How to Start Hiking at Any Size
Hiking as a plus-size lady can be intimidating. You see pictures of all these fit, fabulous looking hikers on the internet. No boob sweat, no red face, fancy clothes. It gives the impression that hiking is only for people who are ridiculously good looking and thin.
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I’m here to tell you: it's not.
I’m not ridiculously (or even moderately) good looking. Definitely not thin. And I love hiking. Hiking as a plus-size lady does have its challenges. Finding hiking clothes in plus sizes is difficult (though getting easier). Having the stamina to hike several miles is challenging. And knowing what to eat to fuel my hike (while also honoring my Intuitive Eating) is really hard.
But the pure joy of being out in nature on a beautiful day in a gorgeous area is worth it. And once you have the basics down and know where to start, it gets a lot easier. Here is your guide to hiking as a plus-size lady!
How Do I Start Hiking as a Plus-Size Lady?
The first place to start is to honestly assess your current fitness level. This doesn’t mean beating yourself up if it's not where you want it to be, or going down a shame spiral because your endurance isn’t amazing. It just means being honest with yourself about your abilities so you know what you can safely handle and where to go from here.
If you’re starting from the couch, that’s fine!
Wherever you’re at, get on a regular walking routine. You don’t have to speed walk, a rambling, slow pace is totally fine. Go for distance, not speed. Add in some hills and some more challenging terrain if a flat surface is easy. You want it to be challenging but not overwhelming. This doesn’t mean you have to walk every single day or be an obsessive mall-walker even in bad weather. Just walk a couple of times a week to get in the habit and learn what sort of distance you can handle.
How Do I Find Places to Hike?
After you get a feel for understanding what sort of distance and terrain you can handle, start researching hiking spots in your area. I love love love the AllTrails app for this. It gives you either a map or listing view, and you can filter by length, level of difficulty, elevation gain, and what type of trail it is (out and back, loop, or point to point). The app offers a free version and a subscription, but the free version is great for getting started.
The subscription lets you download maps in case of lack of service and notifies you when you go off-trail if you tell the app what trail you’re supposed to be on (mine tells me through my Apple Watch). It also sends status notifications to a designated contact so someone will know if you don’t show up when you should have. I recommend using the free version for a while to see if you would get used out of the paid subscription before paying for it (as of writing, its $29.99 for a year).
I prefer loop trails (because I don’t want to see the same thing twice, I’m picky that way). You should also make sure it's a distance and terrain you’re comfortable with. For your first hike, go with an ‘easy’ option and keep it around a mile. That will make the trip somewhat short and give you a feel for your ease and comfort level. After the first trip, you can use that to gauge how much more difficult or how much longer to make it. Or you can stick with 1-mile easy trails for a while, whatever you’re more comfortable with. Also, make sure you learn and understand Leave No Trace principles to keep nature natural. Check out more details here!
Remember that hiking on a trail, even one without any elevation gain, will be more taxing than just walking a mile on the paved sidewalks in your neighborhood. Please please don’t overdo it for your first go around! Keep it simple and then use your experience to change it up for next time.
What Clothes Do I Need?
As a plus-size lady hiker, knowing what clothes you need (and finding it) can be a challenge. Not a lot of companies carry hiking clothes for plus size hikers. Even those that have them may only carry the plus sizes online.
For your first trek, as long as you choose an easy trail, sturdy sneakers and leggings are fine. A good sports bra is important. As a plus-size lady with an ample chest, I love the bras at Title Nine. My favorite bra, the Tech Athena bra, is in the process of being discontinued, which I’m devastated about, so I'm working to find a new favorite. However, for clothes other than bras, Title Nine doesn’t go higher than an XL (and even those run small), so I can only really recommend them for bras.
Once you get a few easy hikes under your belt and are ready to upgrade to hiking clothes, REI has a decent plus-size selection, but they’re not usually available in the stores. Columbia Sportswear has a much bigger selection (and better prices) and I can usually find some options in the outlet near me.
Your exact needs will depend on the climate you’re hiking in. Here in central Texas, I like long lightweight pants. I hiked in capri pants for a while, but after a hike with a lot of tall grass on some overgrown trails, I decided the risk of ticks (and some weird sticky weeds we have here) was too great and switched to full-length pants. They sadly don’t sell my favorite kind anymore, but they have a close version in the Aruba Roll-Up Pant. These can be full-length pants or roll up to capri pants if you just can’t stand the heat or for hanging out after your hike.
For shirts, there are a few options. In Central Texas, it's hot most of the year, and I tend to run very warm, so I hike in sleeveless workout tank tops from Old Navy. You can also choose to wear a long sleeve sun shirt that provides UV protection and will help keep you cool. When the weather gets a little cooler, I sometimes add a light sweatshirt. However, since I run very warm, I always take it off during the hike and wear it around my waist. I don’t usually even bother.
For underwear, choose a pair that is not likely to chafe and that fit correctly. I wear some well-fitting microfiber briefs. Remember, there will be a lot of leg movement, so a style and fabric that wicks sweat and doesn’t allow for skin to rub together is best!
What Else Should I Know?
The most important - and difficult - part is to just get started! Go for a short local hike and see where you’re at physically and emotionally. Do you enjoy being in nature? Do you find rest and relaxation being surrounded by green (or brown, in the summer here)? Take it slow, allow yourself to go the pace that is most comfortable for you, and try to soak in the world around you. Even though I live alone, I still love the solitude and quiet of a nice hike. Don’t let the world around you tell you can or can’t do something just because of your size. Hiking as a plus-size lady can be challenging! However, with the right preparation, mindset, and clothes, you’ll be able to discover how wonderful nature can be!
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