Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Challenge of Outfitting the Big Man for an Active Outdoor Lifestyle

by Brian Schwarz

Outfitting the big man for an active outdoor lifestyle is a challenge, to put it mildly. First, big and tall stores don't cater to the active outdoor lifestyle. Heck, they don't even acknowledge that some big guys are active and even fit. The assumption is perhaps, hey, you're big, so just go and put on these stretchy-waist jeans so you can look decent while standing in front of a barbecue grill, be comfortable tucking into the table when you're done, and not pop your buttons when you plop down on the couch for your after meal nap.

Rocking my Columbia Omni-Tech shell and Columbia fleece mid-layer
Sorry for sounding bitter, but as an active big man who feels he has been abandoned by retailers to make due with maybe one style and two colors for a pair of active shorts and a moisture wicking shirt - if I'm lucky enough to find even that - I think I've got the right to be a bit perturbed.

The thing is, I hike mountains. I backpack. I ride a mountain bike. I rollerblade. I'm even getting interested in kayaking and stand up paddleboard. And yes, I weigh between 280 and 310 lbs. And my is a XXL.

The thing is, though, most outdoor apparel companies don't manufacture their clothes up to a men's XXL. And if they do, their idea of an XXL is more like a slim-fit XL. And even then, lots of stores don't carry anything bigger than an XL, so I'm shit out of luck if I don't go online and take my chances that whatever I order might fit.

That being said, I have found a few brands that I can more or less count on. Columbia is by far my go-to brand for outerwear and mid-layer apparel, including waterproof and breathable shells and cozy fleece mid-layers. Champion has several options for moisture-wicking skin layers. And the REI store brand has a couple of options for me in shorts and long hiking pants. I rely on Woolrich and Eddie Bauer for button down shirts and other insulation layer items.

 Still, the selection in my size is frustrating. I'm often jealous of the broad array of styles and rainbow of color options available to those XL and under. Several years ago, before twisting my ankle while hiking a rocky trail at the Delaware Water Gap, I had lost enough weight to comfortably fit into an XL - and I'll tell you I was in clothes shopping heaven for about two years. But after that injury I put on 50 pounds. Afterward I have been struggling to take the weight back off. I feel if I had more options for affordable performance clothes in my size I would be even more active than I am now.

I'm willing to spend the money for better performing clothes that make my physical activity more comfortable. But the brands with superior performance that I really want to add to my wardrobe - The North Face, Patagonia, Millet and others - are just not available to me as I continue my lifelong fitness journey and try to shed these excess pounds to get me back to a size that is more healthy for me in the first place.

In short, outfitting the big man for an active outdoor lifestyle is a challenge. It can be done. But I feel it should be easier. The availability of performance clothing in bigger sizes from major active outdoor brands would make my life easier as well as the millions of others around the globe who are struggling to overcome obesity.

Brian Schwarz is a freelance writer, trail guide and outfitter based in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hiking Merit Badge Earned; Now Let's Go Backpacking!

by Brian Schwarz

I'm ready to move on from the Hiking Merit Badge requirements and begin with Backpacking. The fact is that even though I didn't do the 20-mile hike as prescribed in the Boy Scout Requirements for the Hiking Merit Badge, I have more than earned it. Besides the fact that I've planned and executed several hundred hikes, including more than 60 during which I led groups), I also have to consider the level of difficulty of the hikes I've done.
Boy Scouts of America Hiking Merit Badge
The average 20 miler executed by a Boy Scout is along fairly level terrain. According to the Sierra Club hike rating system, this means one of these typical hikes could be rated as low as 20 if there is no significant elevation change (1 point equals 1 mile). Every 400 feet of elevation gain and/or loss is also equal to one point.

Case in point, in June of 2012 I planned and executed a hike to the South Summit of Sandia Mountain in New Mexico. This hike was 10 miles out and back, but with 3,000 feet of elevation gain and 3,000 feet of elevation loss, the hike would be rated at 25 - higher than what would be required by the 20 mile hike done on relatively flat terrain. And this was not even my most strenuous hike. Later I hiked the South Summit from a different route - a 12 miler with 4,000 feet elevation gain and 4,000 feet loss - which would have been rated as a 32 on the Sierra Club hike rating scale.

So with that, I am ready to move on. I consider the Hiking Merit Badge requirements to be complete and am excitedly moving on to Backpacking. Stay tuned as I ramp up to tackle this beast of a badge!

PS - I'm not giving up on doing a 20 miler or even completing the three-day 30 mile challenge I set for myself in a previous post. I simply realized that those two things were not necessary for me to consider this Hiking Merit Badge challenge complete for myself based on all that I have accomplished in hiking over the course of recent years. I'm just ready for this new challenge to begin and am setting my sights firmly on completing it. Next weekend I complete training to become an official member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's Trail Patrol and in November I train to become a Sierra Club outdoor leader. I've also taken a job where I'll be exposed to all the best outdoor gear, so it is time for me to give my full focus to this and other new challenges.

Brian Schwarz is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Way to old to be an actual Boy Scout, Brian has set a goal to complete the requirements of Eagle Scout by his 50th birthday in August of 2021. While some slight modifications are made to the requirements along the way, the spirit of the Boy Scouts guide all efforts Brian has on his journey, living life as a Man of Merit.