So we’re planning on climbing Denali, which you know by now if you’ve found this blog, and 4 months almost to the day before we leave we’re spending a whole lot of time obsessing over equipment choices and repeatedly spending newly deposited paychecks right down to zero, in pursuit of the “perfect” gear.
Over the weekend our little crew had a five hour prep meeting focused on everything from equipment selection to sled construction and the nailing down of a schedule for our conditioning hikes, plus everything in between.
If you don’t climb then you might not know it, but climbers love gear – love to nerd out over how many ounces it weighs (and whether a few more could be shed by cutting off the sleeping bag safety tags or toothbrush handle), and relish the technicality of it. Many climbers in our organization, the Seattle Mountaineers, can rattle off how many kilonewtons of force a carabiner can support if a climber falls on it lengthwise versus sideways, know how much their backpack weighs to the ounce (and both with and without water in it), and can and will discuss the nuances and breathability of Pertex, Goretex and other proprietary coatings with what can only be described as glee.
We four lady climbers are no different: conversation Sunday afternoon focused on heel lift (the amount your heel slides up or down – a bad thing – in your boot when you take a step up or down) for two pairs of winter mountaineering boots I had just bought in an act of pure, indecisive, (yet still strategic) laziness: the La Sportiva Spantik, and the Koflach Arctic Expe.
My boyfriend and I had spent hours the previous day at Feathered Friends, a climbing equipment store here in Seattle, as I repeatedly and incrementally sized up and down in three different $500+ pairs of boots in three very different styles, looking for that Goldilocks-perfect fit: not too big, nor too small, but juuuust right. Boots that would be snug enough to be warm and avert the dreaded blister-causing heel-lift, structured enough to fit my foot well and protect my ankles, and roomy enough that I’d still be able to wiggle life back into my toes if and when they get cold.
One after another we tried on the Spantiks and the Koflachs, jamming our heel firmly against the floor to snug it on, lacing up first a slipper inner liner and then a harder, more substantial outer. The Spantiks have an outer layer more like a doubled up traditional backpacking boot (called a “double boot”), whereas the the Koflachs are what is often referred to as “plastics” – a hard plastic shell designed to keep feet warm, and moisture out.
Male and female climbers go through this ritual as they seek to fit their boots in advance of a big climb like Denali, but it’s a bit more of a pain for us lady climbers, as we’re all trying to get a good fit…in men’s boots!
As far as I know, there are no big mountain boots specially built for women, and crafted to fit the narrower heels, lower (total) volume feet, and poorer circulation that are common among women. The women’s gear market has (supposedly) not been robust enough to support them, so women climbers are (literally) out there climbing in men’s shoes.
This is the case for a lot more than just boots, as well. Nothing reminds you that your gender is not really expected to climb high on big mountains like trying on a pair of puffy pants with a (front-facing) pee hole (think of the fly in men’s jeans), or trying on a “small” sized parka (the huge down coat you wear in the evenings and up high) that you absolutely swim in – right down to where it hits and tapers to be too small for you at your hips, anyway, because, oh yeah, you actually have hips!
This is going to be an experience we continue to have as we gear up for Denali, and is one part of what got us started on the idea of writing this blog – it’s hard choosing gear that’s built for a man when you’ve got a womanly frame, and harder still when most of the advice you can find about sizing and choosing your gear on various blogs and websites is written by your slender-hipped, round-heeled, forward-peeing brethren. The Denali Girls is us doing our best to help a sister out. 😉