Dear Outdoor Apparel Companies

Disclaimer: I know not all companies follow these stereotypes, and that if I look, I can find gear that doesn’t follow these trends. But really? Should I have to look that hard?

I’ve been shopping for gear on and off for the past 6 months, and I have to say, there’s a few things that are really starting to get to me.

Colors.

I’ve spent a lot of time in REI, I’ve spent a lot of time online shopping, and I’ve started to notice a sad reality. Discrimination exists even in the backpacking world. Certain sections of the color spectrum are severely underrepresented in the women’s section of the stores. I say, It’s time for red, orange, yellow, and green to take a stance for the rights of all colors!

In all seriousness though. This is really frustrating. Purple is my least favorite color. Teal is fine. Blue is okay, but it always seems to be baby blue. Because of this, my entire collection of clothing and gear is starting to resemble that of a goth backpacker. When black is always the best color option, I know there’s an issue. Also, I really don’t have a special affinity with flowers. They don’t immediately make me weep with womanly happiness and drop hundreds of dollars on your sustainably-sourced merino wool Baselayer for Her™.

Perhaps by worrying about the color of my gear, I’m reinforcing the female-fashion stereotype even further. Who knows.

I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who had encountered this, but I casually brought it up with a few friends, and they, too expressed their ire. Then I saw this Facebook post from an acquaintance:

Facebook post about Outdoor Apparel

YES. Boycott purple!

This says everything I’ve wanted to shout while I’m standing in the middle of REI, surrounded by purple raincoats.

Fit.

First, this started with my pack. It was the third big purchase I made after my boots and sleeping bag. I had basically decided on the Osprey Aura 50 (available in Purple/Gray or Teal). Going in for my fitting was eye-opening. I tried on the “small” first. It dragged on my shoulders (I’m 5′ 6″), so after fussing with the various adjustments for a while, the amazing REI employee with the beautiful braids suggested we try the medium. Lo and behold, it fit the height of my torso perfectly! Win. BUT. I had to adjust the size of the waist belt to the smallest it could possibly go. Literally. I now have two giant loose straps hanging down that I would trip over if I didn’t tuck them out of the way. (I do know there are some companies out there, Osprey included, that offer options with interchangeable hipbelts.) Perhaps it’s just me who had this issue, but I’m not an abnormally shaped woman, so I doubt it. My wonderful housemate (who is very tall) tried on my medium pack, and it didn’t fit her torso well. Chances are she would have to go down to the small pack. Perhaps the lesson here is that women come in more than 3 sizes, though I’m aware packs especially would become ludicrously expensive if companies were to attempt to accommodate more than the average body type ranges.

Second. I don’t have abnormally large arms (read: I’m a weakling when it comes to the upper-body-strength department), but I swear every time I try on a shirt from the women’s section (teal, probably), my arms feel like I’m trying to force-fit them into one of those finger-trap toys from the 90s. Also, do men have to deal with excess fabric bulking in the armpit?

Second-and-a-half. Hiking pants. Why are the only options either suffocatingly tight, “fashionable,” form-fitting pants or baggy, I-could-fit-two-of-myself-in-there, cargo pants?

Third (perhaps this doesn’t fall into this category very well), POCKETS. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I automatically travel with a cargo-pant-clad protector/thing-carrier-man. Chances are I need to carry the same amount of things as a male hiker. The little pockets that appear on most women’s clothing aren’t going to cut it. Give me real pockets, or at least deep pockets.

Marketing.

When I go to purchase women’s gear, there’s always this slight underlying assumption that I’m not going to be as active or as rugged as men are. Well, guess what, outdoor companies, I’m about to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m going to be just as hard on my gear and will have to hike exactly the same terrain and same number of miles as the male hikers out there. I don’t need you to tell me that my boots are “confidence-inspiring,” nor do I need a “a playful, head-turning graphic print” to successfully be warm in cold weather (Head-turning!? Really? Sigh.).

The women’s section of many gear websites offers photos of model-women loaded in makeup jauntily perching their hand on their hip, dressed in the most “form-flattering and fashionable” outfit for the activity of your choice.

Kelty Website Banner

Oh, Kelty, you tried so hard, but I’m not even going to start on the things that are wrong with this image.

I do have to say, there are increasing numbers of companies that are bucking the trend in this department (thank you, REI.com for your quality realistic photos of men and women in their various outdoor pursuits).

Overall, I guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer for the rest of the industry to catch up to the idea that women like outdoor activities too, and are just as badass as men. They’re slowly getting there.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

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Comments 28

  • Avatar
    Kira Thornley : Feb 13th

    Freaking preach on the arms thing. Forget range of motion!

    I do really like purple pink and teal though!

    Patagonia has a pretty good range of colors, I have two red jackets from them at least, though all their blues are baby blue for the women’s section and I like a good dark deep blue!

    Reply
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      Zoë : Feb 13th

      I like teal too, so maybe I’ll just be solid teal.

      I did run into a few companies that had good colors (Patagonia being one of them). My problem was that I did research beforehand, and often the pieces I wanted based on their quality, weight, and features came in really awful shades. Oh well! Function first.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Slack Packhiker : Feb 13th

    Nailed it.

    Thanks for expressing how I’ve been feeling after shopping for gear from scratch.

    Worse, is discussions of female centric hygiene. In one memorable online dialogue I read recently, women discussed frankly, with the occasional dude popping in. You could tell some were quivering at the keyboard. This culminating in a guy asking how to wash his junk after sex in the backcountry. He was gonna relay the info to his wife, of course. The thread died then and there.

    Gets old.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 13th

      Yes, gets so old. Hopefully, though, as more women start to make their voices heard in the outdoor adventure/sport world, companies will catch up and instances like the one you describe will become less frequent.

      Reply
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    Linde : Feb 14th

    And forget finding women’s clothing built for girls with a bit of muscle. Yes, hello, I have arms and shoulders and leg muscles! Finding something that fits my legs without falling straight down again is hard.

    Reply
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      Zoë : Feb 14th

      Yes! Ugh.

      Reply
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      Ann Thamert : Feb 20th

      I agree with this post and Linda’s comments – I am replacing my rain pants after 8 years. they were a large for women. But now, I had to order an Extra Large from SD (didn’t know if I should write the name) just to fit my legs in there – please, manufacturers – some of us are a bit larger, not fat, but we do have larger thigh and calf muscles. We are hikers and backpackers, after all! Great discussion. Thanks.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    George Turner : Feb 14th

    Check out ULA packs. You take a couple of measurement and they send you the pack. Waist and length are separate measurement and one doesn’t effect the other with ULA

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 14th

      I did consider ULA for that very reason. Perhaps for my next pack.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    ZCCH : Feb 14th

    Try Duluth Trading Co for real clothes for real women. Look nice, yet are comfortable and user friendly.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 14th

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to give them a try.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jeanne : Feb 14th

    Agree %100 on the color choices for women. I want muted colors like the guys get, that aren’t visible miles away. That don’t make birds fly away because some scary, unnatural pink blob is coming at them. Maybe my 7 year old niece likes these colors. I have never liked them, and I think she’s already growing out of purple and pink and baby blue. And I don’t want prints. Wearing flowers doesn’t make me feel feminine, it makes me feel like – a 7 year old who is already thinking, maybe I’m too old to wear flowers. Stop making clothes for 7 year old girls.

    Reply
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      Zoë : Feb 17th

      YES. I have never liked them either. Can I have something in a nice rust red or muted olive please? I like black and gray, but I don’t want to wear only neutrals!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Emma : Feb 14th

    Agreed with everything you said. And this is coming from a girl who hiked half the AT in a pink floral dress.

    Reply
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    Dawn : Feb 14th

    Word, though try men’s stuff. I bought my North Fake convertible pants in Nepal for under $10, they actually fit a woman fine. A LITTLE baggy, but closer to a straight leg fit than MC Hammer pants. Tops are a no-brainer- I hate how most women’s athletic wear are short in the torso- almost midriff baring. I’m more conservative and like to have my butt covered. Men’s tops usually come a little longer and of course have a different color scheme. Baselayer bottoms are a little harder- but usually most styles I see come in a neutral black or gray. Sort of sucky though since women’s inseams are often too short for me but there are a few choices out there.

    I am having the same issue with packs and no real solution. I’ve heard other females recommend Gossamer Gear and ULA, the problem is that those packs are not as minimal or as light weight as I’d like. If I’m going to spend $150-250 for a pack, I don’t want to have to chop half the things off it. Also another hiker told me to just always order small torso- even if the torso sizing should fit based on height (ex- I sized for my current MLD Exodus pack- which is too big both in volume and torso- at a M- the torso is way too big as well as the hip belt). Strongly looking at getting a Zpacks Zero since they are custom fit, ultralight, and great reviews/customer service. I do like the sack-style minimalist bag though it’s certainly not for everyone.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 17th

      Yes. I think I will definitely look into getting a custom-fit pack for my next pack. Good advice on just shopping in the Men’s section. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    ANDREA CARSRUD : Feb 15th

    Agree! I think pack colors stupid for women. Especially the brand that sews a freaking flower on it! Please! I hate pink! There’s no reason I should have to sport pink in the woods! My friend and I are section hiking 100 miles on the APPALACHIAN trail this summer. I want durability comfort and yes! Freaking pockets in my pants!

    Reply
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      Zoë : Feb 17th

      Yes. I would venture a hypothesis that pink is not the first color anyone asks for when considering clothing for a hike, so what data or research told companies this was okay?!

      Reply
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    Geri : Feb 15th

    Try being plus sized, hourglass shape, with short legs and long torso. And wanting to wear muted colors. I’m lucky to find anything that fits. I usually end up wearing men’s clothes but the shoulders are too big and the cut/shape doesn’t work well with my hips, so everything is really baggy. At least I know how to hem pants. When it come to packs, some ladies packs are out because the hips/waist is too small. I don’t understand why companies make clothes for a diversity of men’s sizes but lump women in a small, overly colorful box.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Nicole : Feb 15th

      Apparently, bigger women do not hike, but companiees check this out! We do! How are we to train if the clothing choices are nil or unsatisfactory? I want pockets everywhere! I want tan, brown, od green, mauve, ….all colors that do not show dirt. I want shirts that are longer and cover the hips when cold outside. I want sizes that allow for layering in the winter. Utility first. No one cares about fashion while hiking. We care about use and comfort!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 17th

      This. Hiking women have diverse body types and sizes too! What happened to researching your target market?

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Kestrelchick : Feb 15th

    SO agree!!! I am a 5’10” female and my 13 year old son is already taller than me….we both wear a size 13 shoe. We are planning a thru hike in 2017 and are seriously bummed because out of all the top rated women’s trail runner shoes, not a single company makes them in my size leaving me to try to find a men’s shoe that will work (story of my life). I tried to purchase Dirty girl gators for the hike and did their measurements and their largest size will not fit either one of us – not even remotely close – super bummed. We then went online and ordered the largest pair of Darn Tough hiking socks and they don’t remotely fit either one of us….so back to the drawing board attempting to figure out how to purchase gear for people who have large feet. I am a tall woman, with broad shoulders and have always had a smaller waist but bigger hips – can never find shorts/pants that fit where the clothing isn’t massively gaped at my waist where I can stick both hands down the back of them and then have them not be tight on my hips…then add in my broad shoulders and my height – either a top is too snug across my front/shoulders or it barely comes down to the top of my shorts and I am constantly trying to tuck it in or pull it down and forget it the minute I carefully wash it, it shrinks up so the bottom of the shirt is now at my belly button. Wish that companies would realize that women aren’t all in the same box. I usually end up having to go with men’s clothing, which is okay but sometimes sure would prefer to try to find some women’s things that work

    Reply
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    Ginger : Feb 15th

    Totally agree! Tough to find colors that would spook the trout when I’m fly fishing on my hiking trips. Even the “camp” hunting clothes are PINK!

    Reply
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      Zoë : Feb 17th

      I know! It’s so silly. I, too, saw some women’s camo clothes that had pink on them. So ridiculous.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Emily : Feb 15th

    I might get a lot of hate for this… but I think the companies are doing the best they can do in regards to their own profits, which is what companies have to care about, or they stop being companies. I’m sure that the majority–even the vast majority–of people who purchase outdoor gear aren’t hiking enthusiasts. I’m in college right now, so I see a lot of girls my age (I’m also a girl) who haven’t hiked a mile in their life outfitted in North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, and Mountain Hardwear. For the most part, they’re sorority chicks: that stereotype of the white girl wearing a North Face jacket with leggings and Ugg boots exists for a reason. Probably 80% of the girls I see have a NF fleece, Patagonia pack, and/or Marmot rain jacket. And you know what the hot colors in sorority fashion are right now? Powder blue, pink, teal, and purple.

    And, let’s face it, medium is “medium” for a reason too. I’m not saying by any means that unusually large or small people somehow deserve not to find clothes that fit. I have a weirdly short torso and long arms, and I have a hard time finding jackets that a) don’t hang like a potato sack, and b) actually cover my entire arms. But companies are always going to market to the people to whom they can sell the most, and those people are, for the most part, medium-sized college girls.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Geri : Feb 16th

      I completely agree that companies, for the most part, make what will sell. As someone from a family with a small business, I totally get the economics of that.

      This slow realization companies are making about the diversity in woman sizes is why North Face now makes jackets that fit me, they didn’t before. They expanded the options and they sell. The larger options sell so well that most of the XL or XXL are sold out first. A shelf/rack full of XS, S, M remain. So if women my size are not the usual, why is my size almost always the first to go? The average American is a size 14. Shouldn’t medium be a size 14 then?

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Zoë : Feb 17th

      Regardless of your stance on this topic, I think the more we become vocal female consumers of outdoors gear, the more it will make business sense for companies to create a diverse variety of options for women as well as men. Something that will satisfy the college sorority girl along side something that will satisfy the badass hiker woman.

      I refuse to accept “it is what it is” as an excuse for me not being able to find outdoors clothes that fit correctly and are not a horrendous color (especially since I am still the same thin, “fit”, size I was in college).

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Susan H : Feb 19th

    I sure appreciate your getting this conversation started, at least here. It has been a well-chewed topic for a while now, since manufacturers did that “shrink-it-and-pink-it” thing late in the 1990s. Well, it’s over a decade since then, and the gap has narrowed but is still WAY to wide.
    The issue of sizing seems to have become rather hopeless, yes? If you wonder, just compare a large in ExOfficio with large in LL Bean or Smartwool. Good luck finding ANY standard there!
    I represent the elders in the female hiking family. At 67 years of age I still enjoy extended backpacking and paddling trips as often as I can. (Being semi-retired does help in finding the time! But, being on a fixed income makes me a devoted Good Will shopper.) One thing we all get to go through, eventually, is menopause and the accompanying “shape-shifting” thing. As we ‘Boomers’ flood the outdoor ‘fashion’ market, looks as if nobody is watching.
    I occasionally review backpacking gear and clothing, so I’ll be sure to continue press a little harder for our collective wish for subdued colors, realistic sizing, deeper pockets and fewer floral motifs!

    Reply

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