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