A few years back, outdoors-gear makers awoke to the fact that the sexes really do differ, and that women are built differently from the men for whom much of their gear was first designed.
It spawned a torrent of new hiking, camping and sporting gear made to fit females, whether catering to their physical build, or to the fact that more women tend to sleep “cold,” or simply responding to fashion tastes with new colors and designs.
It also opened a whole new area of gift giving for habitués of the backcountry. Here are some gift ideas, and — whether you’re the giver or someone who will be dropping hints — a few “you-can-always-dream” suggestions from my gear-testing team on where to put these gifts to use:
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Always wanted to experience Paradise in winter? We found some women-specific snowshoes that will help you walk on water — the frozen kind.
While multitudes experience Mount Rainier’s Paradise meadows awash with summertime wildflowers, far fewer witness the incredible beauty of those same high meadows when blanketed in deep snow. To truly understand the majesty of The Mountain, you need to stride through its snowy meadows.
When pushing deep into the winter wonderland, Tubbs Women’s Mountaineersnowshoes easily floated hikers even when toting heavy packs. The lightweight but strong Pro-Step frames feature a gender-specific taper that complements the natural stride of women. That helps eliminate cross-stepping — catching one shoe with the other — while the aggressive heel and toe crampons rip into snow and ice for a slip-free grip whether moving uphill or down. $259, tubbssnowshoes.com.
• Always wanted to spend the night in a ski hut? A good sleeping bag is one essential you’ll need to carry in on your ski trek.
Where to go? The Mount Tahoma Trail System comprises a series of huts and yurts just outside Mount Rainier National Park. The north district of the Mount Tahoma Trails includes one of the network’s easiest to reach and most scenic huts, the Copper Creek Hut, an ideal destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers looking for a comfortable winter-camping experience. The hut sleeps 12 and offers a gas-fired kitchen plus a large common room for lazing away long, dark evenings. Reservations are required (www.skimtta.com
The sleeping bag to keep any female hut skier cozy is the W’s Rhapsody 15bag from Nemo, featuring 700-fill DownTek, a water-resistant down that helps ensure the bag stays warm even in damp conditions. (The “W’s” in the name stands for “women’s.”)
The real winning feature of the Rhapsody, though, is its “spoon” shape. The unique shape allows for a comfortable night’s sleep in any position, but side-sleepers praised its design the most. The curvy bag has extra room in the knee and torso area so you have space to pull up your legs and tuck your arms in front of you — almost as cozy as spooning with a loved one. $399. www.nemoequipment.com
• Always wanted to trek around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail? A roomy pack that properly transfers weight to your skeletal structure is essential for a successful outing next summer.
The Wonderland Trail loops 93 miles around the flanks of Mount Rainier, climbing and descending over seemingly endless ridges that radiate from the great mountain likes spokes on a wheel. The trail rolls up and down endlessly, but glorious scenery and epic vistas greet hikers nearly every step of the way, making the journey well worth the effort.
Colorado pack maker Osprey has earned the respect of our entire test team, male and female, whether they are field-testing daypacks or huge multiweek trekking packs. But women in particular love Osprey’s commitment to fit. The Osprey Xena 70 pack was designed to fit women’s torsos without pinching or strain.
Lead tester Donna Meshke said the fit was like a well-cut vest, forming around her shoulders and ribs comfortably and moving weight to her hips without hot spots or excessive rubbing. The 70-liter volume accommodates plenty of gear for a weeklong outing, but isn’t too big for a quick weekend. Three sizes of torso lengths and three sizes of hip belts can be mingled to create a perfect fit. $319. www.ospreypacks.com
Always wanted to experience the art of casting a fly to feeding trout or spawning salmon? Good waders and river-friendly boots allow anglers to stand safely and comfortably in the cold waters where those fish thrive.
The South Fork Snoqualmie River, right along Interstate 90 from North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass, has a vibrant population of native trout that can be caught on a fly. But the Upper Yakima River, from Easton to Thorpe, in Kittitas County, represents one of the best opportunities in Washington for wade-fishing for big trout.
Get some lessons from your local fly-fishing shop (Orvis Bellevue offers classes throughout the year, including a women-only “Introduction to Fly-fishing” class), then get out and explore the rivers.
The Orvis Company started selling fly-fishing gear in 1856 and today offers the best-fitting women’s waders on the market. Forget small, medium and large, the Women’s Silver Sonic Convertible-Top Waderscome in 13
sizes and our testers universally praised the fit, from our 5-foot Colorado writer to our 5-foot-10-inch Washington forest ranger.
The four-layer waterproof-breathable fabric is welded at the seams, reducing the risk of leaking along stitched seam lines, while reducing bulk and weight. The waders survived considerable abuse while busting through dense brambles along the upper Yakima. $259. www.orvis.com
To cover the stocking-foot waders, Redington offers our testers’ pick: The Willow River “Sticky Rubber” Wading Boot for women. Built on a women’s last for proper fit, it features a tough, quick-drying nylon upper with a neoprene cuff to help seal out riverbed gravel. The sticky rubber outsole provides a firm grip on both slippery river bottoms and rocky bank trails. $99. www.redington.com
Dan A. Nelson, of Puyallup, is a regular contributor to Men’s Journal and reviews outdoors gear on his Adventures Northwest website, adventuresnw.net
. He receives no compensation from manufacturers other than lending of gear, which is returned after testing.