Maybe I’m not built like your average female adventurer, because I constantly seem to run into difficulties when it comes to buying kit that fits and which I actually like. When it comes to outdoor gear, men’s products rule the market. A new men’s product is released. Wow, I think, that looks really amazing; I’m going to look at the women’s version. Only I’m not, because it turns out the female version will only follow a year or so later. It really irritates me. In an age of so-called equality, you’d really expect better.
I don’t mean to rant, but I really look forward to the day when women’s kit is on a par with men’s, and products are released in tandem. Until then, I have Matt, who knows more about outdoor gear than anyone else I know, and almost always seems to find a solution to my kit woes.
My first issue is that I’m small. I’m 5ft 5 and a UK size 6. Many brands only make women’s kit down to a size 8. With some items this doesn’t matter, I’ll just wear slightly baggy clothes. But when a snug fit is important for performance, I often have to search hard to find something that works for me. Sometimes the situation is so dire that I venture into the children’s section of outdoors shops. In fact I almost ended up with a climbing harness for a child. Luckily, as ever Matt came to my rescue and bought me a Singing Rock harness for Christmas that goes down to a 23” waist. Much better than the brightly coloured kiddy versions I was looking at!
Admittedly, in the last two years the situation has started to improve, with good women’s kit being easier to find. But the approach that many brands still seem to adopt is simply to take a product designed for men, shrink it and pink it. As it happens, I quite like pink, so this isn’t a big deal, but when your only choice of colours is one of three standard options (usually pink, purple or black) it starts getting pretty old pretty quickly. It also means that every woman on the hills looks exactly the same.
There also seems to be a bit of an assumption that us gals aren’t doing hardcore adventure in the hills, which if you ask me is a bit insulting! If you want low-level walking gear, fine, Go Outdoors will probably sort you out. But look for high performance kit and your choices are much more limited. I really struggled to find everything I needed for a winter mountaineering course we did in the Cairngorms earlier this year.
I also hate it when the women’s version of a product is slightly inferior to the men’s version – made from lighter, less durable fabrics, for example, or designed with fewer features (like tiny little pockets – what’s with that?)
Though there are few upsides to being a small woman, you can occasionally find amazing bargains, especially if you’re a size 6 or an 8, which I guess aren’t in as much demand as size 10s, 12s and up.
Some brands do buck the general trend in the outdoor industry. Specialist pack manufacturer Osprey, for example, does a great range of rucksacks for women. They produce a women’s-specific version of almost every pack, specifically designed to fit the female torso. Straps are cut and contoured differently, but all the functionality and features of the packs are usually identical to the men’s versions.
This is a refreshing change to the norm. I’ve also found various other bits of clothing and equipment from brands that do seem to care about catering for petite outdoorsy women. So if you’re a small adventurer like me, you might want to check out women’s ranges from the following brands. I’ve also highlighted some of my absolute favourite pieces from these brands, which I usually pack on almost every adventure.
Great brands for petite women
I find that in general, many of the Scandi brands cater pretty well for women (namely, Haglofs, Bergans and Norrona, as well as Helly and Fjallraven). The only issue is that in many cases, their kit is built for slim, tall women – not great if you’re only 5’ 5”, like me. I also have good kit from Rab (a Polartec Neoshell jacket), Montane (an eVent shell), Sherpa Adventure Gear (lined winter trousers) and Berghaus (my trusty Ramche jacket, although I do wish that Berghaus made kit in a UK 6).
The Norwegian brand does a good range of outdoor kit for women in a range of sizes, from more casual pieces to high-level mountaineering jackets. I really like their Odin Veor down jacket, as well as their Odin Muninn pants.
Similarly, Swedish brand Fjallraven has a very good range of women’s gear – particularly legwear, which can be really difficult to find. They do a curved women’s fit in trousers, but also check out their Abisko tights, which come in small sizes and are now my go-to option for hillwalking.
The US brand does an XS size that fits me well. I love their warm but super-breathable Nano Air hoody.
Premier Canadian brand Arc’teryx also do women’s gear in a size XS that is broadly equivalent to a UK 6 or 8. I have their Beta LT Hybrid jacket (in pink!), which is an excellent all-round lightweight Gore-Tex waterproof shell.
The North Face
This US mega-brand’s XS size is very small indeed, so I have a few of their baselayers to wear for all sorts of outdoor use, from hiking to climbing.