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Ana Lucía Valencia — Exploring nature, empowering women and living waste-free

What does it mean to live with deep respect and reverence for nature? For Ana Lucía Valencia, it means being waste free. It means being prepared for adventure with outdoor skills and sharing them with others. It means empowering women to get outside through cultivating safe group experiences.

In Tepoztlán, Mexico, Ana Lucía loves spending her weekends discovering new mountain trails and finding peace in nature. From a young age, her family brought her camping and hiking, experiences that many other girls her age never had. Furthermore, Ana Lucía’s dad taught her to set up a tent, read a map and make fires so she was equipped to be safe outdoors.

Safety in Mexico is a concern for many who want to be outdoors, resulting in hiking and outdoor activities being less popular in Mexico and Latin America. “Most women I know don’t go to the mountains alone because they don’t feel safe, even if they live surrounded by mountains,” said Ana Lucía. “The social situation in Mexico perpetuates fear.”

How many women do you know who are scared to walk alone? Or women who avoid outdoor activities because they never felt accessible or safe? There are countless stories of women feeling unsafe in public spaces, including in nature, which is indicative of huge societal issues – issues that have been highlighted by many, especially during International Women's Month.

Creating safe outdoor experiences, primarily for women, is why Ana Lucía is passionate about her work with Aire Libre, a Mexican-based organization that combines retreats at outings for running with a philosophy of reconnecting with the Earth and oneself. Widening accessibility to outdoor spaces leads to more awareness about the importance of protecting our environment. Exposure and sustainability go hand and hand.

“The more people that are outside, the more people are gonna fall in love again with nature, and that love makes you want to protect the spaces you go through,” said Ana Lucía. “Exposing people is the first step to protecting areas.”

Ana Lucía started scratching her “sustainable itch” while studying psychology and consciousness at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Upon realizing her power as a consumer, she stopped buying products with palm oil, transitioned to a vegan diet and now lives entirely waste free. No plastic packaged ritz crackers, no bottled shampoos or disposable bottles of water. Instead, Ana Lucía buys bulk food from markets and invests in hygiene products like shampoo bars to eliminate waste and support her local economy.

In 2021 Ana Lucía decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada. She was determined to continue her waste-free lifestyle but found no guiding resources. So she created her own. “wastefreepct” began as Ana Lucía’s Instagram handle to document her sustainable hiking journey. Years later, she continues using her voice to inspire consciousness in outdoor enthusiasts and show people the beauty of living in harmony with nature.

On International Day of Forests, Ana Lucía posted about the devastating impacts of deforestation saying first and foremost that we can make a difference when we “examine what we consume.” Ana Lucía likes to buy locally to lower her carbon footprint and when it comes to hiking and outdoor adventures she strives to find the gear that has the least impact on the environment. It is no surprise that when she learned of Volpi Outdoor Gear, she had to buy a pack. “Their process revolves around ethical manufacturing, which I find amazing,” said Ana Lucía. “Matteo told me how well he pays his workers, and that is also something I really value.”

Matteo is also creating thicker chest straps on newer pack models to be more comfortable for women, an important effort in creating more accessibility for women in outdoor spaces by tailoring gear to their needs.

Since buying her UL 40, Ana Lucía has hiked the Colorado Trail and, from there, simply uses her Volpi pack for everything. “I love my Volpi pack. I use it every day and take it everywhere.” Ana Lucía hikes a lot on trails in Mexico with friends, through her guiding job, with her dog and alone. Yet the trail system and culture are different in Mexico; for the most part, there are no signs or well-cleared trails. Navigation skills here are essential for those exploring unmarked areas. Yet, trails exist; they are built into Mexico’s history.

For many years communally owned lands called ejidos created and used trails to connect various communities throughout Mexico. These trails are still used as pilgrimages where hikers can spend a few days walking and often staying in small towns along the way. Maybe one day some of these trails could be connected to create a thru-hike reminiscent of something like the PCT, but it would require getting permission from communities and finding ways to make these experiences safe for hikers.

To this day, Ana Lucía doesn’t camp alone in her home country and takes many precautions when hiking, especially alone. She isn’t on a mission to tell women to hike alone; she acknowledges the societal systems at play. Instead, she works to foster safe and fun ways to be in nature so women can feel empowered, and she shares her passion for living waste free to expose others to how they can be intentional consumers. Through getting outdoors and living sustainably, more people connect personally with the importance of caring for our planet.

photographer: Ricardo Guadarrama Mejía

“If you are an outdoor lover, I believe that comes with the responsibility of taking care of it and being its guardian,” said Ana Lucía. “Not everyone can do the same things, but everyone can make an effort.”

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