Wearable technology and small wrists: The ever-present frustrating quandary.
A call for more inclusive design
Tech design is notoriously male-centric, and most tech is designed for the average-sized (white, straight, cis) dude. If you’ve ever struggled to use your phone one-handed and wondered what happened to slimmer phone design, you’ll know what I mean. Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearable tech is no exception:
Way back in 2014, an article by Libby Plummer made a plea for more female-centric design in wearable tech. Her argument was more about aesthetics and less about fit and size, mind you. And unfortunately, the major tech companies seem to have listened: Today, there are more smartwatches and fitness trackers than ever designed for women, but their “female-friendly” features are more about being pretty, offering pink straps or jewellery-based ones, and including features like menstrual cycle tracking on their apps. Unfortunately, very few of them seem to have noticed that women, by and large, have smaller wrists than men.
The petite wrist challenge
Statistically, according to Nutritioneering, the average adult wrist size in the United States is is 6.5-7.2 inches (16.5-18.3 cm), while the average wrist size for women is 5.7-6.2 inches (14.6-15.7 cm).
My wrists, on the other hand, are barely 5 inches (12.7cm) around. This puts me in a size range that is statistically smaller than the 1st percentile for adult women.
This has led to a lifetime of having to remove links in bracelets, shorten watch straps, and wear wristbands on my ankles so they wouldn’t slip off. I’ve long since given up on the idea of buying bangle bracelets or other costume jewellery, and I usually have to shop in the kids’ section for gloves.
On the bright side, if I ever get arrested, I bet I can Harry Houdini my way out of the handcuffs pretty easily. (Just kidding. Maybe.)
Fitness trackers by band size
Needless to say, the fitness tracker market hasn’t exactly created a lot of petite-friendly options for people like me. Here are the standard “small” band size ranges that come with the main choices on the market:
|Brand||Model||Band Size (Small)||Band Size (Large)|
|Fitbit||Charge 5||5.5" - 7.1"||6.7" - 8.3"|
|Fitbit||Inspire 3||5.5" - 7.1"||7.1" - 8.7"|
|Fitbit||Luxe||5.3" - 7.1"||7.1" - 9.0"|
|Garmin||Vivosmart||5.0" - 6.8"||6.1" - 8.7"|
|Garmin||Lily||4.3" - 6.9"||One Size|
|Apple||Apple Watch (41mm)||5.1" - 6.3"||5.5" - 7.1"|
|Samsung||Galaxy Watch (40mm)||5.5" - 7.1"||7.1" - 8.3"|
|Fitbit||Ace (Kids)||4.6" - 6.6"||One Size|
Other than the Fitbit Ace, which is designed for kids in very childish designs and with an extremely limited feature set, there isn’t a whole lot out there on the market in terms of a fitness tracker that fits a petite wrist.
There are a couple more options for smartwatches, if you want to go that route. The Apple Watch has a wide range of different bands and accessories that come in custom sizing, though a 5″ wrist is still a size 1 (the smallest size) in most of them. Garmin has the Lily, a women’s-specific smartwatch that is advertised to fit wrists with a circumference of 110-175 mm (4.3″ – 6.9″), though I haven’t had the opportunity to test this.
Fitbit Luxe review
Not a big fan of smartwatches, I recently purchased a Fitbit Luxe, the smallest and daintiest fitness tracker in the Fitbit lineup:
The tracker ships with two sized bands, a small and a large. The small is meant to fit wrists with a circumference of 5.3″ – 7.1″. By wearing it slightly higher on my wrist, above my regular (dumb) wristwatch, I have found, though, that the original plastic strap feels pretty snug on my 5″ wrist. There’s a bit of a gap, but it doesn’t slide around or fall off. I can wear it either on the smallest hole, or, for a little more comfort, on the second-smallest.
The tracker itself is about 35mm long by 15mm wide, so it sits on my wrist without leaving too much of a gap on either side, which is sometimes the issue with trackers that are longer or larger. It’s not ideal, but it’s wearable.
Because of my tiny wrists, I sometimes have a tough time getting the tracker to pick up some of the metrics it is meant to measure. Resting heart rate is usually tracked more or less okay. O2 saturation, which some of the newer fitness trackers claim to mention, is not measured very accurately, on the other hand; when I compare it to the stats on my standalone pulse oximeter, I find that the Fitbit has a tougher time getting a reading and is often a bit off. Other than that, though, I’d say that the Fitbit Luxe is a decent option for petites.
Unfortunately, Fitbit hasn’t been all that interested in creating trackers and bands for extra-small wrists. Multiple community feature suggestions have gone unanswered over the years by the product development team. It’s frustrating enough that I’d happily switch to a company that made a tracker for petites. Unfortunately, none have really bothered to try.
What about after-market bands?
Take a quick peek on Amazon or any online shopping site and you’ll see tons of after-market replacement straps and bands for just about every popular model of fitness tracker on the market. Most of the trackers sold today allow you to change the bands, so it should be easy to remove a too-long strap and replace it with a shorter one. Right?
Well, not exactly.
For my previous Fitbit, the Alta HR, purchased back in 2017, I was able to swap out the band it came with for a compatible band designed for the previous generation of Fitbit Ace, which fit my tiny wrist perfectly. They were available for under ten bucks, and made for a pretty ideal solution, given that both trackers used the same connectors and their bands were interchangeable.
Unfortunately, while my current Fitbit, the Luxe, boasts a wide range of straps in different materials and designs, unfortunately, none of them are compatible with the current kids’ models. I’ve tried ordering several replacement bands on Amazon, but all have been too big and I’ve had to return them. I could probably get some extra holes punched in a nylon or leather band, and perhaps trim it by cutting off the edge, but it seems like an awful lot of trouble to customize a strap so that the tracker won’t fall off my wrist.
For now, I’m using the band that it came with. If I find any after-market sleeker or shorter band options, I’ll let you know.
Other tracker options
There are fitness trackers that are meant to clip onto your clothes or worn as other non-wrist accessories. Some of the Fitbit models, including the Inspire, allow for this. Bellabeat is another company that makes jewellery-style trackers, like the clip-on Leaf.
Unfortunately, clip-on trackers have a few major downsides: You have to remember to switch them from one outfit to the next every time you change your clothes, they are easier to lose, and they often can’t measure heart rate or other health metrics.
Petite wrists and fitness trackers
Ultimately, there are still very few petite-friendly options on the market for fitness trackers or smartwatches. Those that exist tend to be large, clunky, and ill-fitting on women with small wrists. A few have more petite-friendly designs, but you will definitely have to shop around and try on before you buy, and expect to wear the trackers on the smallest settings.
I’d like to call on the major players in this space to make more options available in a wide range of sizes to fit all wrists. After all, wrist size isn’t something we can easily change.
Data privacy: A word of caution
Most of my readers are Canadian, but we can’t help but be concerned about the privacy of our readers worldwide, especially given the political situation south of the border. With the recent US reversal of Roe V Wade, and the move by many US states to limit access to safe abortion, women should take care not to disclose too much personal information related to their menstrual cycles in apps or other tracker software.
Most of the trackers and smartwatches I mention on this blog are linked to apps within the Google, Apple, Samsung, or other major tech player ecosystems. While it can be really convenient to have this info tracked in an app, the potential data privacy issues are serious. To be on the safe side, many experts are urging women to use caution when tracking period data. If you’re reading this, please consider carefully whether you should disable this function or delete this data if you’re using a wearable fitness tracker.