Vermont Outdoor Guide Association: Winter Doe Camp
Twice a year, the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association hosts an event for women called “DOE Camp.” Held over a long weekend (Friday to Sunday), this event helps introduce women to various outdoor pursuits such as snowshoeing, campfire cooking, nordic skating, ice fishing and cross-country skiing in the winter and road biking, log rolling, bird calling, marksmanship and various survival skill seminars in the early fall. I’ve been lucky enough to guest instruct at DOE camp over the years and I’ve had an incredible time meeting other professionals who volunteer to share the outdoors with all the participants who, by in large, make the event what it is. The women who show up represent all walks of life and all ages. They are able to participate in 4 different 3-hour sessions over the weekend and in between activities, there is plenty of time for raffles, eating catered food and socializing (read “light drinking”) after hours often laughing about the “She-wee” and “You Go Girl” portable female urinals (that Cheryl the Wild Fisherwoman has some constructive criticism about!). In these times, I have been able to meet some fantastic ladies I can call friends. Over the years, my friends have shared their thoughts on bushcraft, adventuring and gear selection. In other words, they’ve told me “what women want” when it comes to the great outdoors. Now, I’ll never say I’m an expert in understanding women. No man can make that claim (ducking for cover after that statement) but I can at least share what has been said about knives for other women to read about and help them in their knife-selection process.
Before heading out into the field, I always let women try out the different blades I bring for students. One of the most common problems women face is how to carry a fixed blade. Men, well, we have it easy as our pants more than likely are worn with a belt. Women, on the other hand, wear differently designed clothing and many of the their pants don’t have belt loops. This presents a problem, how does a woman carry a knife into the field? Many of the women will either throw a fixed blade knife inside a belt sheath in their jacket pocket, run a loop of paracord through the belt loop and wear it as a neck knife (sub 4 oz knives preferred) or they will take a longer loop and use it as a Baldric rig around the neck and shoulder with the knife carried under the arm. The neck and baldric rig carry are more secure than simple pocket carry and allow women to wear their blade inside their outer garments or above all clothing worn for warmth. Occasionally, there are knife sheaths offered with sturdy clips to attach a belt sheath inside the waistband and clipped to the pants without a belt. The common consensus therefore is, most knives are sold with sheaths for men and they want female-friendly carry options.
At the last Winter Doe Camp I instructed, the weather hovered in the single digits and teens. I held two seminars on “introduction to winter bushcraft” and the female participants worked with knives to cut saplings, carve pegs and learn basic knife skills. Some participants were more advanced and tried out advanced cutting techniques fabricating figure-4 triggers and fuzz sticks for starting my Kelly Kettle. I brought a larger wooden-handle frame bow saw and showed a common bow-saw technique that saves your arm from muscle fatigue by using both arms instead. A common request with the knives used was better ergonomics for female hands. Instead of bulbous Coke-bottle contours, the smaller knives lent out, including the Hiking Buddy, were preferred as they fit the ladies’ hands better. A good bushcrafting knife has a large comfortable handle and sometimes just right for a man is too large for a woman. On average, men’s hands are larger than women’s and therefore the average man’s knife isn’t going to be the best for the average woman.
There is one preference that is true of both men and women, looks matter. I have a whole box of beater knives in various stages of patina and rust. I have some knives with basic rubber overmolded handles and of course, I have some Fiddlebacks with their signature good looking blades and handles. Just as some men care about having the toughest looking knife, some women want the prettiest. Sometimes, these two descriptions are hand in hand. The VOGA Doe Camp participants have many opportunities throughout the weekend to demonstrate and improve upon their artistic abilities. From painting their own fishing lure earrings to learning about wildlife photography and sketching wilderness scenes, looks really do matter. Out of all the knives I bring for students to use, Fiddleback Forge knives win in this category year after year.
I won’t claim I know what women want when it comes to knives as there were/are many women who attended I did not get a chance to poll. Some ladies liked the scandi grind and others a full convex. I know preferences and opinions vary. In the same exact seminar, I can receive one feedback form that states I covered too much material. I can also receive another that says I did not cover enough.There is always someone with a lot to learn and someone who just wants to show all they know to the group. All I can do, is attempt to reach the middle and understand I’m not going to make everyone happy. No single knife is going to work for all women but there are some consistent requests found on the regular. I believe the Fiddleback Forge custom and production line meet the needs of female users well and more women should look into the benefits they offer. I also suggest women to look into groups like the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association in their own area as there may be a similar program offered. These women only programs are extremely popular and let women learn in the comfort of other women students with very patient male and female instructors. This format translates into getting more women into the great outdoors in activities they would otherwise not have immediate access to.
I’ve had many women over the years comment how they would rather learn from a stranger than their husband, father, son or brother. When it comes to some skills, it is better to learn from a stranger. In working with these ladies, I get to share the skills I have learned to love over the years and get a glimpse into what women want. Now, if I can figure out what else they want beside knives, I’ll be much better off (again, ducking for cover.)