Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative Offers Space for Women in Outdoor Recreation


Members of the Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative study a map in Buckhorn Wash, Utah. (Courtesy Katie Wehrly)

By Allison Stuart, News Writer


Historically, outdoor sports and recreation have been dominated by men, and University of Utah student Emma Taylor experienced her fair share of disadvantages as a female member of a backpacking trip. Once she returned home, she was “fired up” after feeling left out of opportunities that her male counterparts had seized.

She brought these concerns to her friends and fellow students Katie Wehrly and Gabriella Sanzo who all reflected on the gender divides that exist within outdoor communities, especially in Utah.

This led to the formation of Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative last Fall semester, with Taylor serving as president and Wehrly and Sanzo serving as co-founders and co-vice presidents.

“We’re just a crew of self-identifying women who like to do stuff in the outdoors,” Wehrly said. “The idea is to give girls the confidence, skills, empowerment, friendships and community to feel comfortable and competent going outside.”

Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative is an accepting club, inviting women who are not necessarily outdoor experts to join and learn, Wehrly said.

The official club bio states, “We want to teach women the skills and knowledge they need to go out safely into the backcountry — ranging anywhere from backcountry navigation, wilderness medicine or simply just how to belay someone at the rock wall.”

The club bio also says, “Outdoor recreation has historically been a male-dominated world with the ‘bro mentality’ which can be an intimidating environment for a beginner to join, especially as a woman.”

They are looking to change that at the Women’s Outdoor Leadership club. 

While the club is primarily for women and non-binary people empowerment, they have several “allies” in males who are outdoor aficionados. They also have allies in the other outdoor recreation-focused groups on campus.

“There was an event last spring where we partnered with all of the outdoor clubs at the U,” Wehrly said. “There were probably like six or seven of them and we had like a really big like, cookout on the Union lawn.”

The club primarily communicates with members through an official Instagram page and GroupMe message thread. Planned events are often held bi-weekly, but members often rally each other to participate in activities on a whim.

Members can even choose how much they want to engage. “Membership is kind of up to the member, how much they would like to be involved, how much they want to participate,” Sanzo said. “It’s totally up to them. We encourage really active participation, and we love seeing familiar faces.”

Fall brings new recruits and a renewed interest in the outdoors, Sanzo said.

“I love that WOLI is a safe space to come in, like at any skill level,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be like an intimidating like hardcore outdoor thing. It’s meant to be like, come if you have an interest in this, you’re more than welcome.”

At its core, the Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative believes the wilderness should be enjoyed by everyone, and seek to continue empowering women to be able to do so.


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