Leading with kindness and a can-do attitude, this lifelong hiker and Women Who Hike ambassador shares below why she believes that the outdoors is for everyone to enjoy. Words and Photos by Kate Rentz.
On a warm spring day in the seasonally green mountains of Point Mugu State Park, I met up with Brandi (a.k.a. @brandihikes) to hike the Ray Miller Backbone Trail, one of her favorite paths in the Malibu mountains.
Brandi’s Instagram profile is filled with a collection of inspirational images of the L.A.-based hiker with a smile on her face and pack on her back. As an ambassador for Women Who Hike, a worldwide organization that empowers women on and off the trail, she leads hikes in Southern California with kindness and an encouraging attitude. Finding time to connect with like-minded women and nature has been a necessity in her life—an invigorating space to recharge from days spent in an office working in the medical field.
Lately, Brandi’s go-to outdoor adventure buddy is her 20-month-old nephew, Joseph. Their weekly trips to mountain and desert trails are centered around instilling a sense of curiosity and exploration, which I experienced first hand as we made our way up the beautiful scenic trail as it overlooked the endless blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
We laced up our Grandview GTX hiking boots, hit the trail, and chatted about Brandi’s journey as a hiker, how she uplifts women hikers to overcome their fears, and why being in the mountains fills her with a sense of peace and freedom.
It’s so nice to meet you, Brandi! First, I’d love to know where you grew up?
BRANDI: I grew up in Portland, Oregon but spent my summers in Los Angeles. While living in Portland, I learned a lot of character-building lessons that I don’t think I would have been able to learn in Los Angeles. For example, people in Portland were always more apt to stop and talk to each other. I learned how to be cordial and take a genuine interest. The regular use of public transportation at a young age was common—oftentimes in rain and unfavorable weather that we don’t usually experience in L.A. That helped me learn how to be adaptable and resilient. It gave me a very independent and strong work ethic.
However, I consider Los Angeles my home and I do love LA. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with L.A., but it has almost everything and for what it’s missing, there’s always a quick road trip to access it! I definitely think the west coast is the best coast!
How did you get into hiking?
Because I grew up in Oregon surrounded by trails and forests, hiking was always encouraged by the culture in Portland. I don’t ever remember not hiking. It has always been a part of me. I was also an avid tennis player and a few years ago, I experienced a series of foot injuries that left me ready to explore something else. Because of this, I reconnected with hiking like never before and became truly obsessed with it.
How did you get connected with Women Who Hike and what is it like to lead group hikes?
Nicole Brown, the founder of Women Who Hike, offered me the opportunity to be an ambassador and I was totally up for it. I now have the privilege of leading hikes and attending hikes led by other ambassadors. Being an ambassador is a great way to be outside while encouraging others to do the same.
It’s absolutely amazing to be able to connect with people who have the same love for the outdoors that I do. I have so much fun leading. I’ve also had instant connections with some incredible women that I hang out with outside of WWH. Nicole and the team do a great job of keeping things organized and running things smoothly. I love being a part of the community and always look forward to leading group hikes.
Brandi and her nephew, Joseph.
“I couldn’t believe how extremely light and comfortable the Grandview GTX hiking boots were! They felt as if they were already broken in and I was able to carry my nephew with ease. I love how wide the toe-box is in and I couldn’t feel any rocks below my feet… They’re just an easy ride!”
It can be pretty intimidating to show up for a hike with strangers, especially if you’re not an experienced hiker. What are some ways that you try to foster a welcoming and inclusive space on your group hikes?
I think my Instagram profile helps others feel comfortable by showing that I am not the best or fastest hiker out there. I am still learning and growing just like they are and I try to create a space where anyone can see themselves in the outdoors. Inclusivity is really important to me and I show that through my social media by having a diverse group of people on the trail.
I am such a people-person and I do my best to be open and welcoming on hikes by introducing myself and initiating conversation. I usually do non-technical hikes for those who want to get their feet wet and try to keep the group together by reassuring everyone that taking breaks is okay. Being left behind is a real fear for some people and I remind everyone that no one is going to get left behind. I constantly tell the women, “WE GOT THIS!”
How have you learned from and been challenged by hiking with women?
I have learned that my body is able! I am capable of finishing! Period. I have been challenged to try other avenues such as overnight backpacking and I’ve even been introduced to climbing.
Through Instagram, you’ve recently shared about your journey taking over the care of your nephew and how you often take him on hikes with you. How does it feel to share your love for hiking with him?
Oh my goodness—I feel so honored to have him be a part of my life. I love being able to take him out to explore. He gets so excited, which makes it much more exciting for me. It’s really amazing to see what he’s learning. Right now he’s learning a lot of words, so when he sees a bird, butterfly, or rabbit he calls them out by name. It is such a joy and pleasure to help him grow to love the outdoors and to learn that it’s a space where he belongs. I want him to know that he is not limited to any specific category of hobbies or activities, nor is he limited by any stereotypical box. We don’t do that here! Being outside with him allows our bond to grow even deeper and it’s such a fulfilling feeling.
What are your top hiking accomplishments and what’s next on your bucket list of trails?
My biggest hiking accomplishment was hiking up Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, [one of the park’s most famous and strenuous hikes with narrow pathways, steep inclines and steep drop-offs on both sides of the trail].
It was early spring, with ice still on the ground, so it was very scary and I had a terrible cold! It took me forever, but I did it! I challenged my body so much. When I reached the top, the feeling of satisfaction was just amazing! I want to try and tackle the Six-Pack of Peaks next. That includes Mt. Wilson, Cucamonga Peak, Mt. San Antonio, San Bernardino Peak, Mt. San Jacinto, and San Gorgonio Peak in Southern California.
You did your first backpacking trip in 2019! Where did you go and what was your experience like?
I backpacked in Joshua Tree National Park with my daughter, Alexis, and Linda from @thebucketlisttraveler. I ended up overpacking with too many snacks and too many clothes making my pack extremely heavy, but it sure was an amazing adventure! The most challenging thing I faced was at home before the trip. My adult children were so skeptical because it was winter and they figured I would freeze and never make it home. But of course, all went well. It has definitely made me want to plan more backpacking trips this year.
The Grandview GTX hiking boots in Dark Blue.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, what three hikes would you suggest around L.A. and Southern California?
Los Liones offers beautiful beach views all the way through, Sturtevant Falls offers a nice and easy trail to a beautiful waterfall, and honestly any trail in Griffith Park. I prefer going far out to hike, but there are so many great local places nearby.
How would you encourage beginners to get out and hike?
I’d first start out by reminding them that hiking is for them and them alone; have fun with it without overthinking it or setting ridiculous standards. I would also suggest starting on an easy trail that doesn’t have too much gain, but enough where there are great views of the beach or city. Just start walking. I’ll come join you!
How does freedom in the outdoors feel to you?
I feel free to roam, think, free from pressure, and a time to reflect. I feel connected to my inner peace and it’s at its peak when I am on the trail. I feel an instant connection to those on the trail because we are all there to enjoy what’s naturally made to enjoy and be around forever. It’s a space for everyone. I want to embody a sense of accomplishment. Knowing that this body can take me anywhere at any time.