Backpacking Tips Gear Hiking Tips

Which Women’s Hiking Gear is Actually Worth Buying?

If you’ve been shopping for hiking or backpacking gear recently, you may have noticed some women’s specific gear. I’m not talking about clothing or shoes (obviously we need those)… I’m talking about backpacks, sleeping bags and more. Often this stuff seems to follow the same tired formula: “Shrink it and pink it”. Brands make the same outdoor gear they make for men, but in smaller versions and in shades of pink (or purple, or baby blue) and call it women’s hiking gear. But gear for women has been getting better. The outdoor industry is waking up to the fact that women do actually get outdoors. And some of that women’s specific gear is actually designed with women in mind. I have a lot of experience evaluating gear (both on the trail and as part of my day job), so here’s my take on which women’s hiking gear is actually worth buying.

Which women's hiking gear is actually worth buying? Women's hiking gear: when is it actually worth it? When should you buy women's hiking gear? Are woman's backpacks worth it? Should you buy a women's sleeping bag or pad?

Wearing my women’s Boreas Lost Coast 60 on the Chilkoot trail.

 

Women’s Hiking Gear: Backpacks

Women’s specific backpacks are designed to fit the smaller, curvier body of the average woman. Compared to men’s or unisex packs, they usually come in shorter torso lengths. They also have narrower shoulder straps that are set closer together to fit women’s narrower torsos. The shoulder straps are also often contoured or curved to accommodate breasts. The hipbelts of woman’s packs are shaped to accommodate a woman’s wider hips. If you are just buying a day hiking pack, a great fit is not as important since you won’t be carrying as much weight. But if you are going on an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip you will be carrying lots of weight and you want the best fit possible. Below I’ve given some pack fitting tips for various female body types.

If you are a short woman, you will definitely benefit from a women’s specific pack. Men’s packs generally will not fit you well as their torso lengths will be too long.

If you are a petite/thin woman you will also want to consider women’s packs since the shoulder straps on a men’s pack will be set too far apart for you and the hipbelt may not do up tight enough.

If you are a curvy woman then you are in luck as women’s packs were designed to accommodate your hips and breasts. You could try on a men’s or unisex pack, but you will find that the hipbelt on a men’s pack doesn’t sit in the right place on your hips and the shoulder straps sit strangely on your breasts.

If you have a very straight up and down figure (not curvy) and aren’t short or super thin, you might not get any benefit from a woman’s pack. Mens or unisex packs will come in a small enough torso length to fit you and the unisex hipbelt should fit you fine.

If you are very tall (over 5’9ish) or you have a very long torso, you also might need to consider buying unisex pack. Women’s packs typically don’t come in sizes tall enough to accommodate you. (Sorry!)

If you are very short (under 5’2ish) AND you aren’t very curvy, consider looking at the youth packs. They are designed for tweens and young teens and they can often be much less expensive. (There is a tradeoff though as there aren’t as many youth packs to choose from, they aren’t designed to carry heavier loads and they often have less features.)

I’m a curvy woman of average height. For backpacking, I wear the women’s version of the Boreas Lost Coast 60 (you can read my review here). Most of the day packs I own are also women’s specific. My favourites are an older women’s Gregory Maya 18 for summer and a women’s Deuter Freerider 24 SL for winter.

Which women's hiking gear is actually worth buying? Women's hiking gear: when is it actually worth it? When should you buy women's hiking gear? Are woman's backpacks worth it? Should you buy a women's sleeping bag or pad?

Me and my Gregory Maya 18. Photo by Romeo Taras Photography

 

Women’s Hiking Gear: Sleeping bags

Sleeping bags for women are designed to fit the shape of a woman’s body AND to account for the fact that women generally feel the cold more than men. Women’s sleeping bags are generally offered in shorter lengths than men’s or unisex bags. Women’s sleeping bags are often offered in two sizes. The smaller size will fit up to 5’4″ or 5’6″ and the larger size will fit up to 5’8″ or 5’10”. Men’s bags are typically offered in 6’0″ and 6’6″ sizes. Empty space in a sleeping bag will just make you colder so you do want to choose a sleeping bag that is only an inch or two taller than you.

Slim cut mummy-style sleeping bags for women also have a bit more room in the hips compared to men’s bags. Since women often sleep colder than men, women’s bags often have more insulation in the torso and in the footbox – areas where we feel the cold most.

If you are curvy, or you feel the cold easily, a women’s sleeping bag might be the right choice for you. I’m curvy and feel the cold a LOT so I use a women’s specific Big Agnes Roxy Ann sleeping bag. In the past I have also used a women’s specific down sleeping bag from MEC.

Which women's hiking gear is actually worth buying? Women's hiking gear: when is it actually worth it? When should you buy women's hiking gear? Are woman's backpacks worth it? Should you buy a women's sleeping bag or pad?

A friend using women’s trekking poles above Tenquille Lake near Pemberton, BC.

 

Women’s Hiking Gear: Sleeping Pads

Like sleeping bags, women’s specific sleeping pads are designed to fit women’s shorter bodies and keep them warm. Women’s specific sleeping pads come in shorter lengths than unisex pads and have more insulation through the torso and footbox. Self-inflating sleeping pads for women may also have more foam in the hip area to make it more comfortable for women with prominent hips to sleep on their sides.

There aren’t that many women’s specific sleeping pads on the market. Most unisex pads come in shorter lengths that would suit shorter women. As well, unisex pads often come in versions with higher R-value ratings to offer more warmth. In general, women are probably fine to just pick a unisex sleeping pad in a length that suits them as long as they choose a higher R-value pad. I recommend an R-value of at least 4 if you tend to sleep cold.

I use the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm. It is a unisex pad but provides one of the best warmth to weight ratios on the market. (It has an R value of 5.7 and weighs just 430g!) I used to use a Therm-a-rest ProLite Plus women’s version, but the NeoAir is far superior. No contest: it’s lighter, more compact, more comfortable and way warmer.

Which women's hiking gear is actually worth buying? Women's hiking gear: when is it actually worth it? When should you buy women's hiking gear? Are woman's backpacks worth it? Should you buy a women's sleeping bag or pad?

Using my women’s Gregory Maya 18 and women’s Black Diamond Trail trekking poles at Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park.

 

Women’s Hiking Gear: Trekking Poles

Women’s specific trekking poles come in shorter lengths since women are generally shorter than men. As well, they have grips and straps that are better sized for women’s smaller hands.

I wouldn’t worry too much about buying women’s specific trekking poles unless you have very small hands. Unisex trekking poles are height adjustable so they will work for shorter users as well as tall ones. On average, women’s trekking poles have a maximum length that is about 15cm (6 in.) shorter than unisex poles. If you also use your trekking poles to construct a tarp shelter, this extra length can be nice to have.

I have small hands so I use an older version of the women’s specific Black Diamond Trail poles. I find that I can get the straps to adjust small enough to actually fit my wrists and hands – unlike the ones on unisex poles that I’ve tried.

 

The next time you hit up your local outdoor shop, keep these guidelines in mind when choosing women’s (or unisex!) hiking gear. Which women’s hiking gear do you own? Tell me if it was worth it in the comments.

 

Read Next:

Boreas Lost 60 Women’s Backpack Review

Complete list of the backpacking gear I actually use

What to wear for winter hiking

5 Tips for Hiking in the Rain

 

Was this post helpful? Pin it on Pinterest.

Women's hiking gear: Is it worth it? Or can you just buy unisex? Which women's hiking gear is actually worth buying? Women's hiking gear: when is it actually worth it? When should you buy women's hiking gear? Are woman's backpacks worth it? Should you buy a women's sleeping bag or pad?

You Might Also Like

19 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenny
    April 10, 2017 at 7:11 am

    I usually just buy mens (or unisex) gear as I’m fairly tall but I do own a women’s specific sleeping bag that I love. It has extra insulation in the toe box so it keeps my feet toasty warm. While not hiking gear, a women’s specific life jacket for canoeing is also really nice as they have a different design in the chest to allow for a little room!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Good point on the life jackets Jenny! I didn’t know what I was missing until I wore a women’s specific PFD a few years ago! No more squish! πŸ™‚ Which women’s specific sleeping bag do you own? I may be in the market for a new one and I’m always curious about what other people like.

  • Reply
    Danielle
    April 10, 2017 at 9:53 am

    So brilliant! Everyone including me is shopping for gear right now with the weather warming up. I’ll definitely be sharing this article! I also have a Gregory day pack and love it. Love my women’s backpack too from Deuter. Currently shopping for sleeping bag and new camp pad. Thanks so much for writing this!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks for the love Danielle! Just curious if you are more or less interested in buying a women’s sleeping bag or sleeping pad after reading this?

  • Reply
    Meg
    April 10, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Spot on! I’d say that the other big thing is women’s hiking footwear. I find that I like the women’s specific footwear better, but each person’s foot is unique so see for yourself! Thanks for this article – definitely useful information!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 10, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      Yeah footwear is its own problem! I did work as a boot fitter for a few years so I do have a good idea of what brand of boots work best for which types of feet but I think I’m a bit out of date as I know some brands have changed their fit a little bit. So I don’t feel that confident recommending boots – plus that would be it’s own post!

  • Reply
    Magretha
    April 10, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Nice article! I like how you took into consideration the different build sizes of women.

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Glad you found it helpful. Do you own women’s gear? What’s your favourite piece of gear?

  • Reply
    Danika
    April 10, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    When I upgrade my gear I’m definitely going to go for women’s or youth gear. My gear is all inherited, and it works well enough, for now. Next up for upgrading is my sleeping bag, which is at least 1 foot too long… every time I lug it up a mountain I wish I had one more specific to my size :p

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 11, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      We all have to start somewhere with out gear – by using hand me down gear you are at least learning what you like and don’t like in gear before you invest in your own. If you find that you are getting cold in your too long sleeping bag, try stuffing the footbox with extra clothes to take up some of the dead air space. It might make you a bit warmer at night. Unfortunately I don’t have any tips for making it weigh less when you have to lug it up a mountain though πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Hannah H
    April 11, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing your research and experimentation!
    My favourite female-dedicated outdoors gear piece would have to be my backpack. It’s a Gregory Jade 28 and although I struggled somewhat lengthily with the idea of buying a Certified Women’s piece that is decorated with typical pink and Soft Female Blue highlights, it works well with my body. The thing about it that I like is the extremely supportive hip braces. They fit my hips well but also provide much more (much needed, I’m carrying breasts as well as pack supplies) shoulder relief. The pack is 28 L which is small for such dedicated hip or waist supportive straps and usually men’s or unisex packs will only give it to you if you are carrying a heavier load. This pack has proven sturdy and supportive for long day trips and doesn’t exasperate shoulder pain from big breasts. If you can find a backpack that, ideally, has a colour that doesn’t make you think of gender at all and is as supportive as this one is- you’re gonna be hopping up those hills twice as fast as your male product-equipped counterparts because of the comfort performance this female product can give.

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 11, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      I also have a Gregory Jade – I have the very first version of the Gregory Jade 50 and it’s a nice green colour that doesn’t scream girly gear. I like Gregory packs a lot and I think they have done a good job with their fit.

  • Reply
    Norine
    April 11, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    I love my women’s specific backpack. I have a Deuter, but it lacked a few features, do went to REI in Seattle and found my Venus, which I love. I think they have more selection down south for women, at least when I was looking. It’s worth checking south of the border.

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 11, 2017 at 9:41 pm

      I agree – there can be more selection in the US – they have way more brands available and they have bigger stores that can offer more brands in the same place. The Seattle REI flagship store is amazing! But for me a product has to be highly recommended for me to take a chance on paying US prices for a product that I’m not sure will work for me. It’s always a gamble I guess.

  • Reply
    Ioanna
    April 13, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Well written, Taryn! I have a female backpack (Deuter Aircontact) and I love it. I’m about 5’3 so choosing women-specific backpack was a good idea. I have a pretty wide shoulders/chest but definitely not a male-sized. Although I might look into youth packs in the future, they are rare to find in my place, though.
    I also don’t care about women-specific trekking poles, don’t see a point.
    My sleeping bag now is a custom made down bag which I “co-created” with the maker, exactly to my size and need, so I absolutely love it.
    I am planning on getting a new sleeping pad, as the one I have now is really heavy… I think I will get NeoAir, for the weight and R-value.
    Happy Hiking!
    Ioanna (A Woman Afoot)

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 13, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      I’m glad you liked the post. I’m interested to hear more about your custom sleeping bag! How did you make that happen? Do you have a post on your site about it?

      • Reply
        Ioanna
        April 14, 2017 at 2:42 am

        I haven’t written a full review just yet (maybe after I get the summer down sleeping bag I’m thinking about…) but you can see photos of it in my post on going lightweight (http://awomanafoot.com/lightweight-hiking/). It’s a Polish manufacturer (Robert’s) and they make down products from the best Polish geese down (world-best, seriously). I had a long back-and-forth email exchange with the own, Mr. Roman, who explained in details all the factors I should consider when picking various options! I was amazed that he wanted to spend the time to educate me. I could add extra options, and you can basically design your own down product (sleeping bag, jacket, booties etc.). The cost is comparable to a reputable big company (like Rab or such).

  • Reply
    Danielle Vincent
    April 29, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    This is a great read! My nine year old and I are thinking about doing overnight trips. Gear is so overwhelming! We are doing a lot of research at this point! Thank you!!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      April 29, 2017 at 9:01 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful Danielle. Feel free to ask if you have any questions while researching gear for you and your kid. I’m happy to help.

    Leave a Reply