The best books, podcasts and online groups for building outdoor confidence


Adventure podcaster Zoe Langley-Wathen tries to remember her favourite inspiring resources for midlife women who need a little boost (men also welcome!)

We had a chat with Zoe last week, and found out about her journey into a more adventurous life. Here’s the second half of the conversation – a treasure trove of her favourite confidence-building, dream-sharing, spring-boarding people to answer your questions and encourage you into the outdoors.

Hi Zoe, do you have a hit list of tips for people who might be feeling low on confidence or who are losing their identity?

Yeah, for people who are starting to flounder I definitely would recommend joining a group. If not a physical group, join an online group – walking, cycling or caving, there is a group for everybody out there. If you don’t know what you are interested in and just want to be in a safe space with other women, there are general online outdoor groups for women. So HeadRightOut Hub, that’s my own group. There’s Love Her Wild. You have the Tough Girl Tribe, the Adventure Queens and there’s numerous others as well. But they are all safe spaces where women talk about what they’re doing and what they’d love to do in the outdoors. There’s always somebody there to bounce off and give you advice.

So that’s one thing. The other thing, I was going to say… no, it’s gone! See, that’s what happens in midlife. You suddenly start getting very forgetful. Hmm. No. It’s just gone. And it was really significant. I know it was going to be a profound, profound thing.

You’ve just got to go back into the room where you thought it.

If you tell me the question again, it might come.

Tips. Hit list of tips. Women’s groups…? Never mind!

Unsurprisingly really, all of where you’re coming from is about encouraging people. The adventures themselves are mostly about finding your own wellbeing and carving out your own space. And it just struck me how different that feels from a macho, masculine, perhaps historical idea of what exploration is, or adventure.

I hear that so much as well. I hear so many women say ‘Now, I can’t do that because that’s what men do’. We would love to just go out and appreciate and cheerlead and enjoy our time, and not feel the need to be competitive.

I think sometimes it’s a culture thing and men think they have to be competitive because that’s what they’ve been brought up to do. But a lot of men have contacted me regarding the podcast saying that they’ve got a lot out of it, and as a result are looking forward to retirement, for example, and going off and doing some of these adventures.

Oh good!

I just thought of what those things were. Joining groups was the first, and then podcasts! The reason I have my own podcast is because I became an avid listener of podcasts during that really difficult time of caring for my parents.

Best podcasts for adventure confidence-building

Top three?

Oh gosh that’s hard! Since about 2017 my go-to guide has been podcasts. When I embark on a new challenge or have an idea about something, I find a podcast on that and then binge-listen, for hints and tips and a flavour. Tough Girl podcast still remains there in the top spot.

There’s monthly podcasts on travel to unusual places, plus delving into the deeper aspects of travel with the Books and Travel Podcast. In Chatting to a Friend presenter Catie Friend talks to exciting women about adventure, community, sex, grief, motivation and boundaries.

The Joy of SUP podcast has writer, filmmaker and ‘joy encourager’ Jo Moseley talking to stand-up-paddleboarding women. The Living Life Differently podcast is a series of interviews with people living life differently, from an international petsitter to a surf hotel owner, a world cycling nomad etc, with hosts Ali and Amy Mahoney Johnson, who are doing things differently themselves.

In Wild Ideas Worth Living journalist Shelby Stanger interviews world-class explorers, athletes, authors, scientists, health experts and entrepreneurs about how they’ve taken their own wild ideas and made them a reality, with a focus on helping the listener do the same.

Oh and… HeadRightOut of course!

They’re much more informal, rambly, more human – it’s storytelling, isn’t it? Finding out through people’s experience rather than boiled-down top tens or expert advice.

Very much that. I can normally gauge whether I trust the host or not, and if you do then the things they are saying sit deeper with you. It becomes an intimate relationship you have with someone, they’re in your ear, for hours and hours.

Best books for encouraging you to get outside

And books. Adventure memoirs – you are finding out their stories, their tips, their mistakes and some have been fashioned in a way that actually will help catapult you, to plan your own adventures. There’s two books in particular. One is Live Your Bucket List by Julia Goodfellow Smith. She was my first guest on the podcast and she walked the South West Coast Path aged 50, the first time she’d done anything like that. She threw herself in at the deep end, and had a bit of a traumatic time in an incident with an angry man who broke a tent. But she came through the other side and has benefited from the experience. And the book is a step-by-step, really clear directory of how to map out what you need to do to tick off each thing on your bucket list.

It’s really telling, your top tips for getting out there, if you’ve lost confidence or you’re not sure how to start. You could have said ‘go to an outdoor shop and talk to them about tents,’ or ‘how to find the best boots’ or, you know, practical instructions. But actually all of your three things – groups, podcasts, books – have been about putting yourself in a position to hear other people’s stories. And through those stories being practically assisted, but also kind of legitimised. And then also about meeting people who are going to be your kinfolk.

When I was on the SWCP and the WCP I found out most of what I needed to do and how I could solve problems from a) doing it myself and finding out. But b) by talking to other people. I’d meet people on the way and say, Oh gosh, what boots have you got? And are they waterproof? Oh, I love your rucksack. Where did you get that from and how does that work?

I think that stories and that sort of porous, interactive, ongoing conversation is the antithesis of the fail-averse culture that we have found ourselves in, where you don’t want to go on a long-distance path because you don’t know before you start that you’re going to succeed. But actually creating yourself a network of other people is a two-way learning experience, which is about failing and trying.

Yeah. And, and if you do fail, then that doesn’t matter. And actually, I said all the way along that I hate the word fail because I was teaching in a girls’ grammar school for 13 years and we tended not to use that word around them because it would create all sorts of panic. It became a bad word. But I was talking to Belinda Kirk for episode 11, about her book Adventure Revolution, and she picked me up on that and said we need to fail. We need to be able to get out there and learn to experience what failure is as much as success. And if things don’t go right, it doesn’t matter because we learn from that.

And the other book is by a local lady – she actually brought her book to me on the canal and gave it to me as a gift. Wisdom Along the Way: 12 True Life Camino Tales with an Inspiring Twist, by Elaine Hopkins. She started walking very late on in life. She couldn’t understand why she was clumsy and why things kept going wrong for her, and then discovered she had dyspraxia at 59, and it affects her balance, coordination, memory, speech. She didn’t want to let that label limit her. She’s now done more than 5000km on the camino over five years. For each chapter she talks about an experience on the camino, and ties it in with a principle from a neurolinguistic programme she went through for her dyspraxia.

Thank you! I think this is a really lovely resource you’ve suggested – a tender way of looking at big and exciting things. Shining light for potential lost identities and lost souls.

Yeah. Women empowering women – I just think it’s really important. And it’s not about feminism, although there’s an element of that there sometimes. But we need a tribe to help cheerlead and champion us along. And we don’t always feel like that with our men, as much as we love them. Sometimes their agendas are different.

It’s the method, the manner of doing it is as important as the doing… thereof, isn’t it?

Yes, and just hearing women’s voices telling their stories.

  • Read or listen to the first half of this chat with Zoe here!
  • Inspired by Zoe’s tales of the South West Coast Path? Many of the Slow Ways in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are stretches of the coast path, so you can have the experience and also add your reviews in to project Slow Ways! Browse the paths of the south west on our journey planner
  • Hear Zoe’s podcast with Hannah here, on Slow Ways, trying to be adventurous despite children, and walking around Wales with a donkey called Chico
  • For more inspiring middle-aged people on this site, read about Tim Ryan’s upland walk across Wales, see Lynn Jackson’s lovely drawings of her Slow Ways walks, or read Kate Monson on her family history in intriguing mudlands of Canvey Island