Just What Is “Women’s Specific Gear” Anyways? And Do You Need It?

Gearing up for the great outdoors as a woman is complicated, but not impossible

Hannah Weinberger

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Illustration by Hannah Weinberger

For decades, women like myself have strapped ourselves into men’s and unisex outdoor gear to hit the great outdoors. We’ve dealt with the frustrating gap between our bodies and backpacks that don’t account for our shape, the absurdly long tails of their completely cinched shoulder- and hip-straps swatting at our bodies with every move, reminding us we don’t quite fit. We’ve suited up with base layers that hug too much in the wrong places, and billow where we need sweat wicked away. We’ve stepped up in order to challenge ourselves and support other women as hikers, cyclists, runners, climbers, and more in the absence of gear made with us in mind.

“There’s a lot of bad gear women can get away with using, but now, theoretically, we don’t have to,” says Liz Thomas, a record-setting “thru-hiker” and outdoor gear reviewer.

Over the past decade, the outdoor recreation industry has stumbled toward acknowledging men aren’t the only members of the community worth catering to. The movement really picked up within the past two years, arriving on a wave of campaigns; marketing materials playing up women’s athletic abilities and physiological needs; women’s-only skills courses; and, of course, “women’s specific gear.” Outdoor gear retailer REI alone scheduled 1,000 women-focused events, aimed overwhelmingly at beginners, and expanded the sizing and features of its women’s offerings as part of its 2017 Force of Nature campaign.

One reason for all this — despite women having published impassioned editorials for decades now demanding room on outfitters’ shelves, in outdoor-focused media, and on the trail — is that financial reports and bottom lines are finally pushing design in our direction. Women now make up 51 percent of outdoor consumers, but haven’t historically spent as much per capita as men on outdoor footwear, apparel, or equipment.

Visibility is important, but the presence of women’s specific gear can sometimes complicate the buying process. It’s hard enough for anyone to figure out which performance features we need in gear for any given outing — which goes for anyone — without wondering…

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Hannah Weinberger

Outdoor journalist via Wirecutter/New York Times, Bicycling, Outside, etc. Opinions mine until I’m hacked Twitter: @weinbergrrrrr IG: @trail.and.error