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|
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.