Demand for upgrades and ‘equality in products’ pushed REI to retune its house brand for 2017 with a bevy of women’s-specific gear.
If you’ve stepped through the alpenstock-gilded doors of a local REI this spring you might have noticed a few changes. In particular, the in-house REI Co-op Gear product line is revamped and improved.
REI-brand gear has long been viewed as a quality-with-value alternative. But last year the cooperative reenergized its namesake equipment. This includes major upgrades to women’s gear, part of an initiative to put females at the forefront of the outdoors.
The cooperative’s “Force Of Nature” efforts are broad-reaching, including 1,000 REI Outdoor School events and classes happening throughout summer across the country; experiences through REI Outessa retreats and REI Adventures; and giving $1 million to nonprofits that get women and young girls into the outdoors.
And gear is a key element of the project. REI notes it needed to address “the gap” it saw between performance gear made for women and men. We caught up with a few sources at the company, including Nasahn Sheppard, the VP of product design, and Helen Stauffer, senior category merchandising manager for details on the gender-specific moves.
2017: REI Women’s Gear Project
“After talking to hundreds of women on our staff and women Co-op members, we saw a pattern … a gap in product availability and performance,” Sheppard said. “We’ve done work on fit, color, and performance fabrics.”
Details like variable baffling, contoured fit, and premium down are testaments to a refocused design.
We queried REI, which employs dozens of female product managers and designers, about how it gets beyond the “pink-it-and-shrink-it” mentality. Basic anatomy came up as a first cue.
For example, generally, women’s torsos are shorter compared to men’s and they have wider hips, larger breasts, and narrower shoulders.
“When it comes to fit relating to gear we’re looking at things like width and warmth ratio in sleeping bags; fit in packs, specifically in the hip and shoulder straps; and a narrower last in footwear to provide additional stability,” said Helen Stauffer.
REI Co-op Gear: Breakdown
How many REI-Co-op items are women-specific? Much of the line is unisex, including things like camp chairs, many of the bikes, and camping accessories.
But the line has 43 women-specific products this spring. This balances out the 44 products made for men.
In addition, REI Co-op Clothing has 61 women’s pieces and 63 men’s. In backpacks and trekking poles, 31-percent of the Co-op Gear line is made for women. Fit is modified on the packs, and the pole handles are thinner for easier grip.
In sleeping bags and pads, REI cites 24-percent of its branded line is made for women. (See below for details on how the pads are different.)
Finally, for bikes in the brand’s Co-op Cycles line, there is an equal distribution of made-for-biking apparel (17 women’s; 17 men’s). Bikes specifically include five women’s and 21 unisex models.
Design Differences: Women’s Gear
We asked Sheppard and the design staff for details on how the women’s gear is different. They pointed to sleeping pads, where bigger hips necessitate more padding for side sleepers.
But the pads are lower volume overall, too, reducing the air it takes to inflate. Sheppard said the pads are “less crinkly” than past models.
Sleeping bags are proportionately wider around the hips and slightly narrower around the shoulders.
“We know through testing that women sleep about eight degrees colder than men and need additional insulation,” noted Sheppard.
Because of this, women’s bags receive a higher fill weight than the men’s bags. The Magma sleeping bag for women is 195 grams heavier, and thus warmer. (See our full review on a 2017 REI women’s sleeping bag.)
Trekking poles, as noted, are narrower for women. This decreases weight slightly while accommodating a smaller grip.
Color choices changed this year, too. The company got away from purple and pink. You’ll see more gender-neutral colors inspired from the outdoors instead.
Reaching To The Wider Outdoors Industry
Beyond its house gear, REI is working with vendor partners to invest in women’s-specific products. So far, several brands have stepped up, including Osprey, GHOST, Oiselle, Arc’teryx, Terry, Oboz, Darn Tough, Outdoor Research, and PrAna.
REI designers and testers give feedback and the co-op is sharing data with industry partners. Women’s fit and product usage information guides design and material choices.
Another example is a demand for larger sizes. With some brands you will start seeing apparel available up to size XL in stores and online. This larger sizing was not always available.
“We encourage outdoor companies to invest more deeply in extended sizing—petite, plus, and tall—in outdoor and performance apparel designed for women,” noted Stauffer.
“For decades, REI has pushed the outdoor industry to put the ‘pink-it-and-shrink-it’ philosophy aside,” Stauffer said. “We will continue to work with our partners to elevate and invest in companies that are creating the best outdoor gear for women.”
Stauffer said women’s products improved dramatically of late, “but in certain categories, we know there remains a gap between the quality of high-end men’s and women’s gear available.”
In REI flagship locations and online, the changes are taking place already, and they are visible when you walk into stores. Perhaps now the co-op can tout commitment to the quality and the equality of its gear.
–GearJunkie’s Emily Reed and contributing editor Steve Graepel reported for this article.