What women really want

I got my first real outdoor experience at the tender age of 10 when my dad took me kayaking. I don’t know why but I quickly became pretty good at it, and by the time I was 15 I had ditched poor old dad in the shallows and replaced him with a whole bunch of kayaking and outdoor friends that had money and cars and great ideas and were happy enough taking me with them when they went away to Wales or Dartmoor for the weekend.
Not surprisingly they were all male, but this didn’t seem to matter to me (or them). But being an awkward adolescent, it meant I had to develop my own secret ways of making myself ‘comfortable’ on the water. There didn’t seem to be any manuals telling me how and when to go to the loo in a wetsuit (a complicated routine with a swimming costume underneath!), how to keep my hair untangled, how to strip off under a towel in a busy car park, and perhaps the most awkward conundrum of them all, what to do at “that time of the month”. It didn’t help that none of the clothing, in a classic “unisex” design, fitted me properly, either.
It was only much later, when I started out as a journalist and my customers kept asking me to comment on all these things that it suddenly dawned on me just how difficult it might be for a girl starting off in the outdoors, and that my own experiences might prove useful to others, and maybe my experiences with clothing, too.
I can’t believe it would come as a surprise to anyone to know that women are a very different shape to men. Yet amazingly the outdoor trade, and by that I really mean the equipment and clothing manufacturers, only cottoned on about five or six years ago (ok, with a few exceptions).
Suddenly every outdoor shop in Britain was filled with rail upon rail of slightly smaller, pink or sky blue, clothing. The revolution had begun and the fact that women had shorter arms, longer legs in comparison to their shorter backs, narrower shoulders, higher, smaller waists, wider hips, and narrow heels for their comparatively wider forefeet was finally being represented in the clothing and equipment they needed to enjoy the outdoors. It seemed like a miracle! In fact it was exactly what I and many other outdoor girls had been crying out for since we started.
‘Shrink it and pink it’ became a marketing phenomenon, and girls’ gear was suddenly available for every activity under the sun. Now girls can buy everything from women-specific sleeping bags, to sleeping mats and even energy bars – Clifbar make an energy bar designed especially for women called the LUNA bar  (www.lunabar.com). At one stage there was even talk of female-specific mountain bike tyres. 
For us outdoor girls it’s made a big difference, and it’s not surprising that our numbers are growing quickly – it’s amazing how much more enjoyable something can be if you’re comfortable!
But for newcomers it might be hard to distinguish between what’s really needed and what might just be a gimmick. And perhaps even retailers, constantly bombarded with more and more new stories, from more and more new brands, might struggle to see what’s actually necessary and why. Especially if they are staffed mainly by men.
So here’s one girl’s guide to the things that women really do want.
Footwear –  definitely. Women have lower volume feet, with narrower heels and a comparatively broad forefoot. They often have higher arches too. Women specific socks can be useful, especially for girls with really narrow feet.
Trousers – almost certainly. Women have higher, usually smaller waists and often need more room for their thighs than men. We like flattering, functional designs that dry quickly and breathe well too.
Base layers and fleeces – very important. Upper body layers that don’t fit won’t provide enough warmth, and won’t wick away sweat effectively either. We need shorter arm and body lengths, with room for our chests and tapering at the waist.
Waterproofs – we like ones with big hoods and comfortable collars to keep our face and neck dry, and for girls with long hair, we need ones we can fit our pony tails into too. Arms shouldn’t be too long, and we like flattering designs with tapering at the waist.
Underwear – a good fitting sports bra and briefs are essential for comfort, support and moisture wicking. I prefer the crop top style sports bras which do away with slipping bra straps, and lie flat against my skin.
Rucksacks – one of the first women specific products I tried, saving me from hours of aching shoulders. They have shorter back lengths than men’s equivalents, with closer set, narrower shoulder straps, and plenty of adjustment in the chest strap. Hip fins are often a different shape too, to accommodate our different shape pelvis.
 Sleeping bags – now that we can get hold of women’s sleeping bags we have less weight to haul around in our backpacks because they’re shorter in length and narrower at the shoulders to minimise heat loss through empty space.
Bikes – women have a lower centre of gravity than men, and most women’s bikes reflect this. Manufacturers are finally beginning to make us high spec bikes like they do for men, with shorter reaches, lower crossbars and narrower handle bars.
That just about covers the clobber, but developments haven’t stopped here and there are now products to help us ladies deal with some of our more personal problems too. Fortunately, this feature isn’t quite big enough for me to go into detail on these too!
Useful websites