The hardest part about getting into hiking, for me, was figuring out what the heck I was supposed to wear and what I should bring with me. It can feel intimidating to go on even a short hike when you’re not familiar with the activity, and wading through online advice to decide what is a necessity can be super overwhelming. And for me, as a fat girl, there was the added layer of feeling stressed that most athletic clothes didn’t fit my body and feeling vulnerable to ask for help and guidance because I was worried I would be judged or ridiculed for my size and beginner capabilities.
That’s a lot to unpack when you’re just trying to take a short stroll on a nice trail!
From the very beginning of my hiking journey (which has included 450 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago, and many many many day hikes in between!) REI Co-op was a place I knew I could go and get attention and care that felt affirming. Recently, REI has committed to stocking extended sizes in so many of their clothing products, which is a huge deal to me and other fat babes and has made the co-op my go-to place to shop for plus size hiking clothes that feel good on my fat bod. These items are currently available online at rei.com/plus, and in 2020 REI will have women’s sizes 16 – 3X available in 32 locations, and growing. It’s honestly dreamy to walk into an REI store looking for hiking gear and know that I won’t have to leave in tears because nothing fits me, and I’m so excited for REI to stock these items in even more stores in the upcoming year. In the meantime, their online store is extremely user-friendly and the return and exchange process is painless, making it easy to experiment with buying plus size clothes online.
This holigay season, with the help of REI, I’ve put together a gift guide for hiking as a fat girl! This guide will work if you’re not plus-size too, as REI stocks clothing in a huge diverse array of sizes, but it feels particularly exciting to include clothes that extend to 3X. I’ve also included hiking accessories and an abbreviated list of the 10 essentials. Your particular hiking needs may differ than mine – for example if you’re in Southern California you’ll probably be wearing a t-shirt and maybe skipping the gloves – and you may find your personal essential items aren’t the exact same as this list, but this is the guide I wish someone had pressed into my hands when I was first starting to explore cold weather hiking many moons ago.
And I will say this – I have never ever walked into an REI or browsed their online shop and found that I had trouble finding things to buy…so if you’re an outdoorsy babe or looking to become an outdoorsy babe and nothing on this list speaks to you (nothing?? Really?!?!) I would encourage you to pop into your local REI or check out their online store…I promise I won’t tell that all the items in your shopping bag are really for you, not the friends / lovers / family members on your holigay shopping list!
First things first, what to put on your body when you go hiking? I like to pick clothes I can layer (getting sweaty on a hike is uncomfortable and also depending on the conditions can lead to hypothermia!) and move around in easily, and I like them to be cute because duh. These ankle pants actually fit as regular length pants on me because I’m short, and they’re the most comfy pants I’ve ever hiked in – very durable and breathable! Mix and match with the shirt options – I love a solid long sleeve base layer, and I recently paired it with this flannel for a cute and functional autumnal morning jaunt. Depending on your preference you may want to go with the fleece or the down jacket as your outer layer – I rarely take both, but it’s always a hard choice. As a babe with big boobs, I have yet to find something better than this sports bra – it’s got adjustable straps and a snap close at the back, and I can breathe in it while still feeling supported. Skip cotton when you’re going to be hiking – it retains moisture which is bad for your bod in general but especially bad for your nether regions – and go with synthetic fabric for your undies. And top the whole look off with Darn Tough socks – with a lifetime warranty guarantee! – and Danner hiking boots. Boom, you’re ready for the trails, babe. And you look amazing.
What’s in my hiking bag? So glad you asked. The bag itself is a great Osprey day pack, with lots of pockets and different compartments to store my chapstick, maps, and most importantly, snacks! I like to throw some extra layering items into my pack on chilly days – I’ll usually include a buff, a warm hat, and some gloves for a casual day hike. A water bottle is an essential (a good rule of thumb is to anticipate drinking 1/2 liter of water for every mile you hike, though I’ll admit I have a lot of water scarcity anxiety and usually overestimate just to be safe or so I can share with other hikers) and this one is so cute and gay. I also always have a bandana tied onto my pack – it has many uses, but most important to me is its function as a pee rag. Not sure if this is still controversial or not, but I stand by it! I couldn’t choose between the Pride bandana and the Force of Nature bandana – they are both so good! – so I’ve included both. We’re also going to pop a trucker hat (with my favorite national park logo!) on our heads to keep our faces protected from the sun and the heat inside our bods, and we’ll be taking polarized sunglasses along with us to protect our eyes and make sure we look very, very cool. Last but not least: hiking poles! Not everyone uses these, but when I started hiking with them they changed my whole life. Hiking poles are great if you feel a lot of stress in your knees when you hike, if you’re nervous about going downhill in certain terrain, and if you’d like to conserve your energy to allow yourself to go longer distances. Since introducing hiking poles into my life I can’t ever picture hiking without them. If you’re on the fence, I truly couldn’t recommend them more – they’re life changing!
Abbreviated 10 Essentials
Ah, the ten essentials. Contrary to popular belief, the ten essentials are not actually a set-in-stone list of rules about what you must bring on every single hike, but rather a suggested guide about how to think about going into the wilderness. My ten essentials look different depending on the length of my hike, if it’s a day hike or an overnight (or multiple overnights), the terrain, the weather, the group size, etc. The point of the ten essentials is to encourage you to take care and be intentional when going on a hike. For the purposes of this gift guide, my essentials are actually nine, and they assume that we’re going on a group day hike in moderate temperatures. We’ve got sunscreen and Body Glide, because sun protection is a necessity for all humans and avoiding chafing is a necessity for this fat babe. A first-aid kit, a small knife, matches, a compass (and the knowledge of how to use one, paired with relevant maps for your area) and a headlamp always feel important to me to take, even if there’s not a strong likelihood I’ll be using any of them on a short afternoon hike. As I mentioned above, I am a person who has some water scarcity feelings when hiking, so if I know there are going to be bodies of water on the trail, I’ll pack my water filter – this one is so light and easy to use, it always feels silly to leave at home when it can provide so much comfort in my pack. And finally, I always hike with an emergency bivy (as a fat person I use the 2-person one just for myself), even if I’m just going out for a couple of hours – just in case.
Happy hiking, homos! I look forward to seeing you out there.