Men and women: ratios, partners, and safety

This first Ounces post looks at the male and female ratios amongst thru-hikers on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails as well as the likelihood of men and women partnering up for the long haul.

Simple Ratios

Gentlemen, the long trails might not be the best place to find a lady.  For the years 2013 and 2014 combined, the survey sample of 782 thru-hikers on both trails was distributed as 538 men and 244 women, a 2.2:1 male:female ratio.

graphic of Men and Women AT and PCT

 

 

 

 

 

When the trails were separated, there was a slightly higher male:female ratio on the AT compared to the PCT.  The 486 AT thru-hikers split as 331 men and 135 women, a 2.5:1 ratio.  The 316 PCT thru-hikers split as 207 men and 109 women, a 1.9:1 ratio.

graphic of men and women by trail

 

 

 

 

 

There was a 1% change with PCT ratios and a 7% change with AT ratios from 2013 – 2014.  It is unlikely that these represent meaningful trends.

Yearly Change on the AT

Yearly Change on the PCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Partners

All 782 thru-hikers were asked whether they hiked with a dedicated partner for 75% or more of the trail’s entire length.  775 responded as follows:

 Hiked SoloHiked with a Partner
Women122121
Men351181

These results indicate that men and women partnered up at significantly different rates.  (Fisher Exact Probability, 2-tailed, p<0.001.  Chi-Squared p<0.001)

A man hiking either trail in 2013 or 2014 had a 34% chance of hiking with a dedicated partner.  A woman had a 49% chance of hiking with a dedicated partner.  Looking at the numbers a slightly different way using odds ratios, the odds of a woman hiking with a dedicated partner was 1.9 times more than that of a man.

Why?

The simplest explanation may be a collective perception that hiking alone as a woman on the AT or PCT is a more dangerous act than hiking alone as a man.  As a consequence, women, more than men, are encouraged to find partners by their friends and families.

Safety

Whether the long trails are, in fact, more dangerous for women than men is a question that is not definitively supported by fact.  The results of this survey suggest that the long trails might be equally dangerous (or equally safe, if your glass is half full) for men and women.

Hikers were asked whether they had an experience that made them feel unsafe.  They were then asked which type of experience made them feel most unsafe and were given six options to choose from:  hitchhiking, a strange person in town, a strange person on the trail, trail conditions (weather, footing, etc), wildlife encounter, and other.

Amongst the 467 solo thru-hikers (thru-hikers who hiked less than 25% of the trail with a dedicated partner), 233 (50%) reported having an unsafe experience.  There was no difference between men and women in reporting an unsafe experience.  (Chi-Square p = 0.938). 

 Unsafe Experience = noUnsafe Experience = yes
Solo Hiker Women6160
Solo Hiker Men173173

 

Men and women did, however, differ in the type of experience they perceived as most dangerous.  (Chi-square p = 0.017)

 Women (%)Men (%)
Trail Conditions22 (37%)89 (51%)
Wildlife Encounter3 (5%)24 (14%)
Strange Person on the Trail23 (38%)39 (22%)
Strange Person in Town9 (15%)6 (4%)
Hitchhiking2 (3%)6 (4%)
Other1 (2%)9 (5%)

 

Proportionately, more solo women than solo men reported their most unsafe experience as being a strange person on the trail, strange person in town, hitchhiking, and other.

Using these numbers, the predicted likelihood of having a certain type of experience rated as the most unsafe experience for solo men and solo women can be determined.  (Ordered probit ß = .422, p = 0.008)

 Predicted probability womenPredicted probability men
Trail Conditions40.9%50.3%
Wildlife Encounter6.3%13.3%
Strange Person on the Trail31.3%25%
Strange Person in Town8.8%5.4%
Hitchhiking5%2.7%
Other7.8%3.3%

 

This can be a tricky table to interpret, so here are a few examples:

Female solo thru-hikers who report an unsafe safe experience have a 5% chance of rating hitchhiking as their most unsafe experience.  Male solo thru-hikers who report having an unsafe experience are 7% more likely than women to report their most unsafe experience as a wildlife encounter.

Here’s an important thing to keep in mind.  Lower percentages don’t mean lower frequencies.  For example, the lower percentage for women compared to men in wildlife encounters doesn’t mean that women report fewer unsafe wildlife encounters than men.  It only means that women are less likely than men to perceive a wildlife encounter as the most unsafe experience.  The possibility exists that women and men have equally dangerous and equally frequent encounters with wildlife, but women perceive their unsafe experiences with wildlife as less dangerous compared to other unsafe experiences.  This cannot be explored further by the current survey data, so it will be left to speculation for now.

Putting sex aside and looking at the general difference between solo hikers and partners, the odds of a solo hiker having an unsafe experience was 1.3 times more than that of a hiker in a partnership, so this implies that hiking with a partner has a slight overall protective effect, regardless of sex.  (Fisher’s Exact Probability Test, one-tailed, p=0.03)

 Unsafe experience = noUnsafe experience = yes
All Solo Hikers234233
All Partners173129

Men and women have distinct trail experiences.  Fewer women hike solo, and this might be for safety reasons, but we still have a lot to learn about whether the AT and the PCT are actually less safe for solo women compared to solo men, especially since solo women and solo men do not report different rates of unsafe experiences.  In fact, 50% of solo thru-hikers reported having no unsafe experiences at all.

A significant limitation of this survey was that it only asked whether or not hikers had an unsafe experience (i.e., yes or no).  For those who did report an unsafe experience, the survey did not ask “how many?”  So the case may be that even though women and men both reported having at least one unsafe experience at rates that did not differ, women could have still experienced more unsafe events than men, or vice-versa.

There are proportionately far more male thru-hikers on the long trails than females, just over a 2:1 ratio, and solo women report unsafe encounters with strange people on the trail and in town at higher rates than men.  But the survey did not explore the level of safety (i.e., the degree of “unsafeness.”)  There’s a lot more to be discovered about unsafe encounters before being confident enough to say with certainty that the trails are equally safe for men and women.

What does seem to be the case is that hiking with a partner has a small overall positive impact on perception of safety.  Thru-hikers who hiked with a dedicated partner for more than 75% of the trail reported slightly lower rates of unsafe experiences than solo hikers.  So, if you’re gearing up for your next long distance hiking trip and you’re worried about safety, think about finding someone to come along or make new friends along the way.  With thousands of like-minded people setting out on the long trails each year, the latter is always a good option.

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