This year I’ve been very happy with most of the gear that’s come my way. When I started this site five years ago, things on the women’s gear side were dire. There was little in the way of options, and few items fit particularly well. Women’s gear was about ten years behind men’s gear, and this made me grouchy, which led to starting this site as a means by which I could vent about it. Little did I know that I’d still be at it at this point and that I’d be busier with the blog than ever – and little did I know that so many changes would have come about for women’s outdoor gear in that short time.
Clothes fit better now, there are more options, and generally things are improving. I think there’s a long way to go; not only from the manufacturing standpoint but in the retail arena, where women’s gear sections are still only a tiny fraction of the size of the men’s gear sections. The high-level mountaineering and cycling gear subsections also need to step up their game for women, but all in all things are getting better.
Still, there are a few things that the industry has just not learned yet. Certain gear features that work well for men do not work well for women, but they keep showing up on gear nonetheless. Here’s my top five features and gear selections that don’t work for women, and the top five improvements I’ve seen over the last few years:
1. Silicone grippers. You’ll find these on the bottoms of bike shorts and the hems of bike jerseys. Offhand I can’t think of when I’ve encountered them elsewhere so it must be just a bike thing. Oh, wait, I’ve seen them on a thermal top designed for XC skiing and running as well, so they’re out there. They are supposed to keep your shorts and top from riding up as you ski, run, or ride, relying on the additional friction provided by the silicone. This does not work for women. No, no, no. Why? Because women are not shaped like men. Our torsos do not line up in a straight line with our hips. Our hips go out from our waists, and when we take a stride or step, our booties push up against the hem of whatever shirt we’re wearing. If that shirt has silicone grippers on the hem, the force of the booty will overcome the friction of the silicone and push the shirt up, where it will happily sit for the rest of the outing, held there by that @#$%!! silicone. Industry, please stop with the silicone. It’s awful. It’s awful even on bike shorts, where it’s supposed to hold the shorts down so they don’t ride up. But really? Properly designed shorts won’t ride up anyway. My favorite bike shorts have no grippers anywhere and they stay put just fine. I’m in Durango at the moment, where if you don’t ride a bike you are lower than snail slime, and every female rider I see has her shorts folded up so the silicone grippers are away from her skin. We hate the silicone. Stop with the silicone.
2. Limited adjustment range for pack chest straps. I’ve panned many a pack that would have worked out fine had I been able to slide the chest strap up a little higher. Yes, I have a short torso, but a lot of women are more petite than I, and we all need the chest strap on our packs to be up and away from any of our female-specific anatomy. So many packs still have chest straps that won’t adjust high enough. It’s a simple change that would go a long way.
3. Unisex gear. I still have to say this? Gah. Unisex gear is made for men. Unisex = one sex = made for men. Do not write to me claiming you have great new women’s gear only to have it show up with a tag that says “Unisex”. This is unacceptable for items that are actually supposed to FIT, such as footwear, clothing, or even sleeping bags. No more unisex. Try harder.
4. Large-capacity backpacks. Packs in general have really improved in fit for women, but there are some gaps, and larger backpacks are a significant one. Many women have written in requesting recommendations for larger-capacity packs that fit women, and I don’t have any for them. The 30 liter capacity packs are really nice right now and there are many options, but that won’t help you much if you’re going on a longer trip or heading to altitude. I know it’s tough to shrink a pack down to fit smaller torsos while also increasing capacity, but I also know we have the technology to accomplish this. Let’s get on it.
5. Drawstring pants. I don’t run into these that often, honestly. But when I do, I just have to wonder what in the world the designers were thinking! Drawstring pants. What? They just don’t work for anything active. They loosen, they get in the way, they don’t fit under waist belts; they’re just wrong all the way around. No bueno.
Bonus boo: Technical work gear. Women need radio harnesses, technical backpacks, tough technical pants, and guide gear that is designed for us and meets the demands of ski patrolling, SAR work, guiding, and other technical pursuits. It would be great to see improvements in this category.
1. Longer shirts/jackets. When the long-short designs first started coming out, I didn’t like them because I used to like shorter shirts. Then packs started fitting better and the waist belts would actually sit on my hips rather than up around my rib cage, so my shirts were too short to be comfortable. I also started wearing actual bike clothes and soon found that almost every single bike jersey is made too short if it’s also small enough to actually fit me. For the cycling clothes, I suspect that’s because the cycling industry is STILL trying to pass off smaller sizes of men’s clothes as women’s clothes, but the rest of the industry recognized the problem years ago and started making longer tops for women.
2. Lower waist rises. As shirts got longer, waists got lower, and thank the gear gods for that. High waisted pants are awful; they add bulk under backpacks, cut into your stomach, and are extremely uncomfortable. Most outdoor pants now are carefully designed with a reasonably low rise and most of them are even nicely designed enough to not allow butt crack glimpses (though the long shirts of today certainly help as well).
3. Backpacks. OK, so large capacity backpacks for women are hard to come by, but small and medium capacity packs have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. It’s odd to get a women’s pack that doesn’t fit me reasonably well these days, and even when a particular model doesn’t work, it’s likely that the same manufacturer will have another option that does. They’re making packs for a variety of women’s body shapes and sizes, and this is a great improvement.
4. Fit and sizing: Fit in general has gotten a lot better for women’s outdoor clothing. Sizing, though some might disagree, is holding steady, with the industry resisting vanity sizing. The sizes that fit me years ago still fit me now; I’m not steadily moving into the XXS range as what used to be a L becomes a 6 to assuage the egos of people in denial. I realize this will be a nonpopular sentiment for some, but one of the reasons that sizing is so difficult is that it changes so much in response to the demand for vanity sizes. So kudos to most of the industry for not caving in.
5. Selection: Selection is getting much better. We have options now. There are, as I’ve pointed out, a few subcategories in which selection still sucks, but in general most women should be able to find something that works for them fairly easily these days. If they can’t, it’s probably because the retail stores don’t carry much of a selection for women, but that’s not really the fault of the manufacturers. We have options now, ones we didn’t used to have, and that’s awesome.