Presentations and reports from the conference workshop providers.

Pack Hacks and Women Friendly Kit, by Jenny Dart

Workshop Report

Please see the PowerPoint slides where a range of women with Mountain Training qualifications shared their top tips they have discovered over the years.

There were common themes with ways of lightening the load whilst keeping warm enough and ensuring everything in your bag is packed away neatly and using a system. Being able to wee safely and conveniently was also a frequent topic, with women sharing how asking certain companies to adapt clothing with crotch zips has been a breakthrough. We also looked at how harnesses have detachable elastic straps connecting leg loops and waist loops, so you can drop these and wee whilst still being tied in. We also discussed use of a Kula cloth and how keeping clean and managing hygiene was important. Different ways of managing periods whilst out on the hill were discussed, and there are many more methods and resources now. The most important thing is to practice using these and ensure you have a backup method and a way of carrying things out if needed.

We realise that creating clothing and equipment that fits us requires a huge amount of variation, as there are so many different body sizes and shapes, and these are more variable than men’s body shapes. Within the room we shared different brands that seem to work for different body types. Steph Wetherall from Every Body outdoors kindly shared a lot of information around brands that provide plus size outdoor clothing and although there tends to be a lack of technical options, Alpkit seem to be the best at engaging with user groups and developing what is needed.

We created a collection of ideas around what is good about women’s kit at the moment and then another list of what we would still like to see. We recognise that things have moved on a lot in the last 10 years and we have much more choice now which is fantastic.

Trekmates have also informed me that an outdoors-proof hijab and niqab range will be available from late November.

What is good now? What would we still like to see
  • Increased colour range
  • More choice in general
  • ‘Female cut’
  • Variety of leg lengths
  • More boot/trainer brands and options of fit/technical options
  • More networks and communication about what works
  • Inclusive/modest wear
  • Technical and full spec kit
  • Hoods that fit helmets!
  • Variety of waist fits
  • Availability of second hand kit
  • Sports bras doing their job!
  • Options to repair kit
  • Pockets!
  • Options for long/narrow feet
  • Smaller technical shoes
  • Consistent sizing
  • Technical equivalence
  • Sleeve lengths on tshirts – not all capped
  • Shorts length – a mid thigh cut for harness wear
  • Deeper pockets
  • Map pockets on waterproofs that actually fit maps..
  • A better geographical spread of shops stocking technical kit
  • Longer tshirt body lengths so don’t rise up when wearing a harness
  • Climbing harnesses that fit small waists but larger thighs
  • Sustainability not compromising technical use
  • Universal colours
  • More leg length options across brands
  • Affordability of more technical kit

Living and Working Through Peri-Menopause and Menopause, by Katherine Schirrmacher

Workshop Report

Prior to the conference I put a facebook post out on the ‘Women in Mountain Training’ group asking for people’s experiences about working through the peri-menopause and menopause. The post received many comments and a number of people sent me personal messages. The overall message was that people are struggling. The workshop echoed many of the same issues.

In the workshop the people who attended were not yet affected by the hormonal changes (but were interested to find out how they might be), peri-menopausal, menopausal and post menopausal. I did not do a proper register for who attended (sorry!). Approximately 30 women attended the two workshops overall.

People shared their experiences of symptoms and how it is affecting their work and participation in outdoor activities. The main symptoms people are struggling with are brain fog, fatigue, anxiety and self confidence. Other issues are overheating, disturbed sleep, vertigo, painful feet, more easily injured, less flexibility, memory, joint ache and heavy periods.

How it is affecting people’s work:

  • Because of issues with hormones (some menopause, some women far younger with life altering hormonal issues) some people have had to stop working in the outdoors, but have switched to desk based work, still remaining in the industry if at all possible.
  • One person switched to mountain biking work from climbing, because climbing work involves so much decision making
  • Another person could no longer mountain bike because sitting on a saddle was too painful. The same goes for another with regard to hill walking, where walking for long periods is just too painful on the underside of feet.
  • There were many mentions of how symptoms affected people’s ability to specifically do the Mountain Leader qualification. People were extremely determined to do it, but it’s the one where symptoms of fatigue are really affecting their ability to complete the full course.
  • Again with regard to walking, difficulty regulating temperature affected how/whether/when to wear waterproofs, gaiters has been really affecting people. This feels frustrating and embarrassing.
Concurrently there is a facebook thread on the Association of Mountaineering Instructors page about how to manage their health and bodies over a long term career in the outdoors. Interestingly, joint pain (specifically knees with some hip and back) was the over-riding complaint with mental health and confidence having a knock on effect. I compiled and shared some of the helpful ways people are managing this over time. Some of this applies to women in peri-menopause and menopause too. Interestingly, no women commented on this post and did not mention anything of the menopause (I thought about it and did not put my experiences down). Here are the useful suggestions from the AMI post:
  • Diversify work
  • Diet
  • Get clients to carry more
  • Go to bed early
  • Use walking poles
  • Stretching
  • Massage
  • Cod liver oil
  • Rest
  • Breathing techniques – improve rest/anxiety
I ran the two workshops in a way where I could respond to the needs of the two groups with my powerpoint presentation as a background resource. In the first group there was a big need for people to share their experiences. In both groups there were women who had gone through the menopause with positive experiences on the other side. This was really helpful for people to hear.

In the second group people wrote on post it notes with their answers to 4 questions as we talked around these subjects during the two workshops. I think their answers sum up our discussions really well:

1. What will you do?

  • Looking into how to how to look after my health as I’m coming up to menopause
  • Know what/how you can help in your own community – do it!
  • Look out for it in others (clients, colleagues) so I can be kind
  • Tell others about it so they can look out for it and have the choice to be kind and compassionate
  • Talk about the menopause
  • Ask more women of their experiences knowing what to expect and how to help others
  • Volunteer to speak out my lived experiences
  • Be patient with myself
  • Keep myself as fit and healthy as possible to be able to do my job professionally
  • Have conversations
  • Learn enough about this to support my colleagues and clients

2. How can we support each other?

  • Contribute to online forums when people ask for help/advice
  • Share resources
  • Have honest conversations with people
  • Educate ourselves on symptoms of period/menopause

3. What do ALL instructors and coaches need to know (of all genders)?

  • Understanding wider impacts of menopause for example men whose partners are suffering and impacting their relationship
  • Awareness of the potential for odd behaviour (in response to temperature changes for example) and how to handle it sensitively
  • All humans are different. Most people want to talk so open up. Your life experience is your own and no one elses.
  • Have sanitary packs as part of first aid kit
  • Awareness of understanding of symptoms and impact
  • Have conversations
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Periods (young women, puberty, adult cycle), how to deal with
  • Recognise this as a normal phase of life, not a weakness

4. What can Mountain Training do?

  • Share resources with providers
  • Raise awareness and commit to devising and publishing policy
  • Short video for CPD/website
  • Work to agree some CPD/mandatory training
  • Provide information for instructors/freelancers
  • Provide information on how to talk about it
  • Provide link to good resources elsewhere
  • Start internally (in your offices): read books, listen to podcasts etc
  • Provide information of how you can diversify or structure finances to allow for days off
  • Be ok with making mistakes, speak to people with lived experience, involve the LGBTQIA+ community
  • Mainstream the issue by briefing at the main MTA events (not optional)
  • CPD: Mountain Training provider conference should have a session about periods, menopause and gender bias
  • After a First Aid course, have a well-being course involving gendered issues, mental health, periods, menopause
  • Have a health and wellbeing policy with a yearly review and expert contributors
  • Report back to the women who contributed here to show MT listened, heard and acted
To summarise, sharing of information and lived experiences is vital for everyone. There was universal agreement that this should be mandatory CPD for instructors and coaches in order to meet the needs of people attending courses and to have shared understanding between coaches and instructors about their peers’ and colleagues’ experiences.

Understanding Leadership and Developing Your Practice, by Dr. Samantha McElligott

Workshop Report

  • The workshop covered the following points:
  • Confidence in our ability to be a good leader.
  • What good/effective leadership looks like.
  • The difference between, and appropriateness of ‘style’ vs. ‘behaviour’.
  • The science behind transformational leadership (INSPIRE).
  • INSPIRE simplified as Vision, Support, Challenge (VSC).
  • INSPIRE and VSC in the MT Walking Award assessment criteria.
Attendees were first asked to write on separate post-it notes all conceivable barriers to being a good leader, and then, in the interests of re-focusing on more positive thoughts, discuss a time when they felt they had been a good leader/had a good day leading a group. The post-it notes, rather unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly reported “lack of confidence/self-doubt” (except for the one that just said "Men"). This common idea, however, was seen as reassuring, giving rise to discussion about not feeling alone in our self-destructive thoughts. A bit like watching Eastenders to make you feel better about life.

The groups were asked whether the question "Am I Good Enough?” was familiar to them. A unanimous “yes/emphatic head nod” followed. It was explained that this question cannot be satisfactorily answered, given that there is no actual measure of ‘good enough.’ That our ‘inner chimp’ can have a field day poking us about it because we cannot give suitable evidence to deny the claim, gah! BUT! When it comes to effective leadership, there does exist a measure that we can hold ourselves up to…

…Welcome on stage the aptly, ‘yet-so-flamboyantly-named-you-know-it-wasn’t-coined-by-a-Brit’ transformational leadership model! An evidence-based measure (Hardy et al., 2010) with actual criteria, here presented as ‘INSPIRE,’ and for which the science demonstrates increases in self-esteem, team and task cohesion, team skills, communication skills, satisfaction with training, leadership and accountability. The point was made that the research clearly shows these behaviours are inherent in outdoor practitioners at all levels, just to varying degrees. The attendees were encouraged to ‘own’ capacity to demonstrate these easily recognisable, empathic behaviours, which can generally be summed up as ‘being a nice person.’

Much was made of the behaviour around praise and feedback, and the findings from the research that although outdoor leaders are demonstrating all of the behaviours, consistently it was this particular little nugget that scored lowest. The reason for this was because the leaders had only ever received vague or half-hearted praise, the generic ‘well done’ or ‘good job (high-five!)’ Or that they felt it was culturally uncomfortable to give praise, interpreting it as something that had to be superlative and jazzy. In fact, we explored the idea that something as simple as: ‘Thank you for helping each other to work it out as a team and relocate on the map’ was light-touch praise that even the most weak stomachs could palate. Further, that this kind of sentiment (and it can be shorter: “Thank you for being on time”) could be easily referred back to the seven behaviours and in a crazy turn of events demonstrate to your followers that they were in fact showing the behaviours that increase self-esteem, blah blah. What a bloomin’ lovely win-win, no-more-nil-points-for-us situation. A subtle hint of warm, fuzzy feelings started to whisper quietly in the room.

A shift began to take place, now the attendees have identifiable evidence of their effective leadership, and can mull over how they can underpin everything they do with greater awareness of these behaviours, thus eliciting higher performance outcomes from their followers! We discussed “Samantha’s simple-safety-always-comes-first flow diagram,’ and how the situation dictates the type of style a leader adopts, knowing that their behaviours (in all cases, transformational) still run underneath, they just get dialled down when safety takes over. The Situational Leadership Model (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969) neatly summed up our need to adopt different styles dependent on our group (and the differentiated needs within it), the environment and ourselves.

To further hit home with the transformational leadership hammer-of-greatness, the Vision, Support, Challenge model showed how the seven behaviours fit into three categories, further simplifying our understanding of how it works (because three things are easier to remember than seven, right?). This segued beautifully, in an almost prepared way into the assessment criteria for the walking awards. Showing that if we hit 50 years, progress will indeed be made and we shall be recognised for what we are already doing well - hurrah!

On a serious note, the background for MT's need for absolutes in terms of assessing leadership was given. Leadership sits closely to a person’s view of their own character, so any critique of it feels personal. In this way, Assessors may well have steered clear of deferrals or critical feedback about leadership and management of groups, looking instead to safety or technical concerns because, by Jiminy, they are a heck of a lot easier to measure. Now, however, the holy grail of measurable criteria for what is 50% of the title of the walking awards is now out there for all to see and indeed measure up to.

So, to round off, in a quietly British non-whooping way, it was put to the room that if there exists no measure of ‘good enough,’ and there is a measure for behaviours that make people feel that they are worth more as humans, surely that is enough? And in which case, perhaps it’s about time we switched the question around to simply state “I am enough.”

Much in the way of encouraging ownership of these life-enhancing behaviours, of recognising and (even quietly) owning our strengths, of acknowledging our vital impact, and even, Heaven forfend, accepting praise was drilled in a determined, yet shiny, kind and unicorn-like way throughout our session. A session deliberately designed to build confidence and make the attendees feel better about themselves, heavily disguised in a boring title about leadership.

Knowing When You're Ready For Assessment, by Kath James

Body Inclusivity in Adventure Activities, by Maddie Sweetman

Workshop Report

During both sessions we discussed the existing research and some thoughts around how body inclusive the Adventure Activity sector is or isn’t. We then moved onto discussing attendees personal experiences of weight and body inclusivity. I highlighted I do not have experience of living in a bigger body and that my research/experience comes from an academic and observed perspective. Some interesting thoughts that came from our discussions were:
  • LOTS of discussion around finding it hard to find kit and equipment that fitted well both as an instructor and for participants. It was highlighted that women’s bodies vary in size/shape more than men’s and that retailers simply providing a larger range of sizes is not sufficient to meet women’s needs.
    Suggestions were made by attendees of pieces of kit that met their specific body size/shape needs. These are included below.
  • Concerns were raised regarding young climbers low weight or weight loss and how to respond to this as an instructor/coach. Perhaps guidance and further research is needed on this topic.
  • Discussion of how to manage clients expectations regarding strength/capability when you are a smaller instructor: Input from experienced instructors recommended not being afraid to manage the situation in a way in which you feel comfortable and are happy with. For example if short-roping 2 clients and there is a significant weight disparity, manage the clients 1 at a time even if this means taking longer than instructors perceived as stronger than yourself. In most cases it was felt clients would not notice differences in technique as they have put their trust in your knowledge to keep them safe in an unfamiliar environment. Also share out all your group kit and get the group to help you carry it!
  • Lots of good reviews for the Edelrid Ohm if climbing with a partner with weight disparity
  • Best Practice Model: Use this if you want to deliver body weight inclusive sessions!
Conceptual Model of Body Weight Inclusive PA spaces
Conceptual Model of Body Weight Inclusive PA spaces (Pickett & Cunningham, 2017)

Clothing and Technical Equipment Feedback & Recommendations

  • Long legs = Hagloffs trousers!
  • Montane leggings & trousers have massive pockets
  • Rab short tech trousers great if you’re short
  • Outdoor Research trousers = no wedgies!
  • Rab Obtuse trousers = comfy baggies
  • Montane short terra pants for short legs
  • Ocun Moya climbing trousers = short & comfy
  • Englebert Strauss motion shorts for 6 foot, size 14-16
  • Paramo smocks very roomy & long sleeves
  • Rab Muztag waterproof = best hood
  • Bravissimo & shock absorber sports bras = great
  • VS sports shoes & la sportiva boots/shoes for thin feet
  • Grivel crampons big size range
  • Summit gear very adjustable rusksacks to fit curves
  • Quecha 20l daypack = no busied hip bones
  • Deuter day packs fit big hips & boobs
  • MacPac for short back
  • Osprey very adjustable & shortest back size

Mountains and Parenthood, by Mikaela Toczek

Workshop Report

This is an extract from Mikaela's report. For the full document, see the PDF download below.


Bringing the survey data and comments into a workshop setting, enabled more voices to be brought to the table. Pregnancy, motherhood and family life are highly personal, unique experiences, making them challenging topics to approach without a diverse collection of individual experiences to draw from, enabling meaningful discussion surrounding potential action points.

Participants in the workshop ranged from pregnant individuals, mothers, employers, peers and those undecided about whether family life is compatible with their chosen careers.

During the workshop, we used the results from the survey, alongside photographs and one pre-recorded story, to explore the key themes highlighted by the many participants. Drawing out the influencing factors, raised awareness surrounding the experiences of pregnant individuals and mothers, which were then applied to potential influencers, including the following: Individuals, family, friends, peers, employers, clients, national centres, associations, charities, organisations, government and media outlets.

Highlighting the key themes alongside the main influencers helped to target actions that could potentially be taken, thinking specifically around who could do what to improve outcomes for pregnant individuals and mothers within the outdoor sector.

During the workshop participants worked together to develop key action points, relating to the survey findings and their own experiences. SMART target-setting was utilised to encourage points that could potentially be taken forwards and developed further.

Combining the action points from the workshops, with the findings from the survey has created a broad list of targets. These range from easily actionable targets such as themed threads on the MTA Social Media groups relating to parenthood in the sector, to logistically challenging ideas relating to childcare.

Action Points collated from the Workshop, Survey and Additional Discussions:

- Creche options at large outdoor/national centres/climbing centres etc. These could be utilised by staff, freelance instructors, clients and the general public. Forest School style childcare could fit with the ethos of Outdoor Education, whilst providing flexible childcare for those that need it.

- Explore the possibility of setting up a Social Media group for parents in the outdoors sector, or create regular threads about parent-related issues on the main MTA groups, comprising of Q&A sessions/Facebook Live/Polls etc. Topics could include themes such as insurance, which came up a number of times in the survey, as challenging for outdoor professionals during pregnancy.

- Keeping in Touch days set up by MTA and employers. Keeping in touch days specifically targeted at parents who have had time away from the industry (inclusive of all genders). Different themes could be targeted eg. ropework. These would be different from standard CPD, focused with an understanding of the issues and challenges faced by parents. Employers should be encouraged to actively utilise keeping in touch days with instructors on maternity leave (whether freelance or employed on a contract).

- More Split courses, or the ability to complete more elements digitally. Although split courses are already offered, could this be expanded? More elements, such as written assignments and exam papers could be submitted digitally, with extended time periods to do so (Not limited to directly before an assessment) and some qualification specific modules could be offered virtually.

- Opportunities for flexible working. A consultation or working group could be established to explore how flexible working could be made more available for instructors, this could include ideas for part-time, split roles (e.g instructor + admin) or job shares across the different roles, including leadership positions.

- Guidance published for MTA pathways and pregnancy. Documents, articles or other publications for prospective parents that highlight points for consideration and potential solutions to various challenges that might arise from pursuing an adventurous career alongside pregnancy/early motherhood.

- Maternity leave on payments to MTA. This could be broadened out to other associations and organisations, recognising the financial implications for new mothers to maintain payments whilst on maternity leave. Any break from payments, should include maintained membership, enabling new mothers to continue accessing resources and online materials, recognising that maintaining engagement can be an important connection to the industry during time away.

- Review/consultation into overnights for DofE assessors and supervisors and ways to make this more family friendly. This could be explored either through a working group or a named ambassador, with providers consulted alongside the wider DofE organisation. Qualifications such as the Camping Leader award, could empower teachers to upskill and manage camps, enabling instructors to balance family with work more effectively.

- Start and finish times in line with school day. As part of a working group a document could be developed outlining different options to enable instructors who are parents to work in line with the school day, this could then be made available for employers to consider.

- Education around writing risk assessments. Online CPD for pregnant individuals, prospective parents, employers and course providers, exploring how to write a risk assessment and why individual, personal risk assessments are important during pregnancy.

- Development of equipment and clothing appropriate for pregnancy and breastfeeding. More promotion through the associations of what is already out there for adaptive equipment and clothing and support for developing new products. Possibility of member deals for adaptive clothing explored (e.g full body harnesses). Not only would this be beneficial for pregnant individuals but it could explore adaptations more widely for individuals with disabilities and additional needs.

- More flexible CPD opportunities to address skill fade. Again this could be useful in the industry more widely, for anyone who has taken time away from the industry and is looking to return. A wider range of refresher courses could help address confidence concerns and skill fade, while ensuring instructors are up-to-date on current best practice.

- CPD for employers and course providers on pregnancy and family friendly working practices. This could be online CPD that explores the issues outlined in this document, with ideas for action points. Many employers are already using supportive working practices, could these be shared through online CPD?

- Financial or equipment support. Many pregnant individuals and new mothers feel that there is a financial barrier to participation. Setting up more options for renting/ borrowing equipment (including full-body harnesses) and promoting member discounts more widely. This could also include sharing locations for factory outlets and events in the MTA groups that might be missed by some members otherwise.

- Higher pay to cover childcare costs. This is recognised as being a more challenging issue to address. Perhaps it is something a working group could explore surrounding negotiating pay and conditions.

- A named individual within companies to provide support and guidance for returning to work. Employers could consider a named role of Wellbeing Officer or similar, that is part of HR and could be beneficial not just for parents or pregnant individuals, but also more widely. Training could include awareness around the issues facing parents and pregnant individuals in the outdoor industry and Mental Health First Aid.

How To Turn Qualifications Into A Successful Career or Business, by Siân Louise Brewer

We Need To Talk About Confidence, by Dr Helen Williams and Professor Katrina Pritchard

Nutrition and Women's Lifecycle, by Rebecca Dent

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