The Best Plus Size Outdoor Apparel

Learn from plus size, Latinx hiker, climber and water enthusiast Sam Ortiz, who is also a 6-year Mountaineers member and Basic Climbing grad, about the challenges accessing plus size apparel, the difference between extended sizing and plus sizing, the importance of body representation, and the best places to find plus size outdoor apparel.
Sam Ortiz Sam Ortiz
Plus size Latinx Mountaineer & 6-year member
May 01, 2022

When it comes to plus sizes, finding good gear has historically been nearly impossible. Finding it at affordable prices or second hand is even more difficult because it just doesn't exist in the same quantities as straight size gear (XS-XL). That, in addition to the "fat tax" that many companies add on to their plus lines, makes gear even less accessible.

Outdoor spaces are not always a welcoming place for all, particularly for those of us who wear plus sizes. This is even more drastic for those who wear a 4x and above. Beyond safety issues, ill-fitting and hard-to-find outdoor clothing restricts accessibility and discourages participation. A lack of visibility and representation across traditional marketing channels only compounds this barrier.

Let me put this into context. If I were invited to try a new sport tomorrow, but didn’t already own the gear, I simply couldn’t go. Somebody who wears ‘straight sizes’ could go to the store, buy or rent gear, and get outside the next day. But I would need time to heavily research every company’s measurements to see if they have the size that I would need. Most companies don’t. Even if they do, I still have to ask myself questions like “how much give does it have?”, “Does it have any stretch?”, “Does it have the exact measurements where the hip fits, the thigh fits, the chest fit?”. I’d have to order it, wait for it to arrive, and only then would I find out if it actually fits. Sometimes it doesn’t, and then I’m back to square one.

This issue arises for plus size folks in almost every new sport. Size inclusive rock climbing harnesses are few and far between and not readily available at most local outdoor stores. Kayaks rated to hold plus size folks are only offered online and are significantly more expensive than those rated for lower weights. Even folks looking for packs for day hiking and backpacking often come up short when trying to find an appropriate size in store. Outdoor hiking boots rarely come in wide sizes. Bikes are often made out of materials that aren’t weighted to withstand a plus size person. I could continue but there are too many scenarios to list.

The Difference Between Extended and Plus Sizing

Another barrier to finding gear that works is the lack of consistency and education around sizing. Did you know there’s a difference between plus sizes and extended sizes? It took me a long time to realize why an XXXL won’t fit me but a 3X normally does - it’s because they are not the same thing!

Extended sizes (written as XXL, XXXL, etc.) and plus sizes (written as 1X, 2X, 3X, etc.) come from different base patterns. Extended sizing comes from the same base pattern as the straight sized garment (XS-XL) but expanded. Plus sizing is made with a pattern specifically designed in plus, which normally starts at a 1X or 2X.

All sizes are not created equal!

Body Representation

Seeing clothing on body types that look like mine really helps me when choosing clothes. It’s crazy to me that more companies aren’t showing plus size bodies in their clothes (and making plus size clothes to begin with!). A recent article in Boulder Weekly shared why the plus size market is so important: 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average woman wears a size 16 (typically translated to an XL); this has historically represented the end, or the beginning of the end, of many apparel size runs, when, logically, it should be the very middle…The plus-size women’s apparel market was valued at $29.8 billion in 2019, but was projected to grow to $46.6 billion (13% of the total U.S. apparel market) by 2021’s end.”

Despite this huge market, less than 20% of apparel is made for plus size women, even though 68% of women wear a size 14 or larger.

Ortiz - Wearing REI 2.jpgSam wearing REI.

Where to find plus size apparel

Outdoor Research

For the last two years, I’ve been working behind the scenes with Outdoor Research as part of their Inclusive Sizing Advisory Board. We’ve talked at length about all the things I love and hate about outdoor apparel and where the industry is sorely lacking when it comes to plus size technical options. I’ve wear-tested their recent line for the last few months and I LOVE the pieces that have recently been released. Right now their selection goes up to a 3x, but size 4x is being added in the coming seasons.

Ottomatic Threads

Ottomatic Threads is a really cool, woman owned small business that specializes in base layers. They're one of the most size inclusive companies on the market and go up to 6x, and are even in the process of expanding into the 7x-10x range!

Alpine Parrot

Alpine Parrot is another really cool, small Latina owned business that launched with plus sizes up to 24W/3X. The great thing about them is that they made two different fit styles. For plus size folks this is HUGE because our bodies come in so many different shapes and almost no other company is catering to/recognizing that we need different cuts within the same sizes!

Alder Apparel

Alder Apparel is also a woman owned small business (see the trend here?) that launched with inclusive sizing. They've done the best job that I've seen so far with sharing information about the fit and sizing of their clothing, which goes up to 6x. They have models in almost every size on their website so that you can really see how each garment works for different body types!

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer has been making plus sizes up to size 3x for years. They’re one of my favorite options when it comes to technical apparel, and they do an awesome job of releasing stylish and colorful options for folks. Many plus size options still only come in shades of black or neturals, so colors are a delightful addition to this line.

Ortiz - Wearing Columbia.jpgSam wearing Columbia in Smith Rock State Park.


Others

Plus Snow and Alpine Curves both specialize in curating selections of plus size outdoor clothing for folks so that they can shop in one place for the scattered options that are available. They're online retailers and also happen to be woman owned small businesses.

Columbia, REI, and Duluth Trading Company also offer plus sizes up to 3X in small collections!

Looking Forward

I’m excited to see these companies diversifying their offerings, and I hope it inspires even broader change in the industry. What I know now is that the size of my body means almost nothing at all. It doesn’t determine my worth, my beauty, or the amount of joy that fills my life. My body size is one of the least interesting things about me. As we enter the warmer months, I hope you chase sunsets and let your arm flab fly and remember that, no matter the size of your tummy or the curve of your thighs, you deserve to glow just like the evening sky.

Ortiz - Wearing OR.jpgWearing outdoor Research.

Sam is a plus size, Latinx hiker, climber, water enthusiast, and adventure photographer based in Seattle. She is the founder of Climb Big, a group she started to make climbing more accessible to fat folks. She’s previously written for The Mountaineers about Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Creating Inclusive Experiences and has created a Plus Size Climbing Harness Guide.

Main image: Sam Ortiz, wearing Columbia, hiking in Mount Rainier National Park. All photos courtesy of Sam Ortiz.


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Roland Bennett
Roland Bennett says:
May 01, 2022 08:11 AM

Great article and thanks for the research.

Woosi Wildwood
Woosi Wildwood says:
May 01, 2022 09:16 AM

Another one to check or is Youer.com. Plus sizes, plus models, small woman-owned in the US. I love the way their clothes fit me!

Janice Suarez-Pena
Janice Suarez-Pena says:
May 01, 2022 09:44 AM

REI still does not carry the Plus Size options in their store. I had to order wait then return and still nothing fit. Ended up buying "online AGAIN" but this time with help from another hiker who suggested Donkey Andy (Amazon) I bought 2 different sizes and only 1 fit. Bought a different cut and style and low and behold it DIDN'T fit. So thankfully they are affordable. 45.00 bucks I order a bigger size waiting for those to arrived. BTW I am 5'3 and 216 and just started hiking with the GoHike program. All shapes and sizes THANK YOU Mountaineers for this great article and the GoHike Team and especially to you Sam for being a leader in this industry and paving the way for us bigger "better" folks. Going BIG and NOT GOING HOME!! 😊🌼☮️

Cristina McGlynn
Cristina McGlynn says:
May 02, 2022 12:30 AM

I love this article! Thank you so much for researching and writing it Sam. I’ve had to buy men’s plus size outdoor gear for years, and then pay a lot more to have it altered to fit, including making the legs and arms shorter. REI has been working on inclusive sizes at their flagship store but 3x isn’t big enough for me for most things. Thank you again for this valuable info and for the encouragement to gear up and get outside!