The plus-size hiking kit problem | Why body shape shouldn’t limit adventure

Every season, new ranges of technical outdoor gear are released. But what do you do if none of it fits? It’s time for outdoor brands to stop failing people who have different body shapes.

Plus size hiking kit

by Matt Jones |
Updated on

Every season, new ranges of technical outdoor gear are released. But what do you do if none of it fits? We caught up with two people campaigning for more plus-size hiking gear, to find out if outdoor brands are doing enough for people with different body shapes.

The outdoors is for everybody, of all shapes and sizes. At least, it should be. But if your body shape doesn’t conform to the stereotypical slim, athletic build, it can be challenging to find outdoor kit that fits you well. And if your gear doesn’t keep you adequately dry, comfortable and safe in the hills and mountains, that can be a real barrier to getting out there at all.

Outdoor Research plus size clothing range
Outdoor Research plus size clothing range

This can be a problem for anybody who is broader, wider or taller than average, regardless of gender. As well as those at the other end of the spectrum, who are unusually small or petite. But it’s plus-sized people who are particularly badly served when it comes to outdoor kit. So, is the outdoor industry size-ist? And if so, what can we do about it? And where can people go to find good-quality, well-fitting gear?

We spoke to Rebecca Dawson and Steph Wetherell to find out. They’re the co-founders of Every Body Outdoors ( Rebecca and Steph working with outdoor brands to increase sizing as well as ensuring better fit and representation of plus-size bodies. Rebecca is also the founder of, the UK’s first specialist retailer of plus-size outdoor clothing and equipment.

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

What exactly is 'plus-size' gear?

STEPH: "In terms of clothing, ‘plus-size’ is a standardised industry term used to talk about larger sizes for women. The average clothes size for UK women is now a size 16, and a quarter of women are a size 18 or above. But that’s where most women’s outdoor gear stops. In contrast, the average men’s size is L-XL, yet you can commonly get a men’s 3XL in outdoor kit."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

Is there a real demand for plus-size hiking kit, or is it a niche market?

REBECCA: "Plus-size people want good quality gear. We’re willing to spend the money but nobody wants to take it! Though you can get entry-level stuff up to a certain size, it is cheap, not very ethical, less environmentally sustainable, and it doesn’t fit particularly well since investment hasn’t gone into the design."

STEPH: "A lot of outdoor industry people say it’s a small market. But if you’re a size UK 12 woman, you could probably choose from any one of 300 different technical waterproof jackets, across all the different brands. For a size 22, there are none. Yet I refuse to believe that the UK 22 market is 1/300th of the size of the UK 12 market, given what we know about women’s body sizes and how they have changed over the years."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

What are the toughest bits of plus-size kit to find?

STEPH: "Technical waterproof jackets and overtrousers. Also trousers, mostly because of the rise (distance between the crotch seam and waistband), which means a lot of plus-size people just wear leggings. Anything with a bit of stretch tends to be a bit more forgiving, but even so, technical base layers and fleeces can be tricky. For me, having a technical mid-layer has made a massive difference. Being able to buy a good quality insulated jacket and a grid fleece rather than sweaty ‘leisure’ fleeces has been a game-changer."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

Is the situation improving?

STEPH: "I’m in the fortunate position as a size 20 where technical gear is finally starting to come out now. I’m so much more comfortable outdoors, so much less stressed, worried and anxious because I know I can go walking for the day and stay dry. When I do a multi-day trip, the amount I have to pack is about half as much, because the clothing is actually designed for function. It wicks, it’s fast drying, it’s breathable, it’s packable."

REBECCA: "When I did the West Highland Way three years ago, I could not find a pair of waterproof trousers to fit me, and I was a size 16/18 at the time. I made myself a rain skirt because there was no other choice! I’m not the only one who’s had to resort to making my own gear because it didn’t exist. Luckily, things are now different. For the first time, I have waterproof trousers that fit."

STEPH: "But beyond a women’s size 20, it’s still basically impossible to get technical gear in the UK. You can go to Regatta or Mountain Warehouse. But most serious outdoors enthusiasts don’t wear Mountain Warehouse jackets. So why should we? For entry-level kit, those shops are really important, but it’s not a substitute for technical clothing."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

How can brands do better with plus-size hiking kit?

REBECCA: "One of the things that isn't understood well is that, as bodies get bigger, they change significantly in shape. So, brands probably have to make quite a difficult decision around how wedded they are to a particular cut or aesthetic, like the ‘Alpine fit’. You don’t have to completely abandon it, but you do have to adapt it. It can be done. There are now brands who have gone to size 20 who have taken the time to produce good-looking, well-fitting jackets in that size."

STEPH: "Few outdoor brands seem to accept that women have hips! If you have a waist-to-hip difference of more than about five inches, finding waterproofs is difficult. But pear-shaped women are not uncommon, especially in plus-sizes. What happens for the majority is that you have to buy the jacket that fits your hips. But it ends up being big around the bust, with flappy arms, because the sleeves are overly long or shoulders too wide, so it hangs off you. You sometimes end up with comical clothing as brands simply make every dimension bigger. So, it’s not just about increasing the sizes, it’s about listening to the community, then making the technical clothing people need."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

What would make shopping for plus-size kit online easier?

STEPH: "Brands having accurate size charts is really important. Give me the information so that I can find out for myself if it’s going to fit me. At the moment, the difference between size charts and reality is huge, especially with jackets and trousers. What we need are accurate size charts for each product, with the actual garment measurements, including bust, waist and hip."

REBECCA: "Some online retailers will stock items of clothing that go up to a 2XL or a size 20, yet the size chart provided won’t cover those sizes. It’ll stop at a UK 16 or an XL. So, you can’t even work out whether it will fit you or not. All of these things just make it unnecessarily hard. People just give up because they are defeated by the difficulty of finding something to fit them."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

Which outdoor brands are leading the way with plus-size kit?

REBECCA: "US brands have been driven by the Unlikely Hikers community. There are a lot of plus-sized people in that community who have been really good advocates. A few US brands subsequently started working with individuals of different shapes and sizes to help them make sure the products actually fit their bodies. The clothing range that Outdoor Research produced has been a game changer. And Columbia, though frustratingly you can’t get the women’s plus-size kit over here. Osprey and Gregory’s new Plus-size and Extended Fit packs have made a huge difference, especially if you’re a size 20+ (or a larger man). And that includes daypacks, not just big rucksacks."

Gregory Plus Size backpacks
©Gregory Packs

STEPH: "In the UK, there’s Alpkit as both a brand and retailer. We did the size fitting for them with their size 20 samples which was really positive. And they altered a lot of the range as a result. Overall, I really rate it as well designed and well-fitting gear for a UK 20. That’s because they’ve done that design work and are constantly open to feedback.

"Scottish brand Keela has also committed to producing a size 20 across their entire women’s range. Berghaus and Findra do larger sizes and were also two of the first UK outdoor brands to use plus-size models. That gives me real joy. Then there’s Sprayway, who do some size 20 clothing, Mountain Equipment do a little bit, Patagonia too. Craghoppers have gone up to a size 24 in a fair chunk of their range, which is more than most other brands. Labo Mono is a small brand that makes two unisex waterproof jackets that will fit up to a women’s UK 24, since they have hip zips."

Plus size hiking clothing 2
©Every Body Outdoors

REBECCA: "German brand Maier Sports is one that we became aware of recently, particularly for trousers. They go to a size 24/26 in short and regular lengths. There’s also a tiny US brand called Alpine Parrot, though my website is the only UK stockist. In terms of retailers, Cotswold Outdoor are definitely on the journey. They now stock Patagonia and Mountain Equipment up to a size 20 and have The North Face stuff that goes up to up to about a size 24 or 26. They also started stocking Gregory’s Extended Fit packs in ten of their flagship stores. There is still very little in-store retail of technical stuff in plus-sizes though, especially above a size 20. Even online is tricky – that’s really why I started Vampire Outdoor Gear. I think we’re the first retailer to specialise in plus-size outdoor gear.

STEPH: "The difference it’s made to our community has been huge. We’ve had people crying at our kit try-on events. It is life-changing for some people."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

What are the best sleeping bags, mats or tents for plus-size people?

STEPH: "Generally, the best bags out there are from Alpkit, and Rab do a wide fitting. But even then, most technical bags don’t generally go into the larger sizing. At least Alpkit has published all the measurements of their sleeping bags now. One of our testers has also recently tried US brand Big Agnes, which are wider. They also make good sleeping mats."

REBECCA: "I have a lightweight Therm-a-Rest bag, though I had to go for a slightly less technical model. Again, it’s the hips that are a problem. And because women tend to be slightly shorter, if you have to buy a men’s bag, the hip measurement isn’t in the right place and you end up with a lot of empty space at the bottom of your bag, which obviously you’ve got to warm up. It also makes a bag so much heavier if you’re hiking for days on end and carrying it.

"Several brands now make wide sleeping mats, but I’d say the women’s Sea to Summit ones are the best around, because they have a different profile to the men’s mats, with wider dimensions at the hip. Tents are a problem. As a lightweight backpacker, finding a tent that I can get into and turn around in is actually quite hard. Of course, poor flexibility is not restricted to plus-size people but it is more difficult. Sometimes, you want a slightly bigger tent. Often that means taking a two-person tent, but with that comes more weight."

Plus size hiking kit
©Every Body Outdoors

The best hiking brands for plus-size bodies

ALPKIT Clothing up to a women’s UK 20 and men’s XXL, with good online size guides. Also roomier sleeping bags and wider camping mats.

ALPINE PARROT Women’s plus-size walking trousers up to a US 30 – see online size guides for measurements.

BERGHAUS Clothing up to a women’s UK 20 and men’s 3XL.

BIG AGNES Long and wide sleeping bags and mats. Various UK stockists but limited range.

COLUMBIA Walking trousers up to a women’s UK 20 and some jackets in XXL (UK 18). Men’s range up to XXL.

Vampire Outdoor Gear
©Vampire Outdoor Gear

CRAGHOPPERS Clothing up to a women’s UK 24 and men’s 3XL.

FINDRA Women’s clothing up to XXL (UK 18), including stretchy merino base layers and leggings.

GREGORY Plus-size packs from 16 to 68l, designed for diverse body sizes/shapes.

HALTI Dedicated plus-size women’s collection up to EU 50 and men’s sizes to 5XL.

KEELA Clothing up to women’s UK 20 and men’s 3XL, plus a good range of waterproof jackets.

LABO MONO Unisex waterproof jackets with hip zips, up to XXL.

Gregory Plus size packs 2
©Gregory Packs

MAIER SPORTS 36 men’s and 25 women’s legwear sizes, including multiple lengths.

MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT Limited kit up to a women’s UK 20 and men’s XXXL.

OSPREY Extended Fit packs from 14 to 65 litres.

OUTDOOR RESEARCH Women’s clothing up to 4X, including waterproof jackets.

PATAGONIA Some clothing up to women’s XXL and men’s XXL.

RAB Limited range of wide, long and long wide sleeping bags and mats.

Alpkit oversize bivvy bag

SEA TO SUMMIT Some wider and longer fitting sleeping bags/mats, including women’s specific mats with a wider hip profile.

SNUGPAK Synthetic sleeping bags with deployable side baffles for more room, plus a zip-in Expanda panel to give up to 40cm extra chest space. Other bags available in XL lengths.

SPRAYWAY Some clothing up to a women’s UK 20 and men’s XXXL.

THE NORTH FACE Curve/plus-size women’s lifestyle jackets, tops and bottoms up to 3X. Limited men’s clothing to 3XL.

THERM-A-REST Some wider and longer fitting sleeping bags and mats.

Plus size hiking clothing
©Every Body Outdoors

This article originally appeared in Trail – the UK's biggest-selling hiking magazine. Subscribe today and get 50% off a whole year of digital Ordnance Survey maps

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