OK, so we don’t give real gear awards on Geargals.com, because gear awards are dumb – especially now that they are “awarded” at trade shows at which the gear just sits on display and has not been actually used by the awarder. Even if it had, has the awarder used ALL the other gear at the trade show? No, I’d say probably not. So how can the awarder give a “Best Gear of the Big Massive Giant Million-Product Trade Show” award with any meaning whatsoever? Can you figure out the answer? You’re smart, I’ll let you think on it.
There’s almost nothing new under the sun to get me worked up, gear news-wise. Woo, another down freaking jacket hit the market. Stop the presses! No, don’t. You know how many down jackets I have in my closet? Lots, and they are all pretty much essentially, for the most part, the same. There are some I like more than others, but in a pinch, almost any down jacket will do, within reason. There is nothing new about a puffy jacket. As long as you know your way around how to tell which level of puffy jacket warmth you need (Patagonia Ultralight Down Sweater for some stuff, Mountain Hardwear Sub Zero for other stuff, Canada Goose expedition down for REALLY other stuff, and on and on), you can find what you’re looking for pretty much any damn time. A newsworthy down jacket to me was the one Patagonia just put out that cost like $700, and then sold out IMMEDIATELY. Now THAT is newsworthy, not because the jacket is necessarily so awesome (but it probably was), but that Patagonia got so many people, few of which actually need a 1000-fill down belay jacket that costs $700, to buy the thing. That’s amazing, people. You are amazing. Gear makers AND gear buyers alike; you are amazing.
But to me, the biggest gear news of the year has gone just about un-noticed in the mainstream gear-flogging.* I think that’s because it’s about A) gear specifically for women, and B) gear specifically for a niche of outdoors enthusiast-type women and C) a sport that men want to pretend women don’t do.
This gear news is about fishing gear.
Patagonia has released women-specific chest waders.
It’s huge news.When I was eight I exasperated my parents by catching salmon after salmon after they left me alone next to the bear-infested Buskin River (that would be on Kodiak Island, where those Kodiak bears live; I grew up there) so that they could more freely enjoy my brother’s Boy Scout whoop-de-do or whatever sort of little boy candle-lighting/badge-sewing ceremony it was. I was supposed to entertain myself for the afternoon by dangling a line in the water, but instead I caught a new fish almost every cast. I would dutifully bash it until it stopped flopping, put it in a 5 gallon bucket, and lug it up the hill and down the road to find my parents (and at this moment I don’t know what I was trying to find them FOR; the hard part was already done after all), who had to stop watching the whoop-de-do and come and deal with the newest addition to my slimy little lineup of future dinners. I remember the grumblings of the grown-adult fishermen around me when I hooked my fifth or sixth fish – everyone else was getting skunked and they were PISSED. Getting outfished by an eight year old girl will ruin someone’s Sourdough cred, you’d think, from the way they were acting.
Thirty years later I had a boyfriend who jokingly told me women weren’t as good at fishing as men, so he was opting out of the dipnetting trip on which a friend and I were embarking. When we returned with sixty-two salmon (sixty red, two king) less than 24 hours later(including 12 hours driving time), I found out that he wasn’t, in fact, joking, and he spent the rest of the summer, while not pouting about all the fish I caught, trying in desperate vain to catch up on the fish-catching tally until I summarily dumped him for being a sexist (and cheating, but that’s another part of the story), idiot. At one point he illogically claimed “well, you only caught all those fish because you’re women!” Okayyy….well, I’m not going to argue with that, but I’m sure glad I kicked that guy to the curb.From these experiences I deduce that men don’t want women to be good at fishing.
Go to any “sportsmen’s” type store – the ones that sell fishing and hunting stuff – and you’ll find the women’s section to be rather sparse yet heavily populated with pink. It’s all cutesy stuff; nothing with mettle. Any “unisex” thing you buy there is not only sized for men, but for big, big, Texas-BBQ-buffet-every-day-since-age-4-sized men. Even the socks are husky. If you want anything to actually help you accomplish your hunting/fishing mission, you’re going to have to swim in stuff that is WAY too large. I bought a cheapo size XS rain suit at a sportsmen’s store when I hunted caribou on St. George Island (you want the rain gear to be cheapo when you are field dressing your game because it’s going to get pretty gory) and the top came down to my knees. I shot my caribou, processed it, and took the rain gear back to the store for a refund. I usually don’t do that because it’s wasteful, but come on, XS is the size of my torso plus half my legs? Get with it, sportsmen’s stores.
The new Patagonia Spring River Waders are the real deal. Waders are never going to be flattering; basically they are a big neoprene-and-rubber sack with legs. But Patagonia has trimmed the fat from this particular version of the sack and you end up with waders that really do fit. The legs are the right length. The torso is the right length. The neoprene booties on the ends of the legs actually fit your feet. Everything is right. Fishing is a whole new endeavor now. One reviewer on Patagonia.com is so quoteworthy on this topic that I have to share: “[These waders have] legs that are long enough to squat down to…release your fish.” If you have ever experienced wader slop in a 30 degree river as that reviewer apparently has, you’ll appreciate the fact that the Spring River waders will cover 3/4 of your torso. Shorter fishers will appreciate the extra mileage, though at times I still need to hitch a ride on the back of a taller line-slinger to get over the really deep spots. My parents told me I’d be six feet tall, and ever since I reached my maximum height of 5’5″ in junior high, I’ve been bitterly disappointed.
Patagonia sent a size M which I’m grateful for, because as a shortish size 6 I think I would have found the S too stifling. As it is, I can comfortably wear any layers I’d ordinarily choose for fishing underneath the waders, but I need to make a disconcertingly focused effort to get into the waders without undue stress while pulling them over my hips. Once on, they are fabulous, though. The top is even sized generously enough that I could wear a puffy underneath, which is actually sometimes necessary even in Alaska summer.** The M is a wee tad too long for a shorty like me but by no means are they ill-sized. They fit great once all snugged-up, and the extra belt helps to customize the fit.
My personal favorite feature is the wool-lined neoprene booties. Alaska rivers are cold 100% of the time and when you’re fishing, your feet are in said rivers, 100% of the time. A little extra warmth goes a long way, here.
By far the biggest, out-of-the-park hit feature on these waders is the drop down seat. It’s not one of those annoying and shoulder-dislocating zipper systems; it’s just a quick release in the back of the suspenders so you can utilize Patagonia’s standard drop suspenders (that feature is on all their waders) and then just unclip the suspenders with one clip in back, do your thing, then clip back in. You can leave the suspenders in place around your shoulders, easy as pie. I should have asked for the jacket to check out, because apparently you can drop the seat on the waders without taking the jacket off.***
You know what else is awesome? Speaking of drop-downs, the drop-down list of women’s gear on the Patagonia site is longer than the men’s list. OK, OK, it’s in large part because “yoga” is something that women seem to feel they need special clothes for (and will buy special clothes for; please see the opening of this post. You people are amazing), but the fact that for once we have more than the dudes? Big.
*Shout-out to YOU, Ken.
**Now known as “Alaska winter” after our 50-degree January. I hate it, but at least it gave me a chance to test the waders in the middle of the winter. Yay?
***Okay, okay, I can test this feature with any old jacket, I know, I know.