Cultivating an environment where women can be themselves in the outdoor industry is one of the goals of the newly formed female-only Gonzaga University club, Backcountry Squatters. 

With the outdoor industry being predominantly male, Backcountry Squatters’ mission is to provide support for women to get outdoors and allow them a place to learn about it, said Backcountry Squatters GU Chapter’s president, Keilea Barth 

Started by a group of college women at Montana State University (MSU) five years ago, the club began with a tightly knit group of young, ambitious and passionate female outdoor enthusiasts which has since grown into a nationwide organization. 

Barth said the club at MSU started when a group of girls that attended the college sat down in the cafeteria and noticed the outdoor industry is mostly made up of males 

Barth, who is an avid mountain biker and skier, brought Backcountry Squatters to GU’s campus after learning about it from her friend at Colorado University Boulder. She noticed that there were a lot of female students on campus who resembled the founders of the club at MSU. After learning more information, Barth set out to make Backcountry Squatters a club at GU. 

The women's only club started at GU this November and is growing, with 25 members currently. Barth wants to keep growing and building a strong community within the club.

During their short time on campus, GU Backcountry Squatters has hosted multiple climbing events for its members and is looking to put on a hike after spring break. GU Backcountry Squatters plans to put on annual events and is partnering with GU Outdoors and the Freeride Ski Club for events.

Paige Grosser, a prominent skier, hiker and vice president of the GU Backcountry Squatters, said she enjoys the club because she gets to work and hang out with women who have similar aspirations for the outdoors as she does.

Backcountry Squatters have seven chapters ranging from the Northwest to the Rocky Mountains. Even with so many women spread across different college campuses, they all support each other, Barth said.

The GU Backcountry Squatters wants the club to grow into the community.

 “I think it would be cool to see this club transition from its starting phase to a more developed phase like some of the other outdoor clubs at Gonzaga,” Grosser said. 

Grosser feels as if the club is already a community where support is all around.

“We are really lucky to be at Gonzaga where there are a lot of people who are passionate about the outdoors.," Grosser said. "I think it is a great community because we all just want each other to succeed in our outdoor goals and want to help each other do that.”

Darby Knoll, the executive director of the new nonprofit organization Backcountry Squatters, said that it was needed to have the club spread to other campuses. Throughout the course of her four years at MSU, the club began to gain popularity among other college campuses. After graduating from MSU, Knoll and the other executive members decided to turn the club into a nonprofit organization. 

Knoll spoke to what Backcountry Squatters does for women. For Knoll, personally, it gave her the confidence she didn't even know she needed. 

“I'm 24 years old, have a degree in microbiology and animal science and have never had previous experience in a nonprofit,” Knoll said. 

“On paper, I do not look like a person who could take on being the executive director of a rapidly growing nonprofit, but through the experience and growth of backcountry squatters at MSU and the unbelievable support of this community of women I have gained the confidence to lead this organization into its future and I am extremely humbled and excited by that every day,” Knoll said.

Backcountry Squatters as a nonprofit hopes to be the leading female college-aged organization that leads women into the outdoor industry, giving the woman in their club the confidence to reach their full potential. 

The GU Backcountry Squatters meets bi-monthly with days and times still to be determined. Barth said their main focus is the events and the meetings serve as more of a check-in for the members.

If you are interested in joining Backcountry Squatters you can contact Barth at

Hannah Hislop is a staff writer.

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