Gear · Hiking · Hiking Gear

For The Love Of Women’s Gear

As I read an article this morning by Backpacker Magazine (You May Have Bought Your Last Women’s Sleeping Bag) I was both angry and very sad. For what I feel may well anger some, who will tell me I am the problem, a dinosaur in a changing world. I will be called an angry Terf, told I am a bigot. None of which I am.

What I am is a woman, who came of age in hiking and backpacking when there was no women specific gear at all, nor was there many women out there on adventures by themselves, or with other women. If we did go out, it was because a man introduced us to it. We were (often) told hiking alone as a woman was dangerous. And this wasn’t so long ago either.

The first women’s specific sleeping bag was made in 1996. I remember the first one I bought – a women’s Sub Kilo down bag in the early 2000’s. It was so tiny. It kept my cold parts warm. And it fit me! I remember my first women’s backpacking pack, a Kelty, that fit me. I wasn’t dwarfed by it.

I am part of 50% of the population.

I became a writer – and cottage gear producer – in an industry dominated by men. I fought hard to be heard – and to be seen. I often only got entry due to having a man in my life. We had wholesalers who wouldn’t talk to me, they wanted the “real” owner to call them, to email them. It was my business but I had to put Kirk’s name on it to just get entry. Kirk was once lauded by a player in the outdoor industry for “setting me up with a business to keep me busy”.

And I don’t see myself as a feminist. But as times change, I realize what I am is a woman who is tired of the erasing of what makes us unique. We fought hard to get things for women, and *poof* they are gone or going. Gear will still be made for men, as always. But what was made to fit us uniquely will be gone.

(Yes, this is a man’s, er, “Unisex”, Mountainlight beast pack I wore back in the old days. It was 2003. The hip belt on that thing was massive, cut for a man’s hips. If your pack is taller than you are, and you hit tree branches constantly…..its not designed for you. It always slid down, and would leave pressure points.)

(In this photo everything I had on me, outside of my Safepacker on my hip, was designed for women. Just a couple of years later. My Kelty pack was a women’s, as was my OR Wild Roses jacket, to my pants, to my sleeping bag. I was able to walk correctly and rarely fix my pack.)

(Might as well bring back unisex external frame packs for that true feeling of uncomfortableness.)

A little from the Backpacker article:

When the first women’s sleeping bag hit the market in 1995, it was heralded as an empowering piece of gear. Made by Sierra Designs, the 20-degree Calamity Jane was the brainchild of company president Sally McCoy, who had climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and felt poorly served by bags built for men. Her women’s bag was narrower through the shoulders but wider at the hips, shorter in length (it came in 5’ 5” and 5′ 10” options), and generously insulated with beefed-up padding in the core and footbox. Women took its existence as a sign of their inclusion within the male-dominated outdoor culture—and sales soared.

Inspired by the success of Calamity Jane, a flood of companies brought women’s bags to market and promoted shorter lengths, hip-accommodating widths, and extra insulation. European Norm (EN) ratings for sleeping bags, established in 2005, confirmed through repeated independent testing McCoy’s suspicion that women sleep colder than men on average (although the specific science is still fuzzy) and allowed manufacturers to publish gendered comfort ranges for their sleeping bags. REI embraced the system, and by 2010, the retailer required all brands that manufactured mummy-style bags to reveal the product’s EN rating. Instead of making one unisex bag that didn’t appear to perform as well for women, manufacturers doubled down on gendered bags.

But, as with the ongoing dialogue about traditional gender labeling in everything from political language to high fashion, future product lines suggest a new, less binary direction. When The North Face presented its spring 2023 line to the media in September, women’s bags were part of the assortment—but TNF’s rep also forecast that it might be the brand’s last year making them. NEMO is another sleeping bag manufacturer that’s reevaluating the concept of women’s bags.

“There’s currently a lot of discussion among brands and retailers about the future of gendered bags and whether gender-neutral options might serve campers better,” says Mike Welch, NEMO’s vice president of global sales.

A quote from the article: “It’s ironic, since REI was behind the creation of women’s bags in the first place,” notes Tim Beck, TNF’s sleeping bags category manager.

So in 2010, it was important to offer choices to women, to get them more involved in the outdoors. But in spring of 2023….you will get 6 options from REI directly.

The Trailmade 20 sleeping bag won’t be sold in men’s and women’s versions. But it will come in three lengths with a wide-cut option for each, for a total of six possible fits per temperature rating.

“We didn’t want people to have to choose bags based on their gender, ” says Derek Temple, REI’s camp category merchandise manager. The every-body Trailmade bags allow shorter-than-average men to purchase the right-fitting bag without feeling like they’re getting gear built for women, or allow non-binary shoppers to bypass uncomfortable questions.

It strikes that REI has found a way to be woke, and to virtue signal how good they are. Ladies, you get to order the short bag, that’s wide-cut, to fit your hips. It won’t have a dedicated hood that fits our smaller heads, but sucks to be you, eh? Enjoy that cold wind blowing down your neck at 3 am. Just like it’s 1992 and you are in the only sleeping bag sold….for 6 foot men who weigh 200 pounds. Give it a year or two more and your choice for other gear will slowly disappear. Will we go back to unisex snowshoes, that are cut for size 11 mens feet? Will hiking boots become gender-free, yet cut for a man’s wider heel? When will backpacks revert back to men’s only? Where the torsos are longer, the hip belts are massive, and the straps go across our chest painfully?

Might as well make the sleeping bags a dull gray and we can call each other “Comrade”. Just get it out of the way, eh?

As I was researching more about REI’s stance, I came across this article on REI’s website from spring of 2017.…which is penned to why actual women’s gar is important. How exactly did REI go from this to women’s gear is evil in less than 6 years time? I took screen shots to share, because it is powerful. One of the writers is 6 foot tall, yet she saw need for specific gear, because she is tall and many women are not her shape/size. How refreshing.

This asks…is women’s only gear needed?

Right, for most women a women’s specific bike makes sense. Not for everyone, but it’s an option that opens the world.

They say it RIGHT HERE.

“What women-specific gear should women definitely have? A sleeping bag,” says Liz Meschio, sales lead in the camping department at the REI Dallas store and leader of classes for women who want to try backpacking.

Meschio is absolutely clear on this one. “You can’t beat being warm when you’re outside. I teach women’s backpacking and that’s the one thing I really stress. I’m 6 feet tall and fit better in a men’s pack. But I heavily advise women to get a women’s sleeping bag. … It’s a bit heavier than the men’s version, but that’s because it fits better and has more insulation where we need it most.”

Huh. You mean women’s packs are cut for a woman’s body? Shocking. You mean we have hips and breasts? Wowsers.

Gasp. Women’s boots have smaller heels?

And leading to this:

And that at the end says it all “If that’s what speaks to you, go ahead and embrace it”

Yet….REI would have us now not have that to embrace. We don’t matter as women to REI anymore. We are 50% of the population, and just got told we have 2 choices: Non Binary or Men’s. You know…..what they used to call “Unisex” long ago, before the chance to be heard in the outdoors existed. When women were embraced for a hot minute, and we were included. And we were listened to – with innovative gear constantly coming out.

Enjoy those under stuffed sleeping bags, ladies. Because we don’t matter at all. For a hot minute and a few years we had so many options. They may well be gone in the coming years. For we don’t matter. We never did. It’s about looking good on paper, not getting people outside. I truly hope those Trailmade 2023 bags end up in the sales pile, a fool’s folly.

I’ve been an REI Co-Op member since 2001. And I am voicing my opinion. REI….you have lost your way. You don’t have to remove women’s gear. We matter.


One thought on “For The Love Of Women’s Gear

  1. Yeah. Unisex generally means “sized for men” (I’m looking at you, Crocs.). I get that it’s more complicated for manufacturers, and yet inconveniencing half the market doesn’t seem like a good business plan.

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