I spent the better part of my morning looking for a new pair of fully waterproof, super durable, and ski-compatible mountaineering pants. You know what I found? Websites riddled with exactly what I was looking for…. for men.
The further I’ve delved into the world of alpine climbing and have started testing the waters of ski mountaineering, the more apparent the divide between the gear offered to the sexes has become. I click through one website, narrowing down the clothing selection to the specifics of what I need:
Women’s Pants-> Waterproof-> Skiing…. 2 options.
If I go to the Men’s section on the same website? 5 options.
Another website, same specs, I get 3 options for women and 7 options for men. I mean, what the hell?
It is amazing to me that still, in 2016, there is significant gear-inequality for men’s versus women’s gear and apparel.
I do understand that since there are fewer women involved in the ‘more extreme’ side of outdoor sports (SkiMo for example), companies probably don’t have much of an incentive to market burly gear to women. That being the case, however, maybe women simply give up on purchasing 3 layer GORE-TEX ski bibs after discovering that they only have one or two options to chose from, most of which are lacking in detailed reviews by women who have actually used them in the alpine.
On a related/unrelated note, there seem to be a few companies that are developing bibs with velcro adjustment straps that rest along the sides of women’s chests. Which is really, really rad since it’s taking women’s-specific to a whole new level (IF the velcro can hold up).
I had a very interesting interaction at REI when I was there a couple of weeks ago doing some ‘preliminary gear scouting.’ I walked in and asked an associate in the ski area if they have any Arc’teryx pants for women. He got an incredulous look on his face and replied, “that’s what you’re looking for? what on earth are you doing here then?”
Suffice to say they didn’t have anything related and I ended up ordering the Theta SVs online based on a size-chart comparison between the Arc’teryx sizing and the Patagonia sizing (which I knew). Thankfully, they fit beautifully and I was incredibly impressed with how they performed last weekend during our trip up Mount Hood.
My other recent complaint has been with Mountain Hardwear. I purchased one of their “waterproof” alpine jackets last winter and discovered, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, that the jacket is in fact NOT waterproof and is actually quite willing to absorb water until it’s completely saturated. The mild winter we had in the Cascades last year kept me from truly testing it I guess… basically, I ended up pissed so I reached out to their warranty department and had an AMAZING amount of help shipping the jacket to warranty by the folks at the Portland MHW store (seriously, they are AMAZING). After discovering that, yes, the jacket is not waterproof, a wonderful member of the warranty team caleld me to discuss options for replacing it…. I had one option that was remotely comparable in value and design. ONE OPTION. Unfortunately, that option happened to only be in an XS- with my 5′8″ frame at nearly +2 ape index, I am a hard medium simply to have my entire arm covered in motion. The wonderful man advised me to try their men’s version of the jacket… which had all of the things I needed: belay zipper, pit zips, helmet compatible hood, fully waterproof and seam sealed design, zipper garage, and velcro sleeve cuffs. The really wonderful and kind of hilarious part about this jacket? The women’s version was the barebones version of it and was lacking in all of those wonderful qualities minus the waterproofing. For a $600 jacket I was appalled and sad. My very helpful friend empathized with the ridiculousness of making a women’s version of a jacket that’s lacking in all of the technical benefits of the men’s version. Who thought that was a good idea?
In the end, I cannot say enough amazing things about the MHW warranty team- never have I felt so helped and never have I had someone work so hard to make sure I had an adequate replacement for my gear. Going through warranty is a crappy process, but it couldn’t have been any better!
I think my main issue is that the lack of technical options for women is downright appalling. The fact that a sales associate actually laughed at me is also appalling (although he did apologize for the general lack of inventory). I continue to hope that more and more women begin to enter the outdoor industry in a safe, respectful, and motivated manner so that, one day, I can go to backcountry.com and find exactly what I’m looking for… for women.