Gendered Gear: What’s the Deal?

The way gear is marketed still plays a large role in purchase decisions, particular for beginners. One of the primary ways gear is categorised is according to gender… but how necessary are gender-specific models, really?

For a large majority of climbers, walking into a gear shop is like stepping into a candy store. And, oh boy, are we spoiled for choice! The longer you climb, the more likely you are to have a sense of what sort of gear will work for you and your body. However, the way gear is marketed still plays a large role in purchase decisions, particular for beginners. One of the primary ways gear is categorised is according to gender… but how necessary are gender-specific models, really?

While men and women do have certain biological differences that should be acknowledged in gear design, bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and many people don’t fit neatly into one box or the other. In fact, it is fairly common for climbers to purchase gear marketed towards the opposite gender, simply because it fits their body better. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that this gender dichotomy excludes all those who identify outside of the conventional gender binary.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at the technicalities of men’s and women’s models…

the ultimate gender neutral climbing gear, well worn rental shoes.


While there are many unisex harnesses on the market, it is fairly standard for brands to release and male and female version of the same model. Typically, women’s harnesses are tailored to fit a stereotypically ‘curvy’ body, i.e. a small waist with relatively wide hips. As such, the key differences are are as follows:

– Women’s harnesses tend to have a higher rise (i.e. there is a bigger gap between the waistband and leg loops), allowing them to fit more comfortably around the waist.

– The waistband and leg loops are slightly narrower, and they often have a slightly different shape to accommodate curves.

These differences can be seen quite clearly in the Wild Country Session harnesses:

Creating more options to suit different body types is wonderful, but there is no real need for these to be gendered. At the end of the day, the best choice is whatever suits your unique body shape.

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Climbing shoes are arguably the most important gear you will buy. These little babies become an extension of our bodies on the wall, and finding the pair that’s just right for your feet is absolutely essential for comfort and performance. 

As with harnesses, there are a number of unisex shoes available. However, companies typically offer men’s and women’s models, which are different in a few ways:

– Men’s models tend to have a higher volume, i.e. a larger space between the top and bottom of the shoe, particularly in the forefoot region

– Women’s models are often cut lower on the ankle and have a smaller heel box

– Men’s shoes are generally wider than the equivalent women’s model 

Although subtle, these differences can be observed in the Evolv Geshidos:

These variances are largely based on the assumption that women have naturally smaller, narrower and lower-volume feet than men. While it is true that men tend to have bigger feet than women, the fact remains – your feet are shaped however your feet are shaped, and they don’t really care about subscribing to gender norms. Case in point – SA Olympian Chris Cosser wears the La Sportiva Women’s Solution, and he crushes

As a sign of the times, there are a few companies that have steered away from gendered labels and now offer low-volume and high-volume shoes instead of women’s and men’s models.

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Chris Cosser at Africa Cup wearing his Solutions


You know the drill by now, folks. Helmets come in unisex and gendered models, with the women’s versions tending to be smaller and narrower. However, some companies have made a few extra changes. For example, the Petzl Borea helmet (the women’s model of the Boreo) has a ponytail notch:

It goes without saying that both men and women have long hair (we certainly can’t ignore the prevalence of the man bun in the climbing community). However, this little touch can go a long way in improving comfort and it may never have been added without the gendered design approach.

As with all gear, the best helmet is the one that offers the most comfort and freedom of movement. 

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So, do we really need gendered gear?

The short answer – no. 

However, it must be said that gendered models have greatly expanded the options on offer, allowing people of all shapes and sizes to find gear that fits them like a glove. Furthermore, the very existence of women’s models displays a concern for inclusivity by producers, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

The bottom line: keep an open mind, consult with gear experts, and choose the gear that suits your body best, regardless of its label.

Happy shopping!