Outdoor Gear is Sexist and/or Terrible

My husband and I went to a very well-known outdoor outfitting store this weekend to buy gear for our summer hiking trip, and whatever other hiking trips we do in between.

Our list was fairly extensive: day packs for both of us, fleeces, raincoats, hiking boots, base layer shirts, sleeping bags…though both of us are outdoorsy and have spent time in the backcountry, at this point any gear we have is either 1) cheap because we bought it when we were young and didn’t have full-time jobs or 2) worn out.

What was to be a three hour ordeal began at the backpack section. M (my husband) fell in love with the second pack he tried on: the Osprey Manta 34, a tough black 34 liter backpack that came with a hydration pack. It fit him perfectly, had all sorts of great features (the hydration pack, a trampoline back, a raincover), and looked nice.

I tried on 4 or 5 backpacks and they were all terrible. One fit okay but was entirely too big (I didn’t need 40 liters for a day hike), another one had the right capacity but had this weird quirk where the fabric met the trampoline back right at my shoulder blades so it was rubbing against me horribly, another was just tiny and no matter how much it was adjusted, it was simply too small for my 5’9″ frame (side note: not that it should matter at all, but I am a completely normal/average size woman with a BMI of ~22.3, give or take…even though BMI is pretty much BS, I just think it’s important to note that my body should fit within the parameters of “normal” gear without needing a ton of accommodation. The only thing about me that isn’t average is my height.) Finally, the perplexed but persistent sales guy had me try on a men’s pack. Surprise, surprise, it was a million times more comfortable. It did need a lot of adjustment to get the height right, but it was miles better than all the women’s packs I tried on. In the end I didn’t buy it, because the sales guy insisted I should try this one type of women’s pack that they didn’t have in stock yet, so I ended up ordering it to the store to give it a try next weekend. If that one goes the way of all the others, though, I am 100% just buying the men’s pack.

Okay, so, with the backpacks squared away for the most part, we moved on to sleeping bags, which were fortunately devoid of any gender disparities. Oh, the sleeping bags were still gendered, of course — but they at least had the same offerings for men and women.

We moved on to our separate sections to look at fleeces, raincoats, and base layers. The fleeces were horrible quality and ill-fitting. Too-short sleeves, too big everywhere else (even the small!), uncomfortable…I’m not sure if they’ve just declined in quality or what, but I couldn’t find an adequate fleece anywhere, with the exception of a very cool retro fleece that I was all set to buy…except it DIDN’T HAVE POCKETS. Excuse me while I scream.

Okay, so, without a fleece, I moved on to the base layers. Yay, merino wool! Supposedly it wouldn’t smell even with all my sweat on it, would help regulate my body temperature, etc…all the things that make you splurge for an expensive shirt over wearing your old freebie cotton race shirt up the mountain (which I have totally done, and isn’t as bad as it sounds, except I’m a serious hiker now, so…anyway).

Me at age 19(?) hiking in a cotton T-shirt and a backpack without a hip belt. Simpler times. Anonymous because I don’t want my boss knowing how much I loathe gendered outdoor gear, obviously.

I was happy to finally find something I could buy and moved on to raincoats, which were also just fine. I wandered back over to the men’s section and found M looking at the men’s version of the merino wool base layers (same brand and everything). I reached out to feel them and, I shit you not, they were softer than mine! What the actual F?? It shouldn’t matter, but if you’re hiking 10+ miles in a day with a pack rubbing against you and the sun beating down on you, you want your shirt to be freaking comfortable. I have no idea why [redacted] felt the need to make the women’s less comfortable than the men’s/the men’s more comfortable than the women’s. M was very amused and didn’t believe me at first, but then he felt for himself and discovered I was right. I was about to buy a men’s shirt instead but even the men’s small looked too big, so I didn’t. Anyway, I was very mad, so I put back the stupid scratchy shirts and we moved on to hiking boots.

Ah, hiking boots. This is where it is blatantly horrible. M had 30 pairs of day hiking boots and 9 pairs of backpacking boots to choose from. I had a grand total of 12 pairs of day hiking boots and 4 pairs of backpacking boots to choose from. M found a lovely, comfortable pair of backpacking boots that provided good ankle stability while not being as stiff as typical backpacking boots. I found…one pair of good hiking boots that didn’t provide enough ankle stability (I sprained my ankle last fall and that ankle is still kinda finicky), and 4 pairs of backpacking boots that were terribly uncomfortable and weirdly designed. We overhead one of the sales people adamantly insisting to another pair of customers that under no circumstances should women wear men’s hiking boots. (I may be exaggerating — I can’t remember the word-for-word quote). I googled it later and apparently women’s hiking boots are different because women have smaller ankles. Okay, whatever. I am going to guess that some men have smaller ankles than some women and it’s kind of dumb to gender this stuff? Obviously I can just buy a men’s pair or whatever but…it’s still dumb.

So…the last thing, and perhaps the stupidest thing of all that I really shouldn’t take personally but I am going to because I’m petty…the mens fitting room was open but the womens was closed. I am sure it means nothing but I mean…come on.


So yeah. M got to leave the store with socks, an awesome, comfortable backpack, and a great pair of hiking boots. I got….socks and a chocolate bar.

That concludes part 1 of adventures in trying to find suitable gear for a summer of summiting. Stay tuned for part 2…I order things online and hope they will fit when they get here. Wish me luck!