestseller Wild

Instead of teetering under its weight, Strayed would have learned how to pack a backpack efficiently, specifically for a women’s body, which has a lower center of gravity than a man’s. She could have read up on the proper footwear for long-distance hiking, instead of wearing crappy boots that left her tootsies a bloody pulp.

Those are just a few of the practical things addressed in local writer (and dancer) Ruby McConnell’s fantastic new women-centric guide to the outdoors. 

A Woman’s Guide, which was published by Sasquatch Books earlier this year, is pithy, playful and frank. The illustrations and diagrams of Teresa Grasseschi, which are at once charming and useful, accompany McConnell’s approachable prose. And while the book offers universally valuable advice on everything from starting a campfire to reading cloud formations, it also covers challenges that only women face in the wild, but that are rarely written about. 

For example — and this is a shocker — women get their period while camping. Not like, all the time, or every time, but sometimes the stars align just so. 

“There is a stigma around it — most guides treat menstruation as an illness or an inconvenient source of messes and smells,” McConnell writes. “While it does come with a couple of added complications … it shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or prevent you from getting outside.”

McConnell tackles the “Bear Myth,” debunking the oft-bandied-about falsehood that menstruating in the outdoors will attract bears, sharks, vampires, cyclops or what have you. 

“Why this is considered a bigger problem than any other bathroom waste you might be carrying, I have no idea,” McConnell points out. “I think it says more about a pervasive lack of understanding and continued squeamishness of our male counterparts than anything else.”

McConnell even includes a nifty little guide for a “DIY Menstruation Disposal Kit.” 

The “How to Pee in the Woods” section is also quite useful, advising on squat techniques and how to use urinary flow directors, aka funnel tubes, so women can stand tall and pee proud.

But let’s be clear: This is a handy guide for everyone, not just the ladies. Men — camp guides, dads, spouses, friends, etc. — who go into the great outdoors, with or without female companions, could learn a great deal here as well.