This is the second of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the info applies equally well to aspiring male hikers.
As I mentioned in my first post, female solo hikers carry the same things, such as clothes and sleeping bags for backpacking, as their male counterparts. You need shelter, a pack, a cooking kit and stuff to keep you warm and dry. So this series of articles is useful for either gender getting after it in the woods. However, there are some things I recommend to aspiring female thru hikers. After all, women are smaller, they often sleep colder and they can wear dresses in the woods.
Sleeping Bag: Women actually do run colder than men. Research illustrates that while women’s actual core body heat is slightly higher than men’s, their extremities are a lot colder. And in my experience, female hikers will carry a sleeping bag with a lower rating than many male hikers are willing to carry. This is, as with all gear, a personal preference, but I’d strongly suggest looking seriously at the temperature ratings, material used and weight before buying any sleeping bag. I.e. make sure your sleeping bag is warm enough! As a painfully cold sleeper, I need extra warmth in my sleeping bag, and so I buy a gender specific bag with extra down in the foot box. I’ve found that a women’s specific, 15-degree, 850-fill goose down seems to be the best for the western states where the air is dry and nights can be cold. However, when I was on the Appalachian Trail, I opted for a synthetic 25-degree bag, due to sharing it nightly with a wet dog. I’ve also dabbled with quilts, but I find that unless the temperatures are significantly above freezing, I need to be full zipped up to maintain my body heat.
Clothing: As a female hiker, we get more options in the clothing category than male hikers do. We can hike in dresses, skirts, shorts, pants, underwear, long sleeve shirts, tank tops, sports bras or any combination of those. I like to wear what feels most comfortable for the terrain in which I am hiking. And I always have a sacred set of clothes tucked away inside my sleeping bag’s waterproof stuff sack. I don’t take hypothermia lightly. The sacred set does not leave the tent, unless it’s the last day of a hike. And it must always remain dry. Typically this set includes leggings and a synthetic, long underwear top, along with a pair of diabetic compression socks to reduce swelling in my cankles.
In colder weather, I might have an extra set of wool socks in there as well, and my down layer often gets packed there for extra waterproof insurance. I never go on a hike without my down layer, and used with a waterproof shell, it becomes a reliable system that can adapt to changing weather. I’m also a big fan of rain pants. I often use my rain pants as my only hiking pants layer; I start the day with them for extra warmth and dew protection, and I wear them at night in camp. So they need to be durable and stand up to branches and sitting on rocks.
When it comes to clothing options, try different brands to find the right fit for you. I find that certain brands are too short in the torso and ride up my back, or are too ample in the bust area and are baggy, so I try to find gear that matches my proportions. Some females with longer arms and torso might find themselves more suited to men’s gear, but as a smaller framed female, I like the women’s specifics cuts. More brands are making high quality women’s gear with specific features for females, and less of the “Shrink it and Pink it” philosophy, so pay attention to the newer gear modifications out there.