Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.
First let me say this: your gear should very rarely deter you from an adventure. You don’t need the exact right, most gizmo-ed or technical materials to enjoy the outdoors. You just need to be safe and, ideally, dry and warm. Here’s the story: It was a hot, spring morning, and I was rushing around to pull together everything I needed for a month-long road trip around the country. I didn’t need or want a heavy-duty or ultra-lightweight sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temps. I needed a solid, affordable bag suited to thirty-degree temperatures (the coldest possible climate we’d be in was expected to be about 36°F). But I didn’t have a lot of time to put into finding it.
For the first time in the First Diaries, I have a bone to pick. It has to do with how gear is created, priced, and marketed differently for men and women. Bear with me:
I made it to REI in a fluster and found options ranging in the triple digits: $129-ish and beyond three and four hundred dollars. I was pulling back the bags hanging from the display one after another, cringing at the damage I was about to do to my bank account.
And then I found one. The REI Co-Op bag, rated to keep its inhabitant safe and comfortable in climates as cold as 33°F. The best part: it costs less than $100.
That’s when a sales rep strolled over and asked if I needed any help. I explained what I needed and that my budget was “as low as possible.”
“Ok,” he said, “So probably not a women’s bag, then. This is your best option,” he gestured to Co-Op bag I had found. “It’s unisex.”
Unisex, he explained, means built in the old, conventional style. Which means built for men. It’s a fairly Johnny Bravo-shaped bag with uniform insulation throughout. A women’s bag, on the other hand, takes more of an hourglass form and has extra padding in the heart area and at the bottom, where those blue toes are. This reflects the differences in women’s circulation (and therefore their tendency to feel more cold). But in my economic unisex bag, I’ve got extra space around my legs and shoulders (not warm) and am missing insulation where I need it most.
As far as I can see, this isn’t really a “unisex” solution.
There are, by and large, real physical differences between the sexes. Women tend to run colder than men, men tend be warmer and sweatier than women. Women’s fingers are more disposed to grow frigid and even numb than their male counterparts’, as well. And of course, men and women, generally speaking, are shaped a little differently. So it would follow that sleeping bags for men and women would be made differently as such, to keep every body comfortable.
They are. But I do not own a sleeping bag designed for my body. I own a sleeping bag designed for the dominant gender in the outdoors(/the world). It’s not the end of the world and it’s not going to stop me from sleeping outside, but it’s annoying and it’s fixable.
These “unisex” bags are a little cheaper because you’re not paying for the specialities for your gender. But if you’re male, you’re still kind of getting them. For the average man on a budget; great. You’re not missing out on much with the economy option.
But for the dirtbag gear-buyer lady? You might just be less comfortable than the guy next you.
A few tips for my fellow shivering sisters in bags built for men: Big, wool socks are a major key anytime you slumber en plein air. Adding a vest can also make a real difference. And for all, I highly recommend a cozy hat, to keep in the heat you’re losing from that big, sexy brain of yours.
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