What women want
Women have been part of climbing history since the 1800s. Classic black and white photos show women scaling rock faces in their skirts. Luckily for us, design, technology and social attitudes have moved on, albeit it slowly in the case of climbing gear and clothing that is specific to women.
Climbing is undoubtedly a very male dominated activity, but more and more women are being introduced to the sport, and many have excelled, setting new standards not only as an inspiration to other women, but also to men. Just pick up any climbing magazine, and there will be photographs and news of women climbing hard routes, winning competitions, reaching mountain summits - all creating a high profile that has made manufacturers sit up and take note of half the population. The result is that women don't need to cinch a harness made for a man, or accept that our climbing shoes might be a bit floppy in places. There is now a plethora of specially designed women's gear and clothing out there for us to choose from.
It's not just length where women's feet differ from men's, women's feet also tend to have higher arches, lower ankle bones and lower volume heels
Gear specific for women is not about pretty colours and girly designs: these products are designed with the female body in mind, to ensure functionality as well as comfort.
Climbing shoes are extremely important. The way they fit and their comfort level certainly makes a difference to your climbing performance. It's not just overall length where women's feet differ from men's, women's feet also tend to have higher arches, lower ankle bones and lower volume heels.
The differences between the male and female body are way more obvious when it comes to designing a harness. A good female harness will have a smaller waist, variable leg loops, a higher rise between the leg loops and the waist belt and a drop seat (for calls of nature). When choosing a harness from the many available, it will ultimately come down to personal choice for comfort, the intended use (sport climbing, alpine climbing, traditional climbing), design and price.
It has nothing to do with female rights or the desire to have everything in pink and frills. There are some basic fundamental physiological differences between men and women
When climbing indoors you could wear any regular clothing or sports wear that allows good freedom of movement. This is also true for cragging and bouldering - if it rains you'll be going home anyway, so you don't need hugely technical clothing. However, should you choose to invest, there is plenty of climbing clothing designed specifically for women, which will move with your body in the right way, offer protection against the elements and, of course, look trendy. Brands such as Prana and E9 make casual clothing that you can wear at the wall or for cragging.
If you're heading into the mountains - alpine climbing, multi-pitch climbing, or ice climbing, for example - you'll need more technical clothing. All the technical outdoor clothing manufacturers provide a full women's range of clothing from underwear through to shells, gloves and hats. You can also buy plenty of other women-specific products these days, from rucksacks through to sleeping bags and more. Conclusion
Why the need for women's only kit? It has nothing to do with female rights or the desire to have everything in pink and frills. There are some basic fundamental physiological differences between men and women. Women have:
- A lower centre of gravity
- Higher arches in their feet and narrower heels
- Beautifully packaged reproductive equipment with no external parts
- To squat to pee
- Colder extremities, and store heat in their midsections
- Shorter lower legs, with more prominent calf muscles
- Narrower shoulders
- Wider, curvier hips
- Smaller waists
- Eye sockets closer together
- Smaller hands
- Longer necks
- Shorter arms
- Ambition, motivation and the desire to perform well - feeling comfortable makes a big difference, and looking good is an added bonus.