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REI’s Active Pursuits Collection Released This Spring, Offers Their First Non-Gendered Activewear

This article was created in partnership with REI.

The last time I went shopping for hiking pants at REI, I flitted between the “men’s” and the “women’s” sections, searching for something that fit — and that felt right. There were a few issues. I couldn’t get a read on where my size fell in either section. In one, suddenly my hips took up too much space, in another, suddenly my legs or my torso felt too long or pockets were too small or patterns and colorways were undesirable. Secondly, while many REI workers are undoubtedly queer or trans, I still felt exposed running back and forth between sections. So, when I heard REI had launched a new ungendered line of activewear — the Active Pursuits Collection — it was this experience that I first thought of. There was clearly an opportunity for designing things differently.

REI gave me the opportunity to interview Nani Vishwanath — REI Senior Program Manager of Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Innovation — as well as Ashlie Grilz — Founder and CEO of AG Group, who consulted on the collection. The new addition to the Active Pursuits line launched with six pieces of apparel: three bottoms and three tops that together allow for a mix and match approach to shopping the collection.

The bottoms include midweight joggers which are moisture wicking and have 4-way stretch, tights which are also moisture wicking and sun protective as well as stretchy, and 6″ shorts which are, importantly, unlined and also moisture wicking and equipped with 4-way stretch. All of these have at least one pocket that can fit a phone (the tights seem to come with just one). I got to test the joggers and the shorts, however, and so can say that they each come with two pockets deep enough to fit a phone and more.

The tops include a boxy t-shirt, a relaxed t-shirt, and a midweight crew pullover, all of which are moisture wicking with a drop shoulder cut. The tee shirts also include small side vents and a slightly dropped back hem. They offer sun protection, as well. Unlike past releases in the line, these are just there — without any kind of tag indicating that they are “men’s” or “women’s.” Rather, the sizes run from XXS to XXXL, with multiple sizes that also come in “Tall,” and for the bottoms — “Short,” too.

I’d known from my research that REI had released guidelines for outdoor brands that emphasized inclusive sizing in early 2023. I asked if these learnings had informed their development of their non-gendered offerings. “There’s a huge intersection between the conversation around size and the conversation around gender and that whole piece around fit. And so, I think that’s a real learning for us to continue to innovate around,” Vishwanath told me. In fact, much of the research and development phase involved working on the size chart so that customers could, at last, have a clear understanding of where they fell in terms of sizing. With that, REI prioritized focusing on the technical aspects of the clothing, and also making sure that these tech specs remained useful and comfortable when the items were worn by people with a variety of bodies and gender presentations. “I think what stands out to me is, typically, when people are trying to attempt this space, it’s usually a T-shirt and a hoodie…So, I think it was really cool to see a variety of products. The collection’s like a tight, smaller capsule, but I got the shorts and I actually really love them. Shorts, for me, are pretty tricky. I love a men’s short, and I’m fairly narrow, but they’re still too tight and awkward in my hips, and these were awesome,” said Grilz.

REI consulted heavily with customers and community members to learn more about what people might want from a non-gendered line. It’s clear to me that someone out there finally heard the call for deep, ultra-functional pockets, among other things. And when it came to actually talking about the new line, surveys found that “unisex” didn’t feel like an amazing term to people, especially not to non-binary people. So, REI and Grilz decided that the new section — much like REI’s non-gendered kids’ section that is simply “kids” — would simply be “adults” and that when appropriate, they’d refer to the items as “non-gendered.”

They also played with style, including color, opting to both offer neutrals (like your dude’s favorite — black) and also a vibrant pink. “Pink in the outdoor industry, historically, has been kind of fraught,” Vishwanath explained, “with the way it was like ‘women’s only.’ Things were pink and they’d be less technically proper. And so, this felt kind of a reclamation of the color.” Grilz, who came on to consult about rollout and marketing, said: “I think it threads the needle of really nice technical gear that’s going to actually do the things you want it to do like be wicking and be really functional in terms of pockets and movement, but there’s also kind of like a nice trend edge to it. You can really wear it however and wherever you want to. So, I think that’s also something that’s pretty unique that I don’t usually see in the outdoor market.” And it’s true, the photos associated with the capsule collection all have a slightly stylish side to them, a sense that you could wear perhaps the joggers and boxy tee to a casual brunch after a morning hike and not look out of place, maybe even like it was your non-exercise outfit. They’re a far cry from certain clothing items I’ve seen that scream, for example, RUNNING GEAR with loud, clashy patterns and purely functional cuts.

So, I mentioned that I tested a few of these pieces. REI sent me the joggers, the shorts, a boxy tee, and the crew neck pullover. Due to time constraints, well, these things got put through their paces. I boarded a plane to Bangkok in the joggers and tee, pullover around my waist, and while traversing the city in what was often 95F or more degree heat, I found that the 6″ shorts were my favorite pair of bottoms to wear, not least because the zippered pocket, within the right snap-closure pocket (one of two), easily contained my passport. I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve flipped running shorts inside out only to find them lined with what I can only call a netted crotch hammock. This was true regardless of the “gender” of the shorts. These have, thankfully, abandoned that notion and whatever it was for. I’d rather choose my own underwear and have it be separate, thank you. The shorts, while they don’t hug my butt like the kind I tend to favor, were plenty breezy and fit comfortably, and the length, especially, is great for reducing chafing while running. While I have some thick, squat-doing thighs, and found the width of the legs of the shorts to be generous and comfortable, I think that if someone had very thin legs that they might feel like they were swimming in these. But, I can understand why REI prioritized creating a wider leg in the short, to have something for people who haven’t found shorts in this length to be roomy enough. And if you’re someone who’s looking for something that will reduce the visibility of curves, too, these shorts are indeed for you.

I loved the cut of the tee and found it flattering. You could take it in a more masculine or feminine direction, I think, depending entirely on the rest of your look, or even how you tucked it or if you decided to cuff the sleeves. In this case, I enjoyed the way the tee hid more of my curves and gave me a flatter look, and it was indeed moisture wicking, even under some super intense conditions (see 95 degrees F and humid).

The joggers were also cute and had deep, zippered pockets that I think I shoved an entire paperback in at one point, and the midweight fabric is actually quite warm which meant that after the plane ride, they didn’t re-emerge from my backpack until I got to Japan. The pullover shocked me with how quick-drying it was, and though it sadly does not come in black, I will never forget wringing it out after washing it in a bathtub only to watch the dark, water-logged gray magically lighten back to its usual light heather gray as I squeezed. Nothing dried instantly, mind you, but when I was doing laundry in bath tubs and hanging it to dry, these items dried reliably and relatively quickly.

Nico models the REI crew neck pullover and 6 inch shorts

Serious face (or sun in my face, you decide). Here I am wearing the crewneck pullover and also the 6″ shorts.

All in all, the moisture wicking was real (and often more real than, I think, some other fabrics I’ve tried that didn’t quite hold up to expectations), movement was easy, and pockets were both secure and ample — and I was able to find my correct sizes using the chart, without running back and forth between sections of a store or comparing a “men’s” and a “women’s” version of something. In testing, it felt like REI accomplished what they set out to do with these pieces. “We talk a lot about inclusive design at the co-op,” Vishwanath said, “and really, really centering the experiences of those most marginalized in order to improve the experience for everyone, and I think this is a proof point of that for us.”

Vishwanath talked about her personal relationship with the outdoors: “For a long time, the outdoor industry has been the opposite of inclusive. It’s been very exclusive, and has a very narrow definition of who participates in time outside and what that looks like. And so, that was part of my personal reason for wanting to even work at REI, was I never saw myself as part of this story, when we all know a lot of us have deep, intrinsic, relationships with nature and that those just haven’t been a part of the narrative. And so, from a high level, I care a lot about disrupting that narrative, so more people feel like they belong and are seen.” Grilz followed by saying, from her point of view, “I think that giving folks and consumers who have, for so long, been kind of disregarded or not thought of in different processes, a space to come in and feel seen, and the thousands of conversations and feedback that I’ve had from people of what that feeling feels like when finally you’re not frustrated and you feel like you can go into a space safely and walk out with a product that makes you feel really, really good — there is nothing like hearing that from somebody.”

So what’s in the future for REI and non-gendered products? They’re going to continue to take the “community-first” approach that informed this collection while they look into expanding in this space and with gear. They look at community feedback via surveys and reviews as well as feedback they receive directly from employees in stores. Vishwanath and Grilz emphasized, both, that this non-gendered collection is just the beginning of more gender-inclusive product design.

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Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.


  1. The main thing I want from a non-gendered line is that the company who sells is does not violate labour laws and is not guilty of union busting. REI appear not to be a company that meets these requirements. Pass.

    • To offer a different perspective on this: REI actively has workers unionizing. It’s really important (and this is an idea commonly held in progressive worker organizing!) to NOT boycott a place unless the unionizing workers specifically call for it. Boycotts can harm the workers and sometimes ultimately provide an excuse for a business to provide a financial excuse to do layoffs, shut down a store, or relocate a workplace – it’s rarely a tactic used in labor for that reason and I’ve personally seen it go wrong and harm queer workers specifically. The best thing to do is support the workers, follow their lead on actions (they’ve got a petition to sign on their website), not cross an active picket, and be in solidarity with them. If you choose not to shop somewhere that is of course up to you, but want to offer this perspective for folks to weigh and caution against publicly encouraging a boycott unless a collective of workers request it!

      • I tried to post this before but it didn’t go through for some reason.

        I didn’t read this comment as a call to boycott and I think it’s kind of extreme to characterize it as such. I do think it’s very reasonable to call out REI’s active union busting, especially in a post that is pinkwashing REI by touting “inclusivity” and “community-first” approach. Union busting is actively harming REI’s community.

        Buy the clothes or not, but support the workers either way. Here’s their petition, we all should sign it – https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/rei-stop-union-busting

        • REI is also EXTREMELY difficult with preferred names. I had to argue my way to level two customer support before they would (very begrudgingly) change the name on my REI membership to my preferred name.

          They kept insisting with proof of name change it would be quite easy, but without they couldn’t due to “fraud protection”. It took me 30 minutes and my girlfriend finally intervening and also talking to them before they’d accept that I didn’t want to have to deadname myself to buy a water bottle and could they please just update their system.

          It was wild to me how difficult they were about it. Non-paid discount programs haven’t blinked an eye, and even paid ones (like Barnes and Noble) were like oh sure of course we can process payments under one name and list you by another. Even freaking AMAZON has no issues with not deadnaming me while happily taking payment under my deadname.

          It really soured me on REI’s whole “we’re soooo supportive” thing, because they made it so incredibly difficult and it required arguing with several folks. And they felt they were truly justified because “it’s a paid membership”, like ok? So’s my health insurance and my doctor still knows which name to call me by and which name to bill so what’s the damn issue?

  2. I love this! So happy REI is continuing to support autostraddle! Ordered the pink shorts for myself right after reading it, cause I’ve loved how well active wear shorts last in my daily life!

  3. Yeah, I mean, I’ve stuck with REI because I guess co-op and I guess in the past they were pretty good about funding stuff, but a lot of the decisions they’ve made over the past few years kind of suck. Also, OUTSIDE IS NOT EVEN REMOTELY FREE and while there is good, long-lasting stuff at REI, IDK. This feels kind of tone-deaf. They just laid off a ton of people under some guise of “the outdoor boom is over” but come on, bullshit. I know it must be nice to wear cute clothes and I’m glad I guess someone is funding A/S because … yeah. In the age of Defector and Flaming Hydra and Welcome To Hell World, I guess we’re just reading a blog spun off from a VC binder company. :(

  4. I am really disappointed to see Autostraddle supporting REI. I get y’all have to keep the lights on, but I have really appreciated the intersectionality I usually see on this site and I am not seeing that in this article. Promoting a notorious union-buster that is currently and actively trying to suppress workers is not what I expected, and I am really disappointed. I hope Autostraddle will realize this mistake and move forward with more integrity.

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