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.

Cinderella Slippers

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.

ChubRub

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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Comments 29

  • Jackie M : Jan 16th

    Awesome article! Useful information shared while sending good vibes and encouragement to all outdoor folks.

    Reply
  • Brandon Chase : Jan 17th

    Good luck! Looking forward to seeing you crush miles on the trail this spring!

    Reply
    • Kristi : Sep 27th

      Thank you so much for this! I just began hiking and have been training for a 26 mile hike. I’ve felt so defeated as the “fat girl” that couldn’t keep up and guilty for needing an extra snack. I came to your page looking for places to buy plus sized clothing and am leaving feeling like I can do this! Thank you!

      Reply
  • Maggie “Bubbles” Campbell : Jan 17th

    Love that someone wrote an article about larger people in the outdoors.! Thanks 🙂

    A few clothing recommendations for women
    -Columbia has plus sized hiking pants that are convertible. The zipper that converts the pants into shorts was a little tight on my thick thighs, but could work for someone else.
    -Columbia also has large size rain pants/and rain jackets
    LLbean has a great selection of plus size hiking pants, shirts, jackets.
    -Duluth clothing has awesome hiking pants. I would recommend the men’s pants.
    -Baselayers can be found at Walmart in the hunting section for men. They are lightweight and lasted me for an entire thru hike on the AT.
    -SUPERFIT HERO.!!! My favorite leggings.! They are made to last and don’t roll down.
    -if you have wide/large feet And like boots Keens and lowas worked for me. I couldn’t find a trail runner that was wide enough. I went with New Balance tennis shoes and they worked great for me.

    Good luck on your AT 2018 thru-hike.!
    And don’t get discouraged by people’s comments. When I thru-hiked in 2016 I had countless people tell me I didn’t “look like a thru-hiker” blah blah blah. And say all sorts of silly things to me.! I proved them all wrong when I successfully thru-hiked while most of them didn’t finish/skipped parts of the trail or weren’t even hikers.! Boom.! Kick ass, Chicka.!

    Reply
  • Alesha : Jan 17th

    Dude so proud of you! You are living your dreams and inspiring the world each step of the way ♥️

    Reply
  • Ruth morley : Jan 17th

    You have such a fantastic attitude. We would all benefit having hiking partners like you.

    I hope to see you out there in the trail this year.

    Chocoholic.

    Reply
  • WV GANNIE : Jan 18th

    Great article. And great motivation. Good luck on your adventure. I am anxious to hear more from you as you trek the trail!!!!

    Reply
  • Ian : Jan 18th

    Crush it Ashley! You’ve always been able to do anything you’ve set you’re mind to! Send me a post card from Katahdin!

    Reply
  • Paul Wayne Dominy (Preacher-man : Jan 19th

    Enjoy and Keep moving.

    Reply
  • Matt : Jan 19th

    Great article and very well written. I am so glad to see this topic in an article because it can be very frustrating as a “big hiker”. The most frustrating part for me would have to be the clothing. I’m a big guy at 6’4″ and 325 and a size 14 wide shoe. I feel like some of the manufacturers are almost discriminating against larger hikers. I’m in fairly decent shape in that I could go run a mile right now without passing out but clothes are either too small in the chest (I’m very barrel chested) or to short ie. belly shirts lol. One tip I will give as far as finding clothes is to look at hunting clothes. I am a life long deer hunter and I realized most of the clothes that are made for hunting are very similar to that of hiking clothes and since there are plenty of big redneck deer hunters out there (such as myself lol) the manufacturers cater better to larger folks. Thank you again for the article and keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Tony : Oct 3rd

      I was thinking the same thing. 6′ 3. 345lbs and hunting clothes are the best for outdoors. Most are made to last and are comfortable.

      Reply
  • Caboose : Jan 19th

    Great article. Enjoy your adventure!

    Reply
  • Tonya : Jan 20th

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been needing something like this to help encourage me to not worry about whay people think our say about me hiking. I live hiking and its been a great outlet for me to unwind and enjoy nature.

    I also love the information you provided.
    It’s just not out there for plus sized hikers. I’ve been going to Wal-Mart for my hiking clothes because its so hard to find things i need in my size. I’ll use the info you gave and from those who commented to find me some better items now.

    Thank you and good luck on your thru hike!

    Reply
  • Thank you! : Jan 28th

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m a larger lady planning to section hike the AT a bit this spring/summer and was feeling nervous about it… your post gave me confidence!

    Reply
    • Arlette Laan : Jan 29th

      I was just at the workplace of lightheart gear and she’s launching a hiking clothing line for women going up to 3X I believe. I’ve been hiking in her long sleeve shirt the last week and it’s so comfortable! I can’t wait for the dress design she’s working on.

      Reply
  • Stacia Bennett : Jan 31st

    You go girl! We are out here, even if some parts of the outdoor industry like to pretend we aren’t. Best of luck on your thru-hike. I’m a fellow plus-size hiker and I live in Franklin NC, so reach out if you need anything or want a contact for when you pass through the area!

    Reply
  • Lieselotte : Feb 1st

    Great article! I myself am plussize and planning to sectionhike the AT this spring/summer. I’ve been wondering if I was crazy for even thinking I could do this as it’s so hard to find clothing and all the bloggers and vloggers seem to be skinny. Great to hear from someone I can recognise myself in. Good luck on your tru hike!!

    Reply
  • Denise Haskins : Feb 9th

    My beef is with the retailers. The average woman in America is 5/4″, 166 pounds and size 14. I am 5’1″, 145 pounds and size 12, smaller than the average in all 3 measurements. Yet when I buy clothing at outdoor outfitter stores, I often have to buy either L or XL. How demoralizing! I often think “What do the people who are average or larger, which is more than half the population, wear if I have to wear the largest sizes they make? I have been told that some stores, notably REI, are making larger clothing, but perhaps sizing should be changed too. It works on you psychologically! Why should an average (or even smaller than average) size woman have to wear XL? Creating larger clothing with labels like XXL and XXL is not the answer. Let’s change the sizing system so if you are medium sized, you wear an M. No wonder larger people avoid hiking…clothing stores treat them as if they have no business hiking!

    Reply
  • Heather : Feb 9th

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and helpful article. I also am a plus size hiker and equestrian. As someone who struggled to find hiking pants that are comfortable and last, I would like to share a gear tip. I have hiked, fly fished, and gone canoeing in plus size English full seat riding breeches for 15+years. They are designed to be flexible (think mounting and dismounting a horse), and work great for me on the trail, especially in colder weather. I have used Kerrits windpro full seat breeches extensively for colder days on the trail, and they are comfortable, warm and rugged. Plus it is easy to pull rain pants or another layer on over them if the occasion requires. I encourage fellow hikers to think about giving English riding breeches a try (full seat for durability purposes).

    Reply
  • Anita : Feb 9th

    Thank you you for this well written and kind article. Also the comments that others have posted are awesome. Hope to see you all on the trails.

    Reply
  • HJ Grant : Feb 9th

    Awesome article & perspective, Ashley! Best wishes on The AT!

    Reply
  • Jenny Bruso : Feb 9th

    Ashley, I have been dying for articles like this. From one fat hiker to another, THANK YOU! I’ll be sharing far and wide (not making a fat joke… or am I?!?!)

    Reply
  • LJ : Feb 9th

    Ashley, saw your post through a link from enlightened equipment. Congratulations on your decision to thru-hike and I wish you well. I am in my 50’s and have felt like or been the fattest person on the trail for many years– even when down 100 pounds and hiking much harder/longer terrain, then the proportion of super-fit lean and crunchy types is greatly increased even though there are less folks overall and you STILL get to be the biggest person out there. In a decade or two I’ll get to be the oldest, too, ha ha. I’ll never forget being moo’ed at in an EMS store … it was 30 years ago and a bunch of arrogant jerks but hate from strangers sticks. You hit on the keys… slow and steady… build yourself up… and celebrate that you are OUT there. Regardless of your size, there are plenty of folks who are thinner who are laying on the couch or sitting on the computer and you’re out there DOING something. Good luck.

    Reply
  • Hikesandbikes : Feb 10th

    Skirts. I’m a big believer in skirts. I wear a long Macabi skirt when I hike. When it’s hot, the cool breezes come up and cool your legs. When it’s cooler, you layer with leggings and/or rain pants. These skirts dry in a flash. They have deep pockets and a zippered security pocket. I burn easily, so I’m almost covered head to toe.

    Congratulations Ashley on your thru hike this year.

    Reply
  • Tracy Novak : Feb 11th

    Great article. I’m a 57-year-old, size 16 female hiker who shouted, “THANK YOU, ASHLEY MANNING” when you mentioned how hard it is to find anything above a size 12. Bigger men don’t seem to have this problem at the national retail stores. They carry bigger men’s sizes, just not women’s.

    Thank you so much for writing this article.

    Reply
  • Yana : Apr 5th

    Thank you for this great article, you go girl. Enjoy the moments -yana from malaysian

    Reply
  • Sara : May 22nd

    Thank you for writing this. So glad to see fellow plus size hikers getting out there!

    Reply
  • Serena : Sep 4th

    I have recently hiked my first high peak and you are so right about taking your time. I wasn’t up and down like everyone else, I was passed by so many other hikers. I did it though and in my own time. The other hikers were very friendly and encouraging. I swear I got a standing ovation when I reached the top lol. I had alot of fun and am now addicted to hiking. I am so glad I am not the only plus sized hiker, and I am grateful to the many other hikers that didn’t make me feel less than or inadequate. It was a great experience. I did however spend the next day on the couch recovering because I took on a huge challenge (the second highest high peak in NY) for my first high peak. Lol I dont regret a minute of it! Happy hiking 😁

    Reply
  • Debbi : Oct 3rd

    Great article! Thanks for being encouraging and inspirational. My husband and I enjoy hiking so much but neither of us are small, we get winded easliy in the beginning of the year but as you said, we get stronger! It is extremely intimidating going into a store to buy clothes that are geared toward the smaller frame. We LOVE LOVE LOVE the folks at our local REI store, have never ever been looked at as anything other than a fellow hiker! Even found out my pack frame was not as big as I had originally thought. They were phenomenal!
    I’ve found cuddleduds at sams club for base layers and they are super stretchy and comfy! Also love pants that are stretchy so they aren’t based necessarily off of your pant size but rather L, XL. And they move with you and not restrict you. Keep moving and writing, loved the article! ❤️

    Reply

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