Tips And Tricks For Plus-Size Hikers
When you look through outdoor magazines, watch adventure movies, or even go into most outdoor stores, you typically don’t see plus-size representation. I was told recently, “There is a reason for that.” I understand the thought behind that statement. However, plus-size hikers, heavy boatwomen, and fat people who love the outdoors do exist. There’s an issue in the outdoor community in which the larger are condemned for being larger. There’s a disbelief that larger bodies can also equal strong bodies. Well, take a minute to look up a few of these names: Babe Ruth, Holley Mangold, Diego Maradona, Vince Wilfork.
That’s just naming a few big-bodied athletes. There are plenty of us out here! Not everyone is super thin and does beautiful yoga on a mountain top (OK, maybe we do beautiful yoga on a mountaintop, we’re just not thin). That’s not to say that being thin is a bad thing — it’s just a tad discouraging when there is little to no representation of who you are. So, if you are a bigger person and would like to begin hiking and getting outside, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout the years.
Slow And Easy Wins The Race
If you’re just starting out, it might be challenging to keep up with experienced hikers. That’s perfectly fine! You have to crawl before you walk (hike?), so just take it easy. Rest when you need to and go at your own pace. You’ll build up your strength gradually; no one starts out running straight up mountains.
The More, The Merrier
Find some friends, hike with them. Your friends won’t be judging you on how fast or slow you’re trudging up a mountain. Chances are they’re huffing and puffing too.
Make sure you have proper footwear. I’ve gone hiking with plenty of folks who ended up with aching feet due to their footwear. This is especially true for a plus-size hiker. Having extra weight on your frame can add to risk of injury, like rolling an ankle or hurting your knees. A lot of larger hikers prefer boots with a higher ankle. I use trail runners by Altra, paired with hiking poles.
Know Your Limits
Know your weight and make sure you aren’t putting yourself under unnecessary stress. This means purchasing proper gear and taking care of yourself. Push yourself, but refrain from hurting yourself. Know when you need to rest. Being heavier can put a bit of strain on your joints, I’ve already experienced this in my hips. Be sure to stretch before and after a long hike; this can help prevent future injuries. Set reasonable goals—beginning with a 10-mile hike from Preachers Rock to Blood Mountain might not be the best starting point. Work your way up. Start small and then conquer those large mountains.
Drink Lots Of Water, Eat Properly
This might be an obvious to some, but I’ve taken a few people hiking who didn’t bring water or food. Needless to say, it was a tough day for both of us. One time, we did seven miles in and seven miles out, so 14 miles all together. I brought enough food and water for myself, packing an extra banana just in case. I didn’t realize she hadn’t brought food until we were about 5.5 miles into the trail when she told me she was thirsty and hungry. Your body isn’t adapted to walking 14 miles in one day, most people don’t walk over 2 miles in one day. When you go hiking, you’re doing so much that your body is literally screaming, “What?!” Make sure you bring enough food. Don’t worry about your diet…. if you’re hiking 14 miles in one day, it’s very difficult to consume as many calories as you burn while hiking 14 miles on rough terrain.
Yeah, we got big ol’ thunder thighs, so we’re going to chafe. Like, everywhere. My choice for chafing is usually either Gold Bond or I’ll also use Desitin for my more sensitive lady bits. I like to wear some kind of spandex under my hiking skirts and leggings. I’ve also reinforced some of my hiking pants and leggings on the inner-thigh so they last longer.
Clothing And Gear
If you’re anything above a size 12, you’ve probably had a tough time finding good hiking clothes. For women, Torrid is a great place to find good active wear. Most of their active wear is moisture wicking and actually durable. I’ve worn the same skort and leggings from Torrid for raft guiding for a few years. Underwear and bras are usually difficult to find as well. Ex-Officio makes great underwear; they also size up to an XXL. I personally wear an 18 and can wear the XL underwear from Ex Officio, but everyone is different. Patagonia runs a little larger, so an XXL person can find a jacket or rain gear with them. As for fleece-lined leggings and warm layers, I’ve found a few at Walmart. They don’t last long, but they’re still good for a while. I alternated lined WalMart fleece leggings while I was on the Grand Canyon in December. Get your gear fitted properly. Make sure you’re using a backpack for your size (your back). REI employees are great resources for fitting packs.
Have Fun, Don’t Stress Defeat
There will always be haters, so don’t stress too hard if someone is rude about your weight. Do not let anyone’s words stop you from enjoying what you love because, for the most part, the outdoor community is full of lovely, accepting, and kind people. They want to see you succeed as much as you do. In fact, a lot of people in this community love helping one another. There was a time I couldn’t make it up the side of a canyon wall and my friends were there to help. I literally stood on the shoulders of a sweet guy named Patrick while leaning against the wall. In the end, I was terrified of the height (weird fear I developed while zip line guiding; I wasn’t strapped into anything) and stayed behind. Another friend, Mary, stayed back with me and just chatted while admiring the view. You won’t always get it, and that’s OK.
Don’t worry. If you’re feeling like everyone will look at you or if you can’t keep up with the others, it’s OK. You’ll get stronger with time. Giving up isn’t an option. I would like to say this as well: A lot of people have weight issues due to various reasons. Could be thyroid issues, depression, or any number of reasons. That being said, some might like the way they are. I hope that if you read this, you find useful information whether you’re small or large or somewhere in between. Hiking isn’t about losing weight, it’s about feeling good about yourself and having FUN.
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