A Guide to Plus-Size Gear and Clothing for Backpacking

If you’re anything like me (and the fact that you’re reading this tells me you are), then you have had a hard time finding proper gear for backpacking and hiking. When will outdoor retailers realize that not everyone has the same body type? I mean, women had a hard enough time when the industry decided “shrink it and pink it” was what all that women needed. We have hips, for crying out loud! Just use your eyes! Speaking of hips, we also have thighs and curves and oh-so-voluptuous booties. All bodies are varying in height, weight, crevices, and thickness… but I was for sure the most curvaceous woman on the Appalachian Trail that I saw.

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time, in fact, my entire outdoor life. As my social media presence blossomed, I began to realize that there were so many of us plus-size folks who want to be outdoors but are just so aggravated to try to find gear. I’ll be the first to tell you that it was years of trial and error for me. However, some people don’t have the time to hop from store to store, some people don’t have the money to blow on gear that may or may not work or fit well. Well, my large friends, look no further because I’m about to break down what I (and others) have found to be efficient or not efficient plus size gear and clothing.

Best Plus-Size Gear and Clothing for Backpacking

Osprey Aura 50L Pack

While on the Appalachian Trail, I used Osprey’s Aura 50L pack. This is a popular pack for many reasons, like being well-ventilated and having several pockets and access points. It’s well known for the innovative AntiGravity suspension system that makes it feel like you’re carrying less weight than you actually are. Personally, I loved the way it fit around my waist. A problem with packs that I’ve found is that they typically don’t go around big hips; rather, they sit on top of hips. This pack sat comfortably in a position that did not rub or hurt. The only place that did cause issue was on top of my butt, but a quick adjustment to the pack solved that pretty quickly. I began my journey carrying about 40 pounds, and ended around 32 with full water and food. Some people will suggest a lighter pack, and that’s fine; personally, I enjoyed the comfort of the hip belts and shoulder pads.

Deuter AirContact 50L

Although I do not have personal experience with this pack, I have had other plus-size people tell me that Deuter was most comfortable for them. Instagram user SlowCurious told me that he had a problem with the waist straps and Deuter sent him extra webbing.

Torrid Activewear Leggings and Bra

Photo by Lindsey Brown

While most people can walk right into any outdoor retail store and find a pair of hiking pants/shorts and a bra, this is where life becomes a little difficult for us bigger folks. I don’t know the last time I saw a size 18 in an REI, if ever. Torrid is used for plus size fashion, but I’ve found their activewear withstands a good bit of chubrub and hardship.

The leggings you see in the photo above were my everyday leggings until they finally ripped for good at Four Pines Hostel. I switched to another pair for Torrid leggings after that, which are still good to go. The sports bra in this photo is also still killin’ it (lol). A good tip is to just keep a needle and thread on you. Your stuff is going to deteriorate and so will everyone else. It’s cool to be able to fix your stuff instead of continuing to blow money on new clothes.

ExOfficio Underwear

Personally, the XXL hipster underwear fits me. But it’s on the border of no-go. For anyone with larger hips, thighs, and booty, this isn’t going to work. However…

ChaffreeUnderwear

…These go up to a XXXL. Unfortunately, I have not found a reliable brand with good reviews for folks who wear over an XXXL. Please let me know if you do, so I can include.

Nike Pro Compression Shorts (Mens)

Bryana Lee, instagram bry4mann.

Chafing is such a big deal, not only for chubby thighs, but for everyone. Nike has been recommended a few times to me and some of my friends. These shorts certainly work for me, as well as a few Instagram friends I asked awhile back, like Bryana Lee (IG: bry4mann). Nike also goes up to a 4X-long.

Patagonia Jackets

For the cold nights I had an XL Patagonia Puff with a hood that I wore under an XXL Patagonia fleece pullover.

This generally kept me warm, I also had a couple of Walmart brand base layers, but I’ll get to Walmart later.

Columbia Jackets and Pants

Instagram user: auntmaypeace

When I reached out on Instagram, I recieved a lot of response about Columbia. Both users leighmingle and auntmaypeace expressed to me that they are huge fans of Columbia. As I did more research, I realized Columbia is one of the few outdoor brands that size up to a 4XL, as well as carrying women’s pants all the way up to a 24. Great job, Columbia.

Marmot Lightweight Utility Pants

Marmot only goes up to a size 16/XL for women. However, they do offer up to a size 40/XL for men.

Frogg Toggs

Oh yes, the infamous Frogg Toggs. I carried my rain jacket by them the entire way, and I still have it. The jacket is great for windbreaking and keeping heat in, surprisingly. The pants were not large enough and I ripped them on my first day out there, so be aware. I had an XL in jacket and pants, but they go up to an XXL.

Kylmit Sleeping Pad

This sleeping pad was my choice while on the AT. I used the Static V Ultralight sleeping pad, but there’s a wider version called the Static V Luxe Ultralight sleeping pad. During the night, I tend to roll and flop about so this sleeping pad was made for me. It isn’t the most cushion you’ll get but it’s pretty sturdy and doesn’t slide around as much as other sleeping pads.

Big Agnes Sleeping Pad

Big Agnes sleeping pads are comfy, for sure. I didn’t use one on the trail, but I have slept on a few here and there. These are thicker than the Klymit but I don’t feel the material is very thick, which could possibly create problems in the future if you were to cowboy camp. They are also don’t have very many wide versions of this pad.

Nemo Jam 15 Sleeping Bag

I am not a fan of mummy bags. I feel very restricted and they are usually not made for my body type. Luckily, NEMO was thinking out of the box when they created their unique and comfortable sleeping bags. On their website, they call them Spoon Bags, because of the fun shape that the bag has. I loved every second I slept in this bag. I was able to move around and I didn’t feel so confined. There was also room for my hips, which is always such a pain for finding a sleeping bag.

Big Agnes Hog Park 20 Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes luckily stays pretty true to its name. They have made a sleeping bag that caters to wide and tall people. The Hog Park sleeping bag isn’t the best for backpacking, but rather a weekend trip or maybe car camping. It’s comfortable for people who can’t seem to find a sleeping bag that fits around those shoulders or hips.

Vasque Mesa Trek

Footwear is something that will be different for everyone. My choice for most of the time I was on the trail was the Vasque Mesa Trek. I preferred a boot over a trail runner, I needed something tough. I still have these shoes but I switched them out for the Vasque Saga GTX around mile 500, which ended up rubbing me with heat spots a good bit. The Mesa Trek is a mix between a trail runner and a boot. These shoes breath well like a trail runner but act like a boot. As a plus size woman, I had to ensure the safety of my feet but purchasing arch support.

Superfeet Green

Speaking of arch support, these were the supports I ended up using for a good bit of the trail. Everyone is different, so some people dislike these supports. It’s all about trial and error with shoes and support, though.

Walmart Clothing and Gear

While it isn’t everyone’s first choice, I walked the AT with a synthetic Walmart T-shirt and two long-sleeve Walmart base layers. They worked great and didn’t deteriorate. The rain pants you see in the photo above were Walmart men’s rain pants that were able to unzip at the bottom and roll up. When I’m not backpacking, I have Walmart leggings that I’ll hike or paddle in. I’ve also found lovely fleece-lined leggings at the superstore, as well. This is also a cheaper option for us bigger folks, which is hard to come by. The outdoor brands have been surpassed by Walmart when it comes to considering plus size bodies, so maybe they’ll take it as a challenge.

If you have anything to add or discuss, feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment.

*Disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to be apart of the Thruhikesyndicate and was able to receive my Vasque boots and NEMO sleeping bag for free.

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Comments 13

  • Jenny Oetting : Nov 21st

    I love that you wrote this! Thank you for taking the time to test some products out & shout out some great companies.
    You’re an awesome inspiration to me!

    – @jennyoetting – IG

    Reply
  • Olivia Sons : Nov 21st

    GIRL! This article is great, most people don’t realize how inconvenient it can be to find outdoor gear as a bigger person. I am on the larger/est of the common sizes held for women (14/16) and I am constantly having issues with gear not fitting or not fitting well. I hope gear companies start to hear us, growing and shrinking a mold isn’t how larger/smaller bodies are shaped! I can attest that Wal-Mart carries a wider variety and so many of their clothes (specifically pants/leggings) are accomodating and great for outdoors. I would encourage larger women not to only look for outdoor gear in outdoor gear clothing lines, they’re happening but don’t get discouraged when your size isn’t represented. I use eBay to find more obscure brands, KNOW YOUR MEASUREMENTS not sizes because sizes vary drastically. Search by material and measurements not by what the clothes are marketed as (ex. neoprene is sold as “weight loss” clothes in our sizes on eBay but we can’t find them from NRS, but if you search XXL neoprene pants, they do exist). Happy adventuring!

    Reply
  • Pamela : Nov 21st

    Thanks for the article. just a note that REI does carry plus just online. Also not mentioned was Eddie Bauer- they have plus size and their regular size clothes go up to size 20 and XXL.

    Reply
  • Emily : Nov 24th

    For any plus sized petite hikers, Columbia is a good option but Target has petite athletic pants for cheaper up to XXL. For packs petite plus sized women can’t go wrong with Gossamer Gear. They allow you to choose your belt size separately from your torso size. I have a pack that’s a small torso and XL belt. Very comfortable. I sleep with a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. Enlightened Equipment quilts are made to order and you can get a wide quit that’s short or long depending on your height. Unfortunately Lucy went out of business last year but North Face has started making some of their items and says they will be making them in “extended” sizes. Hike on ladies!

    Reply
  • Michael : Nov 24th

    This is a great article. I’m a short guy and very broad in the shoulders. I used to be able to wear a large or XL in most brands. However finding something that fit and didn’t hang to my knees has been tough. Prana is almost out of the question and Patagonia used to be fine but their slim size XL is snug. I think a lot of these companies don’t want people that aren’t “ideal” being seen in their clothing.

    Reply
  • Artemis on the Trail : Nov 24th

    I refuse to support clothing lines who refuse to allow me into their demographics as I lose weight and do fit into their sizing. Despite loosing 80 pounds for my 2019 AT thru, only today could I go to REI and buy an XL woman’s. No more XXL mens clothing. I was contemplating producing a video on this issue. Excellent post. From us big girl hikers…thank you thank you

    Reply
  • Jeremy Pease : Nov 25th

    Coming form a large man who’s wife is also plus size I have to say that it was awesome of you to write an article like this comparing products for plus size woman. I was astonished by the amount of plus size people there were on my 2017 AT attempt. More articles and product reviews for large people need to be done. I hope someone does one for men that are where at least a 3XL or larger. Some people just can’t lose the weight because of either medical issues or in my case I am also very tall. Overall I think it was great of you to write this article for a demographic that is OFTEN ignored in the hiking/outdoor industry.

    Reply
  • Shay : Nov 28th

    THANK YOU! My roommate and I preach this every time we go on the hunt for new clothes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a review on some great piece of clothing only to find out that it is not made in my size. Men’s sizes can offer a good alternative, but men’s pants do not allow for hips. I wish the larger outdoor retailers would get with the program. Us big ladies like to go outside too!

    Reply
  • AJ : Nov 29th

    Walmart for the win! Myself and many other thru hikers I was with ended up hiking in Walmart clothing, and they held up great!

    Great article, happy trails!

    Reply
  • Cristine : Dec 17th

    Ashley: I really enjoyed reading this outstanding article! Yes, active wear is made for tall skinny women! Even if I can find a 16 or 18….the people in this category are not built like this! On the flip side, thanks so much for the information. And, yes, WALMART is not only reasonably priced; the running/hiking wear fits!

    Reply
  • Laura : Feb 21st

    So much ‘yes’ to this!!! I’m tall and a very hippy and booty-full 24 (or 26 depending on the brand) so Columbia doesn’t work for me. I’ve only had success with Columbia and REI pants before going up a size (thanks hormones). Hoping to drop a size or three to make that gear work for me again. Lands End is my go-to for tops. Their fleeces fit SO well, tailored to having boobs and a belly but not looking frumpy. I haven’t tried their pants yet but plan to if I drop down to fit their largest size.

    For pants, I stick with athletic leggings from Lane Bryant. Their leggings are nice and thick and haven’t caused chafing. They’re thick but not hot and they wick pretty well. I have some Nike leggings that I’ve used as well. They wick better but they aren’t quite as thick. As I’m sure everyone here is aware, plus size outdoor gear is all about trade off – we surely can’t have it all. If I’m just going our for a day, I sometimes wear my Sparkle Skirt. They’re adorable skorts, wick well (made for marathoning), and have different shorts lengths under the cute, flowy skirts to fit your preference (I like the long ones to get as close to my knee as possible). Plus, they actually do have pockets! They go up to 3XL.

    As for packs, I absolutely LOVE Osprey! Their hip belts are the only ones that fit comfortably for me. I have a really long torso, so the sweet man at REI informed me that I’d have to get a man’s pack because none of the women’s packs were long enough. He acted like I’d never been told I’d have to get something from the men’s side. Bless him.

    If anyone has problems with chafing and hasn’t tried Body Glide, get some. I put it all over my feet before hikes to prevent rubbing and blisters. And, I’ll slather some on my thighs and any fluffy areas that rub (like pits and bra line).

    I found a “big” (extra width and length) Coleman mummy bag years ago that actually sleeps comfortably for me. I might not work in colder temps, but where I am, it’s great (if not too warm) but might be too heavy for any long hikes. It just barely stuffs into my Osprey Aura, but it fits.

    Thanks so much for this. Options are getting better, but it’s still not great. More conversation is needed! Also, I’m going to check out Chaffree undies right now. I’ve been looking for a 3x and really hope that’ll work!!

    Reply
  • Kim S. : May 1st

    Ashley – Thank you! I am an outdoor educator (scouting and private local ladies group). I often get questions about where and what gear is available for people who are outside the “typical” size range. I am one of those stick people, so I don’t know which brands carry their size. I am keeping your article and blog on my Pinterest board for future reference so I can share it with my plus size adventurers. Stay safe on the trail. Happy wandering to you!

    Reply
  • Martha Fink : Aug 3rd

    As a woman who is 62 inches tall with a 48 inch chest, I share your pain. I have 2 rain jackets from different companies thst were just purchased. Neither of them fit right.
    I get so frustrated looking for outdoor clothes. One of the jacket’s sleeves are so long, I could tie them.in knots below my hands. Also the bottom is big of enough for 2 if me. Best thing I can day is that it goes around my chest.
    The other jacket is better overall except the hood/neck piece comes up over my nose.
    Thanks for allowing me to vent.
    Happy hiking.

    Reply

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