The Three Colors of Women’s Outdoor Gear, Named

I have a lot of problems finding things that fit me for my outdoor activities.  I could list a lot of grievances: the fact that there are seven styles of alpine climbing pants in the men’s section of the Mountain Hardwear website and one in the women’s section; the fact that competition in zero-degree sleeping bags for women is nonexistent compared to mens’ sizes, with online forums sometimes suggesting you buy a -15* bag for men (which would be roughly equivalent) and “hope you’re tall”; the fact that I tried on several brands of pants at REI to find that literally no pair of hiking pants there is small enough for me (I’m small… but not really that small.  In fashionable clothes I sometimes get up to a medium.)  The plus-sized options seem even more restrictive, despite this blogger’s positive attitude about finding a few things.  At the end of the day, many technical items I want don’t exist in my size (especially since men’s sizes are so hilariously large on me), if they do they may be worse, and if they are as good they are in fewer, uglier colors. And while the color is arguably the least important thing here, it’s also the most visible symptom of what seems to be a problem of women not having enough input in the process of designing their own outdoor gear. And it’s fun to make fun of the truly ugly colors that remind me every time I walk in the store that men are very extreme and visible and wear orange, and women are… really not expected to make a statement other than “I’m female under all of these layers.”

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OPTION 1: Suburban Alpha-Mom Fuchsia
We heard pink was sexist, is this still pink?

 

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OPTION 2: Don’t-Call-Me-Femme Cyan
Blue is a boy’s color, right?   But actually wearing the same colors as men?  That might be confusing.

 

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OPTION 3: Half-Assed Lavender
You know, in case they don’t like pink.

This article does a really good job of explaining the attitudes that lead to these gear availability discrepancies.  But honestly, I don’t really care as much about that stuff.  Men on the trail can pass me by and ask the next man for directions.   It’s only a little annoying to ignore people’s condescending running advice (or the infamous unwarranted I-want-in-your-pants beta at the climbing gym).  Of course they’re wrong, and of course we should encourage more women to be mountaineers, but first there need to be options for sleeping bags that fit them.  I want pants I won’t wear out all the time, and I want them to be as light as the men’s pants and have the same features.  I just want outdoor companies to let me give them money for the things I want.  And as the Elle article says, “I keep hearing that women don’t buy tech gear.  But if they don’t make it, how do they know?”  REI can have their #forceofnature campaign all they want, but the feel-good vibes aren’t getting me up the mountain.  If you are going to use feminism as a marketing strategy, it would be awesome if you could make an effort to provide the practical support women need to get out there.

 

(I’d love to link to some action items here, but honestly I don’t know how to influence the products that are available to me when they don’t exist for me to “vote with my wallet.” The REI website tells some stories of some brands reaching out to women to improve existing women’s items which is definitely positive, but what about things that don’t exist? And why is the range of sizes seemingly so much more restrictive for women?  I’m built very similarly to a lot of female hikers, so if pants don’t even fit me, who do they fit?  I really don’t want to just sound uselessly angry on the internet, so if you have any ideas, please do share.  I think soon I’ll post a blog post listing some good hard-to-find women’s items, breaking my personal rule about not writing about gear, so feel free to send any of that my way too.)

7 thoughts on “The Three Colors of Women’s Outdoor Gear, Named

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    1. I’ve been emailing specifically to ask about women’s versions of products I want, and have mainly just got the suggestion to wear mens clothing and am unsure how to find actually influential contacts!

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  1. Hi Nastassia: When trying to buy gear back in the 1970’s, I HAD to buy men’s gear as there was NO women’s gear. We’ve come a long way, though from where you stand, it might not look like it. I am a small/medium (more medium so larger than you) and have had no problem finding Mountain Hardware, Patagonia and Outdoor Research to fit me. And for colors, they have changed over the years–the colors today are more like back in the 80’s, but there was a time when it was all navy, maroon, tan, olive–thud colors. And, there is always black… I am not trying to negate what you say, but trying to give a different perspective. At one time, I ran a triathlon and there was a first place trophy for men but none for women–that is how backward things were. I had to buy men’s hiking boots (which did not fit well), wear men’s Levi’s. In the late 1970’s there were maybe 2 different women’s hiking shorts, all in tan and none that fit well–they were made for women who did not exercise. Now I do have choices in my outdoor gear. I”d love to hear/see specific gear concerns from you in comparing a men’s vs women’s piece of gear. I may be mis-understanding the clothing/gear you are talking about. (Recently I bought a women’s specific climbing harness, have a climbing helmet, have multiple pairs of hiking boots/shoes and ski boots, am called ‘the gear goddess’ by those who know me, which is to just give you ‘credentials’.) Thanks for your article, it has given me food for thought.

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    1. Hey Julianne, I am by no means making the claim that no progress has been made! But it did take me a long time to find a zero degree women’s sleeping bag that had respectable specs. And did you click on the link above to the mtn hardwear tech pants comparison? I do think the ‘gear gap’ is getting easier to ignore, but in my opinion it is very real in mountaineering and for women with waists less than like 26″ or so like me, who are very short, or who are curvy. This is what I have gathered from climbers I’ve talked to. I agree for everyday hiking it is easyish to get by, which is why it took me a long time to really recognize the discrepancy. But I do hike in leggings– not an exaggeration to say I have tried on every pair of smallest size hiking pants at my REI and local climbing store and they are all too long AND too big in the waist.

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      1. Maybe my standards are high but I dont think there should be a type od product (alpine climbing pants with reinforced patches) where I ask them about finding my size and the rep just says ‘we don’t make women’s sizes.’ Thank you for the perspective, and please send recommendations of your favorite women’s gear as it is reminding me of the importance of helping people find solutions to already solved problems and support companies that have already done so much work to fix this problem.

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