Petite outdoor gear

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Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Fleece Pullover

I have to shout to the mountain tops about the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Fleece Pullover because it’s the first fleece anything I’ve ever, EVER found anywhere that isn’t ridiculously oversized. It’s the first outdoor jacket I’ve ever seen that had sleeves that weren’t too long. And this from Patagonia, a brand that prides itself on making high quality gear (that they will repair or buy back from you used to resell on their Worn Wear website), but that until now never technically carried my size (they’re carrying XXS now, which is looking really promising).

In my opinion and the sum opinion of reviewers on their website, the women’s version of the Re-Tool runs a little small. You might even think too small if you like your outerwear with a relaxed fit, but may rejoice at this find if you are searching for something more fitted. I think it also runs a little shorter than other past women’s Patagonia gear, which may translate to a better fit for petite ladies.

This pullover is constructed with a 51 percent recycled polyester fleece that is not ultra lightweight, but offers a surprising amount of warmth. The kangaroo pocket detail is great for keeping hands warm.

Now on to my experience with outdoor gear for petite women, from jackets to packs.

Jackets

My all time favorite jacket for exploring the great outdoors is the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket. It is expensive and it is worth the cost. This is a great three season jacket that retains warmth when wet! You can layer under and over this jacket in cold or wet weather. It is machine washable, although I expect washing to reduce loftiness over time. You can get the women’s version in full zip without hood, full zip with hood, or as a pullover with partial zip.

I have an older version, and can vouch for the quality of its construction as it has held up very well over time. Size wise it is cut for a taller person, meaning that if it were taken up at the shoulders, the waist would dip in at the right spot instead of too low, the sleeves would be about the right length instead of too long, and the overall length would hit at the hip as it is designed to instead of further down. If taken up at the shoulders, the fit would be more flattering and easier to transition into an urban setting.

The material is a slippery, thin polyester that my tailor refused to alter. At least the cuffs are elastic so the too long sleeves don’t get in the way. The upside of it being a little big is that it is roomy and comfortable and you can layer under the jacket as well as over it easily, making it highly versatile.

There are directions on the Patagonia website that show how to make simple repairs to the stitches and seams, probably the most common issues people have, but I wish they also had guidance on how to best repair rips to the fabric.

Patagonia also makes a Girl’s version (but only currently in the full zip without hood option) that I haven’t tried but will consider when in the market for a replacement (and they have better color options) since the Girl’s version may fit better and is half the price.

Their newer iteration of the Nano Puff concept is the Micro Puff Hoody. The name makes me think of a weightless cloud of air. Their marketing describes it as “the best warmth for weight jacket we’ve ever built.” The stated weight of the hoody Nano Puff is 10.8 oz on their website while the Micro Puff is said to weigh 8 oz. The Micro Puff Hoody costs about $50 more than the Nano Puff Hoody. I wonder how warm the Micro Puff is? If you have either of these jackets, please let us know in the comments below what you think about them.

Baselayers

Patagonia Capilene shirts make great baselayers and come in several weights/levels of warmth. I’ve tried cheaper, fast fashion quality synthetic shirts and they tend to pill very easily. I haven’t seen Capilene pill yet. There are also Capilene bottoms and underwear, and Patagonia makes Capilene garments for the whole family. The old trick of sizing down to kids sizes may work here as well, although I have an old shirt that runs pretty fitted except for slightly too long sleeves which I shortened myself. The great thing about altering field gear is that it doesn’t have to look perfect.

Pants

No one seems to make petite nylon pants. Nylon dries quickly and is very lightweight. They can be very thin and require layering under or over in cooler weather. Kids section is your best bet. This one by White Sierra has gotten great reviews by petite women, although there is no current version on the White Sierra website. Military grade cargo pants are also a popular option around here. They are very tough and probably relatively quite affordable if available at a military surplus store.

Socks

One word: wool. You can’t go wrong with Smartwool, although I’m curious about Darn Tough.

Rain gear

The North Face makes high quality Gore-Tex jackets that are cut a little slimmer and possibly also smaller overall than other options out there in my experience, which results in a better fit. When everyone else is wet and cold, Gore-Tex in good condition with sealed seams has the ability to keep rain totally out. If you need top of the line rain gear, you will not want to go with kids gear. For less expensive fabrics, I would check out the kids section first.

Footwear

So this is going to vary depending on what you are doing outside and where. In general, for hiking I would recommend checking out Merrell for general all-purpose use and comfort and Salomon if you want a lighter weight trail runner with softer and stickier grip and aggressive lugs, but in my limited experience you need to provide your own insoles with Salomon because the stock insoles are flimsy. People also swear by Chaco’s sandals but women’s sizing starts at a US 5 to 6 (EU 35, size chart correlates this with US 6) and the kids versions don’t seem to have the same strap design.

Daypacks

Backpacks can be trickier than you would think. Large backpacks can make one look like a turtle. Seriously, stay away from anything that has the curvature of a turtle shell. You have been warned! The fit issues I always have with backpacks are the straps or back of the bag rubbing against the neck because the straps are too long when adjusted to the shortest setting or because the bag itself is too long for the body.

If you are physically smaller, you want the bag itself to be as light as possible, yet durable. There are waterproof bags out there, but there are a few issues to consider with this: (1) weight – you can always dry bag things that really need to stay dry, but you can’t change the material construction of your bag to a lighter weight fabric, (2) vinyl is impermeable and holds water – if water does get into your bag, you will have to pour it out, (3) condensation – water may end up in your bag if it falls out of the air inside your pack and can’t evaporate away.

You also want the straps to have good, durable padding and be wide enough to be comfortable. Thin straps will just concentrate the weight of the bag into a narrower strip over your body and will not be comfortable for long. A lot of brands not targeted to outdoors use will skip padding or choose thin straps for aesthetic or maybe cost cutting (in the case of skimping on padding) purposes.

It is possible to find a backpack that fits properly, but it may take trying on several to get a comfortable fit. I can vouch for the Patagonia Ironwood 20L. It weighs 14.8 oz according to the product page. It isn’t ultra-lightweight in my opinion (it does have a laptop sleeve), but it is light enough for day long activities. It is a little small for my purposes in terms of the interior space of the bag, but I’m pretty sure I tried the larger Toromiro and Arbor Pack and those weren’t as comfortable. The front slash compartment is a great idea and looks very sleek and minimalist but since there is no depth to the pocket it is hard to find things in there, hard to get things in and out, and you can only fit pretty small things in there to begin with. It would be a huge improvement to have more external pockets for things like water bottle, mesh pocket for wet things, etc., although I agree it would be difficult to have these features and still look sleek and minimal. I wish it came with instructions on how to use the lash points properly.

Larger packs

For longer trips, a stop at REI to try on the different packs they carry would be worthwhile. Look for a pack that is cut for a woman’s body and has an adjustable torso such as these on REI’s website.

Versatile travel clothing

For versatile travel clothing for ladies on the go, check out Gap’s Athleta brand, which carries petite sizing. They seem to be phasing out size Petite XXS/00 though, and have introduced Athleta Girl for girls.

General tips

Seriously consider weight if you’re going to have to carry it. Ounces and grams add up fast.

Check the kids section for petite friendly sizes and lower prices. Except when it comes to high end rain gear and sleeping bags – go with women’s styles for these.

This is just my experience with gear so please take it as just one opinion and do your own research before leaving the house on any adventure. What gear do you swear by?

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