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The Women's Guide to Gearing Up
Beyond basic layering: buying women's gear may require a few other considerations to help you get the most out of your hiking experience.
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Several weeks ago, I put together a winter layering guide — but my experience is a bit lacking when it comes to specific equipment needs for women.
Helen Dawson is a fellow outdoor adventurer and writer of “Newfangled.” She penned this guest post about some of the specific considerations you should make when shopping for women’s gear.
All the more Reason to get Outside
Since the Coronavirus Pandemic struck, walks have not been to go somewhere. They have been to be somewhere. To be somewhere other than your own four walls. To breathe fresh air. To hear and see nature.
I've done some treks in my time: The Clarendon Way from Salisbury to Winchester — farther than a marathon — and the highest peaks in each of Wales, England and Scotland. These are Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. I cried on Ben Nevis because I thought I wasn't going to make it.
But then I trudged on until I reached a point and thought, "I don't want to come all this way again and know that's where I gave up last time," which gave me the momentum for one last push. Walking is the only area of my life where I am a plodder rather than a go-getter.
Maybe that is why I like it.
I loved Cole's article about kit. But as I prepare for my own walk to Everest Base Camp — or EBC for short — later this year; I have a female take on what I am planning to take.
I love outdoor kit. There's always innovation, either in materials, design or just a pocket in a more helpful place. Recently, I've been tweaking and supplementing my kit for EBC, which is probably the most daunting challenge I have ever taken on.
If you have any of your own personal recommendations, please share them in the comments below!
Women are not just Small Men
Beware of companies that opt for the “pink it and shrink it,” approach, and kudos to ones who actually develop female-specific clothing.
Take the opportunity to try equipment on. Look at the pockets as well. Pockets on women's clothing are often inadequate for a phone. Some leggings don't have pockets at all.
Best Base Options
Like Cole, I am a total advocate for the layering system.
I’ve found Merino wool1 to be ideal for base layers. I've tried Icebreaker, Montane, dhb and Kari Traa (bright and cheerful patterns).
They are all warm and breathable — they just come up differently in terms of fit and weight.
Learn from my mistakes and be careful how you wash2 your merino to avoid shrinkage – I grieved for my first Icebreaker top when it shrank.
Sports bras are like boots: you need to find something comfortable for you.
Brooks has discontinued my personal fave, so I am also hunting for a new one. Underwear brand Runderwear does some great Merino briefs. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, they also make a running G-string that is very comfortable indeed. As I understand it, they also have a cult following amongst men – scroll down the review section on the website if you don't believe me.
Try out different weights so that you have some flexibility in changing conditions. Some examples that work for me:
Light: Rab Nexus
Medium: Keeshond jacket by Alpkit
Heavy: Rab Women's Shearling Jacket
For my down jacket, I have a Rab Electron pro. You may be able to manage with something less warm. But I have a tendency to be on the cold side.
I also have Montane Prism mittens to keep my hands warm, which pack to a size smaller than an apple.
The Outer Waterproof Shell
All I can suggest here is buying the best you can afford, and the more breathable the better.
I'm not going to give a specific recommendation, as I wish I had spent more money! If you treat high quality gear right, it can last you a long time. You can also re-waterproof it periodically with Nikwax, or a similar product.
Never Forget the Feet!
For socks specifically designed for women's feet — my recommendation is Bridgedale. This is what they say about the design:
First developed in the 1990's we were the first technical outdoor sock brand to offer a true women fit. Specifically designed to fit the anatomy of the female foot, which is generally narrower, slimmer with higher arches, we worked closely with our sock technicians and the sock machine manufacturers. All this together ensures the perfect fit for a woman's foot.
I am currently wearing a different brand, but I regret buying two pairs of these when I could have bought one pair of Bridgedales.
Features for the Legs
It is essential to look for a female fit for comfort and all-important pockets! I've had a pair of Montane Terra pants, with vents and zip-up pockets, for about five years that are still going strong.
Brands like Acai Outerwear and Revolution Race are leading the way in women's outdoorsy design. Comfort is the watchword, and to be honest: if I'm doing a single day trek, I often just wear my gym leggings with a pocket big enough for my phone.
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As Cole says, you need to find something that works for you here. For EBC, I have just invested in Hanwag Bunion boots — weird name, I know — and over about eight miles of trekking so far, they have been comfy.
I could not believe how much lighter modern boots are than my 10-year-old previous purchase. It is worth looking at Superfeet insoles for extra cushioning on long walks.
To manage the cost, the sales are your friend. And I would also recommend making a watch list on eBay. You can often find the perfect thing if you are patient enough, especially where companies sell eCommerce returns on the platform.
My down jacket was also purchased from eBay and is good as new3. Don't worry about the color if you are looking for a bargain.
I've mentioned brands to give you a reference point for a specification. I've not tested everything that is out there on the market — although that would be a fantastic job —so do use this as a starting point, not a shopping list.
Thank you for reading this guest post by Helen Dawson. You can check out more of her writing over on “Newfangled.”
I’ll be back with one of my essays next Thursday, at the usual time. Meanwhile—
—if you haven’t seen the rundown on Leadville’s Ski Joring event; it was a blast to shoot, and I managed to capture a few incredible moments I’d like to share with you.
To see the full story, you can click here.
Note from Cole, here: if you’re allergic to wool, consider a polypropylene alternative
Another note from Cole: even outdoor gear without special washing instructions should be handled with care. I’ve found drier sheets can also leave a residue on high-performance clothing
Final word from Cole: I’m a huge proponent of buying used gear. As a rule: the more you know about the kind of equipment you’re buying, the better deal you can get. If you are buying used, make sure you are inspecting for wear and tear, or other damage that could impact your gear’s performance