Experimental evidence and meta-analyses offer some support for gender-related differences in visuo-spatial ability. However, few studies addressed this issue in an ecological context and/or in everyday tasks implying spatial abilities, such as geographical orientation. Moreover, the relation of specific strategies and gender is still unclear. In the present investigation, we compared men and women in a newly designed battery of spatial orientation tasks in which landmark, route and survey knowledge were considered. In addition, four visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM) tasks were presented. Significant differences favouring men in VSWM tasks were reported, supporting existing evidence. However, men and women did not significantly differ in orientation tasks performance. The patterns of correlation between working memory and spatial orientation tasks indicated that men and women used somewhat different strategies in carrying out the orientation tasks. In particular, active processes seem to play a greater role in females' performance, thus confirming the importance of this variable in interpreting gender effect in VSWM tasks. Altogether, results indicate that gender effects could well result from differences in cognitive strategies and support data indicating that adequate training could reduce or eliminate them. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.