Sizing up Gear for Women in Combat

Members of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade were the first to test the new female body armor in 2012. The equiment was named one of Time Magazine's best inventions of 2012, in Afghanistan. (US Army photo)Members of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade were the first to test the new female body armor in 2012. The equiment was named one of Time Magazine's best inventions of 2012, in Afghanistan. (US Army photo)

Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that military combat jobs will be opened to female troops.

The decision means qualified women will be authorized to apply to the U.S. military’s 52 remaining occupational specialties, including conventional combat arms positions such as infantry and cavalry, as well as special operations jobs such as Army Rangers, Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

Here at Kit Up, we’re curious how the decision will affect equipment, specifically load-bearing packs, armor and other gear. After all, both Army and Marine Corps studies concluded that female troops participating in ground combat training “sustained injuries at higher rates than men, particularly in occupational fields require load-bearing,” according to information released by the Pentagon.

Could this risk be mitigated by developing gender-based equipment — gear designed specifically to better distribute weight across the female body? While only a small subset of women in the military are expected to actually apply for direct-action combat jobs, the services are known for developing ill-fitting uniforms and gear for female troops. And gear that fits properly isn’t about fashion, it’s about safety.

The Army’s female body armor was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2012, but top Defense Department officials have signaled more needs to be done.

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, in June issued guidance that dealt with the issue of combat equipment specifically for female troops. He directed the individual services “to take immediate steps to ensure that combat equipment provided to female service members is properly designed and fitted to accommodate their requirements, and that it meets required standards for wear and survivability.”

He also directed them to “continue to monitor and address female sizing and fit issues in current and future combat equipment development and programs of record.”

Among the questions we have: What will gender-based packs and other equipment look like, how will they differ and how effective will they be in mitigating the higher injury rates among women?

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Lance

    Obama strikes again!! Military standards lowered again to be P.C. for Dems.

  • cj?

    Will men also get better fitting gear?

    • Frank

      Well, if you call bigger rucks than yes, much better fitting.

    • SAM

      What really sucks is that the people who actually purchase our gear, are cubicle squatters. They only wear it for pictures, never actually use it for work. Many of us purchase our own must have gear, male and female.

  • SAM

    The famales in my unit did the same thing that the males in the unit did. Ditch the inferior issued gear in a difflebag for the day supply demands it be returned, and buy your own functional gear.

  • 11CP5

    Know why the jobs were open? It was a no brainer. Get credit for it when all along they knew the females wanting the jobs would be so small it really doesn’t matter. That is until we need a draft for the next big one. Gear is gear, it does not matter that you make it too fit. Problem is it will still weigh about the same. Weight has no friends. It kicks your butt no matter who is carrying it. My ruck never felt any lighter at the beginning of a 12 miler as it did at the finish. It sucked no matter what. LOL

  • NICK

    i only have one question, WHY WOULD ANY WOMAN WANT TO GO INTO COMBAT?

    • jay walls

      Because 21st (worst) women were brainwashed in the public education system to be as equal ( meaning to take away jobs and other vocations that is definitely suite for men) to men. So they now want to do as much as men, however the typical net result was always inferior. History has proven that. But this brainwashing in the public school system has been going on since the early 1970s.

  • Bridget Wuerdeman

    Packs for us need to have weight on the back lowered so its more centered around our hips where we have center of balance. Current packs make the main weight at a level with breast and throw balance off. Harnesses need to fit between breasts in front and currently only come in suspender type, which is uncomfortable and rubs the sides of the breasts and underarms..again creating rub spots due to ill fit. Most of us buy or make our own harness gear from hiking womens gear webbing. Add to that the fact that almost all new gear will be Permethrin treated, and the long term effects of skin absorption on females of child bearing years have not been fully studied…I just think we(female Vets and current active duty females) need to request better fitting gear and more testing on the insecticide treatments on us before we agree to take these jobs.