Why Should Plus Size Women Have To Shrink Themselves To Access Good Quality Kit? - Outdoors Magic

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Why Should Plus Size Women Have To Shrink Themselves To Access Good Quality Kit?

Ursula Martin, who completed a three-year trek across Europe last year, on the under representation of plus sized hikers, particularly women, by outdoor brands

I don’t bother going into outdoor shops to try on clothes. Years of experience has taught me that they’re highly unlikely to stock anything in my size. My body measures a size 18/20 and it stayed that way for the entire time that I walked 5000 miles across Europe. I’m telling you that early on so you don’t judge me for being unfit whilst daring to ask for high quality technical outdoor clothing in my size.

The depressing experience of searching through racks for the rare possibility of my size and then finding that it’s sized so badly that I can’t wear it properly is completely off-putting. I’m not the only woman who feels this way; an Alpkit survey made as part of their gradual addition of larger sizes to their clothing range (size 18 so far, with sizes 20 and 22 planned), showed completely different shopping experiences between women who are ‘standard’ sizes and those labelled as ‘plus size’.

I had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to my achievements as I posted photos and stories of my 5000-mile walk across Europe, but negative comments still trickled in. “You can’t have walked all that way and still be that size, you must be lying” was one that particularly got to me, as I have very specifically ensured that I did indeed walk all that way. I became used to the silent pause as people’s eyes drifted down over my body and back up again when I stood in front of them and said I was walking long distances.

I was intrigued when I saw an advert from Mountain Equipment seeking size 18/20 fit female models to try on their clothes at the design workshop as feedback into the expansion of their size range. I emailed without thinking about it and was picked to drive up to the offices near Manchester for a fitting.

The nerves were in full force that day. Although I’ve been a life model in the past, the act of standing up to allow other people to assess your body is completely terrifying. It showed throughout the fitting, I could tell in what I was saying that I felt compelled to prove myself as an outdoors person.

“This isn’t a case of people needing to shrink themselves to access good quality outdoor kit.”

Me, a person who has walked 9000 miles in two major journeys and the other model, an international mountain leader, struggling to find adequate clothing to do the activities we make our living from, the things we love.

The fitting was a revelation, not only in the fit of the clothing which was broadly well proportioned with long bodies that fitted nicely around hips and left plenty of room for the swelling of breasts, stomachs and hips, but in how I was treated; it was just another day for these designers, there was no fat shaming whatsoever, no judgement on my body, no verdict, it was just a body with needs relating to being active in the outdoors, there to have clothes fitted to it.

Urusla celebrating her return to her home town and the end of her long walk from Ukraine.

My body is an active body, I realised, no matter what size it is. I walk regularly, I go to the gym, I’ve successfully completed endurance challenges. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to access high quality gear to get outdoors in.

As I talked about this experience online I was contacted by Steph from Every Body Outdoors (Instagram: @every_body_outdoors) who is part of a burgeoning campaign to encourage brands to not only expand their clothing sizes but to put proper sizing charts online for every item in their  range, and include a full range of sizes in their advertising rather than quietly produce clothing in a size 20 but show everything on a size 8 model.

This isn’t a case of people needing to shrink themselves to access good quality outdoor kit, it’s a problem of people with bigger bodies struggling to access adequate clothing and see themselves represented in the space.

Since overcoming ovarian cancer, Ursula Martin of Llanidloes in Wales has walked thousands of miles, not only criss-crossing the paths of her home country but completing a three-year journey from Ukraine back to the UK. You can read more from Ursula over on her blog onewomanwalks.com

Brands That Are Working on It

The world of outdoor clothing and gear certainly has room to grow into a more inclusive, accommodating, diverse landscape. but thankfully, it isn’t all doom and gloom. More and more companies that specialise in plus sized outwear and gear are gaining popularity every year, and many of the top outdoors brands have begun to take positive steps.

Photo: Plussnow

One notable newcomer is Plussnow, a brand dedicated to producing high-quality plus size winter sports clothing. Plussnow’s thermals, salopettes, and ski jackets range from women’s sizes 18-30 (EU 44-56) and men’s XL-10XL. They’ve also developed a range of long raincoats and parkas, as well as a personalised fitting service. Alongside the clothing, Plussnow also produce useful guides for newcomers to the world of winter sports, such as How to find ski boots for plus size calves, as well as a comprehensive tutorial on self-measuring to help customers feel prepared when ordering expensive gear online.

Meanwhile, back in the mainstream, some household names in outdoor clothing and gear have produced some exciting plus sized products. Here are our quick picks:

Columbia Technical Plus Line

Long-time staple for insulating jackets and activewear, Columbia has a comprehensive range of plus size fleeces, raincoats, parkas, bottoms, and even fishing gear. This range is only in the women’s section and seems to serve as a new counterpart to the men’s ‘Big and Tall’ category. Highlights include the Whirlibird™ IV Interchange Jacket, a three-in-one modular piece which can be worn with or without the outer thermal reflective or insulating liner. There’s also the stylish PFG Backcast Water Shorts which range up to size 3X and feature an elasticated waistband to allow easy pull-on over a bathing suit, instantly ready for a kayaking adventure, a paddle-board tour, or simply a riverside fishing session.

Mammut Ophir 3 Slide Harness

Pictured: Megan Banker rock climbing / Ophir 3 Slide | Photo: Andy Phan / Mammut

Like snow sports, the world of rock climbing is also opening up to anyone determined enough to participate. Climber Megan Banker recently gave props to Mammut’s Ophir 3 Slide harness. Sizing from an XS to XXL, this harness is accommodating to a huge range of climbers, and thanks to its adjustable leg loops, plus size users can wear it safely and comfortably. Creating gear for larger bodies is more complex than one may first assume, it isn’t simply a case of scaling up the whole design. One aspect of plus size design is anticipating ‘high-friction areas’ and accounting for the durability of the product in these spots. Between the thighs is a prime example, and Mammut’s introduction of a patented anti-abrasion guard on the lower tie-in point will massively reduce the friction and wear in this area. The harness also features especially wide gear loops with the capacity for nine carabiners each, and its minimal design greatly reduces the heat (and sweat) that can build up under more thickly padded harnesses.

Gregory Plus Backpacks

Photos: Gregory Mountain Products

Gregory Mountain Products specialise in high-performance backpacks in a range of contexts from long-distance walking to alpine snow sports. Their Plus Size line launched in 2020 with three collections covering backpacking, hiking, and everyday use and, true to form, Gregory are not skimping on their attention to detail when it comes to scaling up. They’ve taken care to increase shoulder strap length and widen the angle at which they wrap over the user’s shoulders, spreading the pack’s weight more efficiently and providing a more comfortable carry. They’ve also added quick-access pockets to the front of the extended hipbelt, which is an all-round boost for convenience. Their sizing is even more accommodating than most, fitting between 2X and 6X in apparel sizing. For an overnight trek with a lot of legwork in the day, a perfect candidate would be the Stout 45 Plus. This tricked out medium-capacity pack features five external pockets, a dedicated sleeping bag compartment, a custom fitted raincover and fully adjustable torso suspension.

Berghaus Technical Line

While they don’t seem to be pushing as hard for plus sized clothing as some other brands, Berghaus do offer technical, high-performance outerwear which can withstand demanding conditions and fit comfortably on a good portion of plus size users with jackets and thermals that range up to 3XL in women’s, men’s, and unisex.

The Mirasta Cropped Jacket is a good example, with an oversized fit and smart cut that makes it the perfect choice for a lightweight protective waterproof. The cut means this piece avoids a common cardinal sin in plus size outerwear, namely the ‘large doesn’t always mean tall’ sin. Complete with Adjustment points across the hem, hood and cuffs, as well as added articulation in the sleeves for freedom of movement, this jacket is ideal for athletes of any size looking to stay dry on the move.


The Alta III in size M | Photo: Paramo

Páramo Directional Clothing are currently working hard on a plus size line, potentially launching this autumn/winter alongside their Velez Adventure stock. We’ve had word from Páramo that they have completed some plus size samples of Alta III waterproof jacket and are currently testing them and awaiting feedback. They aim offer an XXL in women’s jackets (comfortable up to size 22), starting with the Alta III and expanding as they continue to test new designs. While still in an early phase, this brand is certainly one to watch for high-performance plus size apparel.

Bonus: Bravolution

Photo: Bravolution

Finally, It isn’t just clothing brands who are leading the plus size activewear charge. Bravolution is a women’s empowerment group who aim to improve the antiquated design philosophy of most sports bras and encourage body-positivity in sportswear’s visual presentation.

They recently featured on runner Mirna Valerio’s Instagram, helping her find the perfect plus size sports bra from Lululemon. They’ve also expressed some excitement over Nike’s range of breathable, plus size high support sports bras. Visit their site for an avalanche of information about how we can improve bra design for the future.


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