Women in outdoor hobbies all know the problem. Working with gear made for men can be a frustrating, disheartening experience. Lack of proper gear can keep women from even dipping their toes into outdoor sports, but designs from some of the top paddlesports manufacturers have come a long way toward keeping us comfortable on the water. With so many great choices to explore, here are some of our favorites in women’s paddle gear, picked for you by the women of Appomattox River Company.
The single most important accessory for any paddler, life vests can also be one of the most frustrating pieces of gear for women to size and fit correctly. We’re happy to carry a wide selection of women’s fits for varying needs. Personally, we’re big fans of Astral and Stohlquist womens-specific models, and there are plenty here to choose from.
Astral’s Linda is our first step jacket for in-store try-ons. The Linda feature a thin-back design for compatibility with modern kayak seats, and offers a fair amount of ventilation through the low-cut arms and rear mesh strip. Two side-zip pockets are easy to access. Best of all, we just think the Linda fits like a glove. This vest features molded cups to accommodate the female form better, and avoids the constriction we find in most men’s jackets. The versatile fit makes the Linda one of our best-sellers.
If every PFD you’ve ever tried on has squished you in one place or another, the Layla may be your jacket. This vest is formed with multiple panels on hinged princess seams to wrap more flexibly around women’s curved torsos. The side zipper works particularly well for women with larger busts, because it’s easier to see and work with without adding bulk to the front of the vest. Like the Linda, the Layla also uses molded cups to form to women’s bodies comfortably with less constriction.
Like the Layla, NRS’s Nora jacket is made with multiple panels to flex and wrap more comfortably around women’s bodies. The Nora also throws in added ventilation with the back mesh strip, and includes conveniently placed pockets for one-handed access.
If you don’t particularly love the front-loaded bulk of many of today’s high-back PFD styles, you might prefer the larger footprint of the Misty. Higher surface area results in a thinner, more flexible vest, so flotation is evenly spaced over the entire silhouette. We think this lightweight PFD feels like a gentle hug when adjusted correctly. The Misty is also able to accommodate larger, more fully functional pockets, which are a rare and magical thing.
The Flo achieves maximum ventilation in a women’s fit, with a high back that sits above the seatback of most newer kayaks. Tons of back and side ventilation will keep you cool on the hottest days, and the cross-chest cinch pulls keep the vest from riding up as the day goes on. If you paddle a lot in hot temps, this vest may be one of the coolest women’s-specific PFDs on the market.
We love the turning leaves and sweater weather, but for paddlers, the change of seasons can keep us off the water without the proper dry gear. Unfortunately, dry suits are one piece of gear where a men’s fit absolutely won’t work for women. While the majority of dry suits are made for men, that doesn’t quite mean women have to surrender the sport we love for the winter. For full protection in colder temperatures, Kokatat has a few good options for female paddlers.
This suit comes in at an entry-level price point, but still provides all the features most paddlers need to keep dry and comfortable. The big difference between a men’s drysuit and a women’s model is the design of the relief zipper, which here features a drop seat rather than the men’s front zip. The Meridian is a front entry suit, meaning you won’t need to rely on a friend to zip you up, and has integrated booties and a dual adjustable overskirt.
For paddlers who spend a lot of time on the water in cold temperatures, a more breathable Gore-Tex suit is the gold standard. Kokatat’s 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro model for women includes a front-entry Optiseal zipper to keep you completely dry in tough conditions, and a rear drop seat and latex gaskets. Each Kokatat suit is fill tested and guaranteed.
Most whitewater skirts will work for paddlers of any gender and body type, but women often find female-specific tunnel designs more comfortable and less likely to roll and bunch around the waist. Many of the leading spray skirt models actually come in women’s fits, which feature a shorter tunnel for comfort and better fit on women’s torsos.
The Athena is the women’s cut of Seals’ popular Surf skirt, featuring high performance 4mm neoprene, bungee attachment, and a lower 6” tunnel. Like the Surf, the Athena is designed for beginner to intermediate paddlers.
For anyone who spends more time in busy whitewater, Immersion Research has adapted the bestselling Shockwave skirt to better fit women’s bodies. The J-Lo has anti-implosion patches under the casting, and features a tunnel 2” shorter than the Shockwave’s. The neoprene tunnel is also a little stretchier for comfort around the waist and hips.
In short, while a lot of men’s paddling gear works in pinch for women, sometimes it’s just really nice to have a more comfortable fit or a style tailored to our needs. At Appomattox River Company, we don’t believe in stocking lower quality gear for women, so we only sell the brands who do it right. You shouldn’t have to compromise on quality for a better fit, so we’re here to help you find the gear that’s right for your needs.