Decades ago there were no backpacks or sleeping bags or hiking boots made for women. We made do with what the guys used. Companies began to wise up when women demanded gear that truly worked for them. Designers finally caught on that women are shaped differently from men, and have different body thermodynamics, too (colder, in general). While some gear for women derived from a “shrink it and pink it” attitude, other brands got serious.
Today you can find much of what you need for the outdoors in a women’s version. But when does women-specific gear really make a difference to your outdoor experience? We spoke with some REI Co-op experts in key product categories to give us some insights.
Whether you need a pack for climbing, skiing, hiking, hydration or trail-running, you can find a women’s-specific pack. Packs for women generally have a shorter torso, curved shoulder straps to fit around your breasts, a smaller hipbelt and extra padding.
Meschio—remember, she’s 6 feet tall—explains her pack choice. “I normally use a men’s pack with a women’s hipbelt. I switched it out. Hips are where the rubber meets the road. Most rubbing and chafing on women occurs on the side of your boobs and on hips. Men often tell women to put the belt above the hipbones, but the belt should cradle the bones.”
Meschio weighs in on climbing gear, having just roped up on a few routes at Joshua Tree. “I fit better into a men’s harness, but again, I’m not the average female.” Women’s harnesses tend to have a smaller waist, higher rise and larger thigh loops. “The fit is critical,” Meschio explains. “Whether you wear a men’s or a woman’s harness, you want to feel secure and balanced.”