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An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry from a Plus Size Outdoor Girl

67% of American women are plus size, size 14 and up, why do plus size women not have the same options in outdoor clothing & gear as a non-plus size woman?

One thing I love about open letters is that you’re not calling out one specific person, idea, or business. You’re calling an entire group to listen up and hear your plea or idea.

 

Several times I’ve sat upon these thoughts and ideas and I never did anything with them except bicker and complain – until now.

 

The thought never actually crossed my mind to make my voice heard.

 

You see, I’m first and foremost, a lover of the wonderful and beautiful outdoors. I like to hike, hunt, camp, fish, kayak, SUP, backpack, snowboard, snowshoe, and more.

 

I’m also a plus size women who’s a lover of the outdoors.

 

Being a plus size woman has its clothing challenges already … finding outdoor clothing and gear as a plus size woman? Next to impossible.

 

So, why I’m I writing an open letter to the outdoor industry?

 

I’m writing this letter because I want the outdoor industry to hear my thoughts, opinions, and needs as a woman who’s bigger than a size 10.

 

I want to share some ideas and thoughts from other women I’ve spoken to who enjoy the outdoors as well; most, including myself, are fed up with not being able to be properly equipped or being able to find clothes.

 

67% of American women are plus size according to a 2012 study … this is women being size 14 and up.

 

So, with over half the American women population being plus size how is it that women in the plus size category are unable to purchase outdoor recreation clothing and gear suitable for their bodies off the rack?

 

I’ve noticed an interesting trend via social media. To me and others I’ve spoken with, it seems that there is a trend revolving around the outdoor community; whether that be hiking, hunting, fishing, or snowboarding; the trend  is that outdoor women are fit and thin and sexy – according to society standards.

 

Not all women in the outdoors are fit and thin … but we’re all our own kind of sexy 

 

Now, I’m NOT putting down those who are fit and slim by no means whatsoever, I’m proud that your athletic ability gives you the strength you need to live the life you want. I’m not a bitter fat person getting pissed off because you’re thinner than me – that could be further from the truth.

 

So, lets look at a few more statistics ….

 

Women make up 51% of the outdoor consumer. Do you know how much outdoor industry consumers bring into the outdoor recreation industry every year? Roughly $887 billion in the US which is according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

 

Another number; $334. It is estimated that the 51% of women that make up the outdoor consumer, spend on average $334 per year on outdoor apparel, footwear, equipment, and electronics.

 

I, honestly think this number would be more, if, the percentage of women that make up the 51% who are plus sized, had more options as the women in sizes below a size 14.

 

Women typically value experience over products, actually a good 48% of women. I can relate to this 100% …  personally I’m going through a bit of a minimalism cleanse in my life to make more room for the experiences I want and value much more.

 

This will allow me to have room for and pay for the clothing, footwear, equipment, and electronics I need in order to enjoy those experiences – mainly in the outdoors. In fact, 84% of women feel that engaging with nature is an important part of the outdoor recreation industry.

 

Another little fact is that women believe that the outdoors has positive effects on their mental health, physical health, happiness, and over-all well being. I certainly know I feel it.

 

 

Now, with all of that information why is it that I can only purchase non clothing items from REI when I walk into the store? Why is it that a friend of mine who’s slightly bigger than me couldn’t find a women’s specific backpack for hiking but had to purchase a mens pack instead?

 

It’s because the majority of outdoor recreation retailers and brands are not understanding that just because a woman may be bigger it doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t or doesn’t like participating in outdoor activities.

 

I recently wrote an article for The Outbound about my personal challenges with being an overweight hiker and talked about the reasons I was overweight and how not every woman or even a man who’s overweight isn’t healthy or athletic or likes being outside.

 

I also spoke on the topic of saying that if outdoor industry brands would make clothing and gear options for those of a larger size more people would go outside and we’d possibly see a decrease in the obesity epidemic in the US.

 

Fat people don’t want to be fat, well, most of us; that’s a personal choice, but for those of us who don’t want to be fat need the proper gear to workout and be outdoors.

 

I also had the opportunity to speak with some women on what they want from the outdoor industry in options for clothing and gear as a plus size woman. Some of my thoughts are also added in as well.

 

 

What Plus Size Women Want From the Outdoor Industry:

 

  • Flattering and fashionable outdoor clothing in sizes above 14 and an XL. Out of my audience most women are on average sizes between 14-22 and also wear sizes in 2XL-3XL. There are women in my audience who wear a smaller size; however, we are focusing on women who are plus sized.
  • Those that are shorter, below 5’5″ want the option to be able to roll up the pants to accommodate their shorter legs. One woman mentioned that having elastic or drawstrings on the ankles would be a suitable option for her.
  • Fleece lined jeans for women
  • Plus size pants with option to zip off legs for shorts.
  • Plus size lightweight & moisture wicking hiking pants, shorts, capris, and leggings
  • Plus size flowy shirts for hiking in hot or cool weather with moisture wicking technology
  • Plus size clothing that’s flattering on a womens body
  • The same availability in clothing and gear options as non- plus size woman
  • Snowshoes that are women specific that can accommodate weight between 200-300 pounds. As you know, snowshoes weight capacity includes the snowshoer plus carried gear. A woman weighing 200 pounds who has 50 pounds worth of gear to pack into a backcountry hut doesn’t have the ability to purchase and use most snowshoes on the market; online or at brick and mortar stores because there are no snowshoes for them to purchase that will accommodate the weight they need them too.

 

Now, come on folks, help us girls out. You can’t get by with saying you don’t know what we want because we will tell you … women have never had a problem letting others know what they want.

 

I believe that if outdoor brands were to gather a group of plus size women for consumer panels and discussions they’d be very informed and surprised about everything they could learn by simply listening.

 

Now, how about the mental issue surrounding the problem that plus sized outdoor women are currently facing and see some of the feelings women are having when they are shopping in an outdoor industry store.

Feelings Most Plus Size Women Have While Shopping in Outdoor Industry Stores:

  • Embarrassment
  • Self Conscious
  • Anxiety
  • Self Doubt
  • Uncomfortable
  • Upset
  • Disappointed

 

I personally have been asked if I needed help while shopping from an associate and then was asked who I was shopping for – because I obviously couldn’t have been shopping for myself?

 

One other thing I’ve noticed in the outdoor industry is the lack of plus sized brand ambassadors, athletes, and influencers. Maybe this is because there’s a lack of gear and clothing for the plus size woman so there’s no need for these.

 

If the outdoor industry brands only knew the impact they could make in women’s lives by providing plus size women with the same options as everyone else and seeing plus size brand ambassadors, athletes, and influencers . . . it would create a positive epidemic of happy, healthy, uplifted, motivated, and self loving, adventurous women.

 

I personally, would love to be a brand ambassador, athlete, or influencer for outdoor brands to help spread awareness and motivation for women of the plus size persuasion to get outdoors.

 

I already tell women that they can do anything they set their mind to and not to let society tell them they can’t. I already have started a hashtag, #bodypositiveoutdooradventure to help spread awareness that the outdoors is for EVERY ONE and EVERY BODY.

 

At the closing of this letter I would like to point out that there are a few brands that offer plus size options for women and that I am so happy with their availability but it’s time to see more!

 

Columbia Sportswear, I love y’all. Almost all of my outdoor clothing is Columbia brand because they offer one of the largest selections I’ve seen. But, I have to order the majority of said clothing online. I’ve hardly found it in stores.

 

Minus 33 offering wool base layers offers sizes that are up to XXL

 

Sitka Gear offers quality women’s hunting clothing with sizes going up to XXL on most of their clothing.

 

A few other brands include North Face, Cableas, Bass Pro Shop, and REI. With these brands I’ve noticed the clothing sizes run extremely small. With others their plus size clothing option looks like something my grandmother would wear or is so loose fitting that it doesn’t even look like I have a figure; which by the way, even though I am plus size I do have a figure.

 

So, hear our pleas and calls to action and make the same options available to us as everyone else. I look forward to seeing how the outdoor industry will hear our thoughts and use our opinions and ideas and turn a leaf in the right direction of making the outdoors possible for women of all shapes and sizes.

 

It’s not just the ability to look nice in clothing but it’s about being comfortable and well clothed and equipped for the elements and activities we want to or do participate in.

 

I encourage every woman and man to share this article everywhere to get the word out about this topic and to bring serious attention to the outdoor industry.

 

Happy Trails –

Heather

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Heather Vargas

Wanderer | Photographer | Adventure Traveler | Hiker | Kayaker | Wilderness Advocate | Coffee Obsessed | Colorado Native. Find me regularly on IG @heatherinmountains