This month’s question: Jane Watson, an REI Co-op member since 1989 and manager/editor of REI’s Expert Advice program, has helped put together dozens of REI buying guides and often gets asked, “When does choosing women-specific gear really make a difference?”
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.
Melissa Beams, bike department sales lead at the REI Seattle Flagship store, believes women’s gear “can make a big difference in a variety of ways—but it always comes down to fit. Whether it’s clothing or the bike itself, it’s the fit that counts.”
Some bike companies still shrink a men’s frame, add colors or graphics they think a woman would prefer and “dumb down” the components. However, Beams says she’s seeing a lot more frame geometry designed to fit women’s proportions, with neutral tones, and with components that are equivalent to those on the men’s version.
Beams cautions, however, that while certain bikes or packs or other gear may be designed to fit the proportions of most women, men’s gear may still be a better fit for some women (and women’s gear may also be a good fit for certain men).