When president and co-founder of Backcountry Squatters, Kit Kocha, got to campus, she was eager to explore all that Bozeman and the surrounding area had to offer. She mountain biked, climbed, ran and snowboarded as soon as the snow hit the ground. Adventures and male adventure buddies were always in large supply, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that fellow female adventurists were missing from her outdoor endeavors.
“I had spent the entire first year of school going out with a group of guys and always being the only girl. That was really fun and it pushed me and helped me grow, but the first time I ever went mountain biking with a group of girls, I felt like I had so much more success and that I was being celebrated at another level because these women could understand the exact path I had gone through to get there, and could recognize the small successes I was having. Having that support network really made me feel valued.”
Kocha, who also works as a trip leader at an all girls summer outdoor adventure camp in Wisconsin, realized the importance of not only introducing girls to the outdoors, but also connecting women that already are passionate about getting outside with one another. In October 2015, Kocha, along with fellow outdoor enthusiast, Andie Creel, founded the Backcountry Squatters (officially title: Women’s Outdoor Adventure Club). Almost immediately they realized how important this club would be for MSU female students. Kocha said, “We only told six girls we were having our first meeting and we ended up having 70 girls show up. We went around saying why we were there and every single girl was reporting: ‘I’m here to meet girls’ or ‘I really need another lady to come out with me and my guys.’”
With 420 Facebook followers and 69 due-paying members, Backcountry Squatters has quickly become one of the larger student clubs on campus. The club has several methods of promoting female engagement in the outdoor community. According to Kocha, one of the club’s goals is to: “Provide introductory opportunities for women in a non-intimidating environment — that first step in without the pressures that come from doing it with guys. The club does everything it can to make it comfortable for entry level women, including providing good equipment and the support of the community. Everybody who’s going who has experience knows the goal for the outings is for these girls to have a positive experience.”
Another club goal is to provide opportunities for women who have already found a discipline that they are interested in or passionate about and providing opportunities for them to advance in that discipline that they wouldn’t otherwise have without the club, such as all-woman avalanche courses and bike clinics. A huge part of this aspect of the mission is providing a social opportunity for those women who need partners that will push them in a positive way, and connecting members with mentors in the community. Backcountry Squatters also wants to be involved in community outreach, such as being role models to younger girls in the community that are going to grow up and be able to do the same things that they are trying to do now. “We are also starting to add a little bit of an environmental component to the club, trying to merge the role of adventurer and conservationist so people can identify as both,” Kocha said.
The club has weekly events led by club members, including mountain bike rides, runs, girls’ night at the MSU bouldering gym and yoga. On top of the weekly events, Backcountry Squatters also has bi-monthly meetings with more than 80 girls in attendance. The meetings are designed to benefit members beyond a traditional club meeting, including guest speakers, group bonding activities and group discussions about getting females outdoors. The club also sponsors bigger events, such as ski movie viewings, camping trips and one big “summit” event each semester. Working on their commitment of outreach, the club plans to collaborate with Women for Wildlands, a small group trying to keep public lands public. This would include writing letters to Montana legislators and asking them to keep public lands available to all.
Starting this semester, inspired by the success and importance of the MSU Backcountry Squatters, University of Montana has also begun their own Backcountry Squatters club. With 160 women signed up, and about 60 members at every meeting, their club has taken off. This summer, Backcountry Squatters heard from a school in Colorado thinking about starting their own branch. Kocha is both excited about expansion to other colleges as well as nervous about the future image of the club. “If Backcountry Squatters spreads to other universities there would be a lot more worry about the mission not being spread in the way we at MSU want it to grow; another school’s actions may taint our image. But I believe if another university needs it, it should be there. My focus, however, is to keep growing it in Bozeman and keep supporting our own female outdoor community.”