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planetFear - Articles - Outdoor Gear For Girls

Outdoor Gear For Girls

Article by Sarah Stirling
Monday 19th January 2009

It’s hard to remember that twenty years ago most outdoor clothing was unisex, rectangular and drab. Once gear technology started shaping up, it developed in dramatic leaps and bounds. Technical fabrics demanded performance fit to make them work better; performance fit highlighted the need for use-specific gear and, as the outdoor gear market expanded, more and more styles and colour options became available.

One of the most important aspects of the outdoor gear revolution was the development of women-specific outdoor gear. After all, women aren’t built like small men and shouldn’t have to compromise. Today, you’d be pretty surprised if an outdoor gear shop didn’t have a women-specific section.

Yet there still isn’t as much women-specific gear available as there is men’s, though. Why not?

A product tailored precisely to the needs of women: the Moon Eclipse Climbing Pants in action

The answer is simple really: manufacture is limited by demand. Ben of Moon Clothing told me “it can be very, very difficult to persuade retailers to buy women’s clothing.”

Martin Panton from Marmot agrees: “retailers don’t buy so much technical women’s outdoor kit because not enough women are buying it!”

Toby from Mountain Hardware adds: “lots of our women-specific designs never pass the prototype stage. We call this category: ‘beautiful women’s product: doesn’t sell.’”

“It’s so disappointing when you design a really special women’s product, and outdoor shops say: ‘No thanks, it won’t sell,’” sighs Stuart from PrAna.

Tanya from The North Face has a theory why, in general, women don’t buy as much outdoor gear as men: “There are more men who are prepared to keep upgrading to the season’s all singing, all dancing, best you can get products. Women seem to be more interested in the practical uses of the item rather than the latest technological trend.”

And perhaps Lucy Creamer speaks for lots of outdoor women when she says: “I don’t like looking like a complete climbing geek. I like to retain my own identity.”

So why should you invest in specifically designed outdoor clothing?


If women all buy more women's specific gear, the market will expand; we’ll all have a bigger range of stuff to choose from and more scope for customising our own outdoor identities. Let’s not compromise, girls!

For summer or indoor climbing/bouldering or short bursts of outdoor activity, you don’t necessarily need to wear technical fabrics. There’s more to performance than technical fabric though.

“PrAna tops are designed to have a comfortable but attractive cut for activities, without looking too techy,” explains Stuart from PrAna. “For those who want a bit more performance, our dry balance range is cotton with polyester on the inside - it wicks but looks like a regular product on the outside.”

Patagonia’s T-shirts have spandex added to the collars to keep them in shape, and taped seams so you can climb in them again and again without finding an unraveling seam or baggy hem. Both companies use quality recycled poly and organic fabrics that feel soft against the skin.

You could buy a cheap T shirt from the high street and get another when it quickly wears out: but wouldn’t you rather support climbing brands than Topshop?

PrAna Logo Womens T Shirt

Patagonia Step Lightly T Shirt

 PrAna 'dry balance' Gianna Top reviewed here soon...

“Us girls like climbing in hoodies,” says pro climber Katherine Schirrmacher. “Ben Moon noticed this and designed a climbing-specific one.” An outdoor brand hoodie combines the warmth we all love with practical features and performance fit.

PrAna Carla Hoodie

Reviewed here soon:

PrAna Morgan Hoodie, Moon Mansouka Hoodie 

Is it worth investing in sports support tops?

Support, comfort, no need for a bra, pretty back straps ... yes. 

All women agreed on this one, including Lucy Creamer: “I totally live in my Marmot sports tops. They have an integral bra, look good and feel comfortable”. Fellow top-climber Emma Twyford says: “I much prefer to climb in a proper sports top that offers support.”

Top British female climber Lucy Creamer putting her Marmot sports top to good use at Split Rock Quarry, Somerset (UK)

Patagonia High Impact Sports Bra

Reviewed here soon:

PrAna Lola Sports Top

What’s the benefit of investing in trousers from an outdoor brand? Aren't high street ones just the same thing? Actually, they're not.

The stitching on outdoor trousers needs to withstand dynamic activity. Waistbands and fastenings need to be designed for comfort under harnesses and back packs. Fabrics need to be durable. Fit needs to be comfortable and allow movement. Outdoor brands spend a lot of time working on patterns and getting athletes to test their prototypes so their products perform and last.

“The seams on our trousers are triple needle-stitched and overlocked,” explains Stuart from PrAna. “The colours won’t fade, the fabric washes nicely and the fit is comfortable and flattering in outdoor conditions.”

Katherine Schirrmacher using Moon clothing on Brad Pitt, V7, Stanage Plantation

Reviewed here soon:

Moon Climbing Aurora Pants (stretchy yoga style trousers), Moon Climbing Eclipse Pants (casual cragging trousers), PrAna Tenaya Pants (mountain trousers), PrAna Azura Lined Pants (lined winter trousers)

What makes top of the range hard shells worth £300? Toby, Mountain Hardwear’s technical guru, explains.

1: Fit

Breathability, waterproofing, weight and comfort are all affected by fit. Articulation allows your sleeves, jacket and trousers to move with you. More shaped items use more fabric, are more complicated to sew together and are therefore more expensive to make.

2: Features

Adding features adds price. Mountain Hardwear estimate that adding a pit zip adds £20 to a jacket, and a roll top close on a hood adds £5.

3: Fabric

You get what you pay for with fabric. Think about what you will use the hard shell for: cheaper fabrics can be lighter and softer. For extreme conditions you need an expensive fabric like three-layer Gore-tex, which combines topnotch durability, waterproofing, wind resistance and breathability.

4: Fabrication

A good jacket is as tidy on the inside as it is outside. Fat seams don’t breathe, nor do huge strips of waterproof tape. Top end jackets these days are often glued rather than sewed, so the seams are flat, bendy and stretchy.

The following jacket is a good example of a top-end women's hard-shell:

Mountain Hardware Beryllium Jacket

Click here to read Sarah Stirling's full review of the Beryllium Jacket

Reviewed here soon:

The North Face Heathen Jacket and Marmot Fjell Jacket

Down jackets Unzipped

One aspect of the women's gear issue you can generalize about is that women tend to feel the cold more than men! Down provides more warmth per ounce than any other material because of its ability to trap warm air. It is also lighter than synthetic ‘wadding’, is more compressible, lasts longer and drapes more luxuriously close to your body.

The ‘fill power’ of a jacket is the volume in a given quantity of the down inside it. 400 fill is low grade budget and 800 fill is top quality.

The real test of a down jacket lie in its baffles (the stitches that control the down distribution): bad design causes down to settle and leaves cold spots.

Reviewed here soon:

Marmot Ama Dablam Jacket, The North Face Thunder Jacket, Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket

Midlayers: long-pile fleeces

A fleece with a long pile is an appealingly tactile item and a very breathable midlayer. Wear a windproof layer over it to trap air. The Mountain Hardware Monkey Woman is a superb example of a long-pile fleece designed for women.

Read Sarah Stirling's full review of the Monkey Woman Jacket here soon...
 
What’s the point of a soft shell?

Both Arc’teryx and Mountain Hardwear commented that significantly fewer women buy soft shells than men. If you’ve already got a hard shell and a midlayer do you really need a soft shell as well?

Soft shell jackets and trousers are made of bonded fabrics: generally fleece bonded with waterproof or water repellant fabric. They don’t have a membrane so aren’t as waterproof or windproof as hard shells.

Wear a soft shell rather than a hard shell and a fleece to cut weight and add breathability to your system. If it isn’t raining heavily, you will be far more comfortable in a soft and stretchy soft shell than a hard shell.

Reviewed here soon:

Rab VR Trail Jacket, Marmot Reyna Jacket, Mountain Hardwear Offwidth Jacket, Patagonia Guide Jacket, Mountain Hardwear Winter Wander Pants, Patagonia Guide Pants

A Question Of Pink

“Some women hate ‘girly’ coloured outdoor gear. Some top women climbers love to wear pink and don’t feel they have to look like a man to climb as well as one. Everyone has a different approach and you can’t generalise,” says Alison Wright of Gear for Girls.

Katherine Schirrmacher says, “There’s nothing like putting on a bright top to make you feel good and in the mood for doing some physical exercise. I like the invigorating pink of the Moon circles T-shirt.”

The Covert Hoodie from Arc'teryx 

Reviewed here soon:

PrAna Burnout LS Top (pink), Arc'teryx Covert Hoody (pink), Moon Circles T (pink)

Base Layers

“A base layer is key to promote moisture management throughout a gear system. They are also comfortable next to the skin as they have flat-locked seams that stretch,” explains Rab designer, Helen.

So which type should I buy?

Synthetic polyester and polypropylene ones are hydrophobic and wick moisture away from you, whilst natural merino wool absorbs moisture and stays warm when wet.

There are other natural options to try as well: Marmot have added coconut husks to their base layers, while other companies add bamboo or even silver fibres to make their base layers dry fast, control odour and add UV protection. Geeky or brilliant? You decide…

Icebreaker Altitude Zip

Reviewed here soon:

Arc'teryx Rho LTW Zip, Icebreaker Altitude Zip, The North Face SLS Base Layer, Marmot Midweight Base Layer

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For more on Sarah Stirling's work, go to http://www.sarahstirling.com

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Comments

Icebreaker - 22/01/2009
Is Icebreaker photo a bit of eye candy for the ladies ;)

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