REI Outessa for the empowerment of women in the outdoors

(Updated Feb 2023 – This specific event is no longer available. Check out the REI Adventures website to see current events)

What is REI Outessa? It is a three-day women’s retreat in a beautiful outdoor playground with activities ranging from rock climbing and mountain biking to yoga and hiking.

When I was invited to attend REI Outessa as a guest of Leatherman Tool Group, I was a little unsure about how I felt. Part of me was excited and a part of me felt fearful.  I am not only an introvert but I am also extremely shy so spending a weekend with a group of 300 women that I did not know was a scary thought.

The event took place in  New Hampshire, at the beautiful Waterville Valley Resort. It is set in the White Mountain National Forest, just 2 hours north of Boston.

Waterville Valley Resort

Despite it being late September, we were pleasantly surprised to have blue skies and 30°C daytime temperatures. (In the evenings, we were not quite so lucky!).  Due to the  weather being so warm, the foliage had not quite changed to fall colours, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Evenings and nights were cold, so we were thankful for the fire pits.  We were equally thankful for the supplied SMORE’s ingredients!  The very first night as we huddled around the fire pits, other women came by to introduce themselves, making us shy folks feel included.

REI Outessa Fire Pits and Smores

Each morning was jump-started by gourmet coffee by Allegro Coffee – and the food bus just added to the fun factor!

The foggy mornings made for some beautiful photo opportunities. Look closely for the guy on the rock who spent his morning fishing!

Foggy Mornings at Waterville Valley Resort

The highlight of my weekend was to try kayaking for the first time. The instructors were great, and they taught us how to get in and out of the kayak without getting wet!  Plus, they taught us different paddling tricks to help us with maneuvers such as moving sideways up to another kayak, or how to turn on a dime to miss rocks.  This thoroughly whetted my appetite, and I now plan in investing in my own kayak next summer.

Kayaking at Waterville Valley

What made this experience even more unique was the fact that these were foldable kayaks by ORU KAYAKS.  You heard that right. They fold up into a square box for easy transport. No they did not leak, and they were not flimsy!

Oru Kayak Folding Process

The food was amazing all weekend long, but I thought I would do a special call out to the final dinner.  You can’t go wrong with Surf and Turf!!

Maine Lobster, mussels, oysters, chicken and steak

I also attended photography classes to meet like-minded women. The travel class with Marianna Jamadi was great. Not only did we get to sit inside the REI Adventures tent where there was a nice cool breeze but Marianna had some really great tips for getting the most out of photography while travelling in different cultures.

The Foliage hike on the Sunday was a relaxing hike with people who were looking to learn new photography techniques and to learn how to use the manual features on SLRs.  Despite the lack of colours, we still took some really great photos that highlighted the season.

Mushrooms on Foliage Hike

The Outessa event was made possible by the partnerships with many great outdoor brands.  Each brand had their own tent and hosted activations throughout the weekend.  I wanted to highlight a few, as they did a really great job at making everyone feel welcome and teaching us new outdoor skills.

Hydro Flask not only gave everyone a Wine Flask to use for morning coffees and happy hour wine, but they also custom built a My Hydro Flask to everyone’s individual colour specs.

Hydro Flask - My Hydro

Nuun gave out drink tabs with electrolytes that kept us hydrated and energized all day long during our many activities.

At KEEN’s tent we got to relax and be creative with t-shirt Tie-dye designs.

The knowledgeable team at Osprey taught us how to pack properly for travel or for a backpacking trip.

At Leatherman’s Tool Maven class we learned how to use a multi-tool to open up cans of food, hammer in tent pegs, and how to start fire. It was amazing to watch the transformation during the class, from the tentative handling of a multi-tool to the final minutes of empowerment. Leatherman also hosted a happy hour event each evening where they taught how to create a Paracord survival bracelet.

Creating Fire with a Leatherman Multi-tool

Leatherman -Paracord Survival Bracelet

Lifestraw not only taught how to drink contaminated water safely but taught overall wilderness survival skills!

At Maui Jim, we learned to dance the hula and snacked on fresh-cut pineapple!

Meanwhile at Olukai, we learned the art of traditional Haku Lei making with their ambassador, Meleana Estes.

Olukai Haku Lei Making

There is so much more to showcase, but perhaps this introduction to the event will have inspired you to attend next year!   You will leave feeling exhausted, but invigorated. You will leave with new friendships. You will leave feeling like you can survive whatever nature might throw your way.

As an introvert, I soon discovered that a lot of the women were there on their own and  feeling the same way I did. Those social awkward feelings changed over the course of 3 days, as you connected with new friends.

What really struck me about this event is that everyone was so positive. Everyone was there to encourage each other.  It did not matter what you looked like. It did not matter what you wore. It did not matter what you did for a living. It did not matter your outdoor skill level. You could not help but leave this event feeling on top of the world.

Don’t just take my word for it.  Go to Instagram and check out the hashtags #sweatydirtyhappy and #reioutessa to read about other people’s experiences.

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