The Fat Girl’s Guide to Hiking

Looking to conquer the great outdoors? The founder of Fat Girls Hiking shares how you can get started and shares just how accepting nature is—no matter your size.

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Growing up, I was not an outdoorsy kid at all. The only time I went outside was when my mom would tell my siblings and me to go outside to play so that she could have some peace of mind. As a teenager, the appeal of the outdoors was lost on me, so I stopped going outside. In Minnesota, it’s very humid and there are lots of mosquitos, so the outdoors just didn’t seem like something for me.

I moved to Portland, OR ten years ago. Everyone in Portland hikes. I used to roll my eyes when I would hear fellow Portlanders talk about hiking. I had such a bad attitude about it and I was very averse to going outside, getting dirty, and being uncomfortable. I thought that in the outdoors, I didn’t fit in. I dress weird, I have a lot of tattoos, I have pink hair, and I’m fat. I never saw anyone in the outdoors that looked like me.

How Fat Girls Hiking Came to Be

I started dating this girl that kind of tricked me into my first hike by luring me in with the promise of a waterfall. I would get annoyed because she would hike faster than me and I couldn’t keep up. Through my relationship with her, I realized that I wanted to create an outdoorsy space that was accessible to everyone and where no one would ever feel like they can’t keep up. 

I was excited to celebrate what my body could do and say to myself, “Wow, I hiked up this mountain, and I didn’t think I could do it—but I did it.” That’s the most empowering and rewarding feeling. The cultural messaging that surrounded me told me that I couldn’t do something like hike up a mountain because I was too fat, but I did it anyway. I was proving myself and society wrong, and that began to change my mindset. I started to ask myself, “What else can I do that I’ve been saying I can’t do?”

Now, I’ve done everything from yoga to climbing to whitewater rafting. I always thought those activities were closed to fat, queer women like me—but, there are people like me! And when prospective hikers discover Fat Girls Hiking, they get so excited to find a community full of people just like them that they never knew existed.

I was proving myself and society wrong, and that began to change my mindset. I started to ask myself, 'What else can I do that I’ve been saying I can’t do?'

I named my group Fat Girls Hiking because I identify as a fat girl. It’s pretty subversive and radical to use the word fat in a positive way, and this label is also bucking the traditional idea of what a fat girl is capable of. Calling it Fat Girls Hiking is a rebellious act in itself, even though that’s exactly what we are. My mission is to make the outdoors accessible to all—to create a space where all genders, all sizes, all abilities, all marginalized people can show up as we are, take up space in the outdoors, and be celebrated. I want to make sure that the person who needs it the most, the slowest hiker, gets the most support. I always say that I lead from the back because it’s critical to me that we leave no one behind.

 

Gaining Perspective in Nature

I love the fresh perspective that nature gives you. When you’re in nature, you realize that nature is so much bigger than all of us. Trees are bigger. The ocean is bigger. Mountains are bigger. Rocks are bigger. When I’m standing next to a big waterfall, I feel so small and so insignificant. When you feel smaller, you realize that the big problems that you are ruminating on in your head are actually so small.

If you’re having a bad body day and feeling bad about the way you look, when you stand next to a waterfall you realize that it doesn’t matter how you look, and you’re able to see the beauty that’s around and within you. Nature reminds us that whatever our problem is, it’s not as big as we’re making it. Larger sizes of people are not always celebrated, but no one ever said to a huge tree, “That tree is too big.” There are huge things in nature that are celebrated because of their size. Why don’t we do that for people, too? We should all be celebrated for whatever we are—the small trees, the big trees—they all deserve a place on this earth.

When you stand next to a waterfall you realize that it doesn’t matter how you look and you’re able to see the beauty that’s around and within you.

How to Get Started Hiking

1. Start small.
Go on a small hike nearby. If you think you can walk a mile, find a hike that’s about that distance. Find an elevation gain that is lower than 100 feet because the climb and the incline won’t be too steep.

2. Give yourself permission to take a break.
Go as slow as you want. Stop to take pictures and look at the beautiful nature around you. Stop for water or a snack.

3. Don’t make your destination your goal.
Honor the needs of your body and take the best care of yourself while you’re on the trail. Your needs should be a higher priority than reaching the destination.

4. Bring anything you need to help you feel supported.

Whether it’s wearing a certain type of shoe or outfit or bringing a backpack filled with your favorite snacks, do whatever it is that is going to make you feel supported on the trail. I’ve met people who feel best when they wear a full face of makeup—if that feels authentic to you, that’s what you should do!

 

All ready to get hiking? Before you get started, make sure you have these essentials:

  • Clothing 
    Moisture-wicking clothing that will keep you dry on your hike will work best—workout clothing from Dia&Co Active is perfect.
  • Layers
    A rain jacket is crucial to me because I live in a rainy climate. Bring whatever layers are appropriate for where you are.
  • Hiking Shoes
    I prefer sturdy hiking boots, but trail shoes or sneakers are fine.
  • Backpack
    Fill your pack with water, navigation tools, snacks, an emergency kit, and sun protection.
  • After-Hike Clothing and Snacks
    A comfy and dry outfit in your car that’s ready for you to change into, along with a pair of flip-flops or slippers and a snack, is the best way to unwind after a long hike.

Remember, the outdoors is for all of us. You don’t need to have a specific level of ability, you don’t need to be fast, and you don’t need to be any specific size. For me, finding my community of like-minded people helped so much in getting started. If you want to hike with other fat girls, come along with me! We’re touring the country right now and I’d love if you joined when we make a stop that’s local to you!

Summer Michaud-Skog

is founder of Fat Girls Hiking, a hiking group for all sizes.