The outdoors: a place to relax, engage, experience the beauty of nature, and be ourselves. If only it were that easy. On your next outing, look around you. What is the representation of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts? Who’s out there with you? As much as we like to say the outdoors are inclusive to everyone, that’s not always the case. For many people, including people in larger bodies, barriers exist to experiencing all nature has to offer. One company, though, WNDRoutdoors, is looking to change that by hosting size-inclusive events and empowering larger-bodied people to be represented in the outdoors.
“There is a stigma, especially when going to [outdoor] vendors and guides. People in the outdoor space are not always kind and respectful when you’re a fat person. Fat folks many times have negative experiences with vendors and guides. With many outdoor activities, there are often specific weight and size limitations, and that’s not always upfront before you get there. This can result in some pretty harmful body shaming and embarrassment”, notes Arwen Turner, co-founder of WNDRoutdoors.
Kara Hardman, fellow WNDRoutdoors co-founder, agrees, “The stigma is a hard thing to cite.” Reminiscing about her recent venture on a plus-sized Mount Kilimanjaro trip, she adds, “On Kilimanjaro, some people were very nice, very supportive and loved what we were doing, and some just weren’t.”
Both founders of WNDRoutdoors, Kara, and Arwen, have their own experiences with size inclusivity and body positivity. Kara struggled with her body throughout her teens and early 20s. She ended up in the hospital because she was not taking care of herself. Soon after, she turned to nature, a part of her childhood, during her healing process.
For Arwen, after years of not feeling comfortable in her body and not getting outside because there weren’t others who looked like her in most outdoor activities, she found inspiration through the book, Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds, a true story written by Kara Richardson-Whitely.
When both co-founders met at an unlikely hiker’s event, it was one of those moments where you know you have met a friend for life. Then, after hearing the needs of their fellow large-bodied outdoor enthusiasts, WNDRoutdoors was born.
It All Started With A Pant
To better gauge the needs of the large-bodied hiker community, last year, Arwen, along with WNDR’s third co-founder, Katie Carbone, conducted a survey, that is still open for respondents. During the first four weeks of the survey, over 1,200 plus-size individuals participated and shared stories about barriers to getting outside.
Surveyees shared one of the most cited barriers for accessing the outdoors was that their size wasn’t available in outdoor gear. To provide a comfortable and confident outdoor experience, having the right equipment and clothing is critical.
So, as the start to the solution, WNDRoutdoors has spearheaded a technical hiking pant, available for plus-size adventurers. After reviewing many hiking pants on the market to see what works and what doesn’t, the product is in the works. The pants are scheduled for release in early 2021. Just in time for snowshoe season!
As Arwen mentioned, “We want people to get outside, and equipping them with the right clothes and gear are going to do that.”
Bringing People Together
The right clothing, though, is only one piece of the puzzle. Many surveyees also cited nervousness and intimidation of the outdoors as a barrier to getting outside, noting they hadn’t been active outdoors before. Kara mentioned that in her Kilamanjaro experience that having the group as a back up was incredibly helpful. “The group can be behind you and support so that you can say, ‘Yes, I can be out here, and I deserve to be out here.'”
So, to empower plus-size individuals to overcome barriers related to outdoor participation, WNDRoutdoors also creates size-inclusive events. As Kara said, “When the opportunity of showing people that they could have whatever adventure they want came up, I was like, yes, we have to do this!”
Let’s Go Snowshoeing!
The first size-inclusive event, held in January, was none other than snowshoeing. “We knew our first event was going to be in winter, in January, and we wanted to do something that was not too hard, like a beginner type thing, not too death-defying (yet),” shares Kara. “Renting snowshoes is also pretty affordable. We want to give people an experience they could try out. For $20, that’s a risk folks are willing to take,” adds Arwen.
The trail they chose was a perfect first-timer’s trail in Nederland, Colorado. The Tungsten and Kinnickinnick Loop near Mud Lake is wide, open, with limited debris, and is relatively flat, even at 9.000 feet. As Kara and Arwen posted their first event to Facebook, it quickly sold out, with 15 hikers eager for the experience.
One eager hiker was Kara Richardson-Whitely, the author of Gorge, the book which inspired Arwen to reclaim outdoor experiences for herself! This event was actually Richardson-Whitely’s first snowshoeing experience as well.
For a first-timer, the event provided comfort and care for those hesitant about the sport and the outdoor experience. “For all of our events, we make sure we have everyone’s health history information, experience, and anxiety levels around the activity… We wanted to create an environment from the beginning to end of the event that if people wanted to take breaks, or had anxiety, or were struggling, that they felt safe and secure”, emphasized Arwen.
This support is something you don’t get in most experiences, and it makes all the difference. In fact, WNDRoutdoors also vets the vendors they work with as part of their events. The vendor must agree to their body positivity guidelines and treat participants with respect and dignity, which can alleviate pressure as well. Preparation is key.
Tips For The Large-Bodied Snowshoer
For first-time snowshoers and those interested in the sport, Kara and Arwen shared tips from their size-inclusive event.
Finding the Right Snowshoe Size
For an enthusiast just starting in the sport, sizing can be one of the most challenging aspects of snowshoeing. Snowshoes are typically sized based on a weight recommendation. However, this can be misleading and turn into a barrier to snowshoeing, especially for individuals with larger bodies.
Kara shared the impact size recommendations can have for large-bodied individuals and size-inclusivity. “I remembered I had a lot of trouble when I was looking for snowshoes to buy because of the whole weight limit on them and what that actually means. I realized this was probably a barrier for a lot of people who don’t know better to get into the sport. They probably see the weight limit and immediately think ‘this isn’t going to work for me’. But in reality, that’s not true. That’s, essentially, what we’re trying to show people. There may be a barrier, but we can work around it. We can figure it out.”
Case and point: The weight recommendations can be flexible. The intended purpose of snowshoes is for floatation in the snow. In other words, snowshoes help us “float” on the snow when we walk, instead of post-holing and sinking to our knees. But, with packed snow or when there are only a few inches of snow, we don’t sink. Therefore, we don’t require flotation.
Despite this, you may see some snowshoers who choose to wear snowshoes in packed conditions. Typically, they do so for the grip and stability provided by the crampons, not to limit sinking. Thus, if you don’t need to worry about sinking, the weight recommendation is more of a guide, not an end all be all.
If you just focus on weight recommendations, you may end up choosing a snowshoe that is much too long for you. Instead, when choosing a snowshoe for packed conditions, look at the snowshoe in comparison to your foot size. Can your feet fit comfortably in the binding? Can your toes sit two fingers from the opening at the top of the snowshoe?
As part of the WNDRoutdoors event, they rented 30″ Redfeather Trek snowshoes from Larson Sports, which has a weight recommendation of 220 lbs. Since the hike was in packed snow, though, these snowshoes were more than able to support individuals with weights above that recommendation.
If you need a smaller snowshoe based on your foot size and will be in deep snow, some snowshoes come with the option of a tail extension, which helps with floatation. For example, 30″ MSR Lightning Explore snowshoes note they can typically support up to 280 lbs, but with the extender, it can support over 300 lbs.
Putting Your Snowshoes On Your Feet
To find the right snowshoe size, you have to put your snowshoes on, which can sometimes be a difficult task. Kara and Arwen offer some advice. “When you’re in a larger body bending over to put on your snowshoes is really hard. It’s important to have a friend to help you or something to lean on, or else you’re going to get exhausted and frustrated just trying to put them on. If you can avoid this frustration, you can enjoy the experience more.”
Finding a bench to sit on is probably the best support for getting on your ‘shoes. But, a bench can be hard to find on the trail. Instead, you can opt to lean on a tree or ask for assistance from someone in your group.
Working Through The Barriers
As a beginner to any sport, snowshoeing included, it can be scary to know what to expect from the activity. But, anxiety can be compounded when you add in stigma and feeling uncomfortable.
If you’re nervous about where to start, Kara recommends trying a paid excursion first. By having a guide with you, they can help with those little things, like putting on your snowshoes. Also, a guided trip takes some of the pressure off of having to prepare beforehand. It’s an opportunity to see if you like the activity or not without having to jump in completely.
You can also, of course, go with friends and family for your first outing. For those individuals outside of the plus-size community, be an ally for your plus-size friends and family who are interested in trying snowshoeing for the first time, and take them on adventures!
Just remember, no matter who you go with, to start slow for your first adventure. Snowshoeing can be hard work, especially in freshly fallen snow. Start with a relatively flat trail near you. Then, go for a half-mile or a mile to get a feel for it. Or, after a fresh snowstorm, try snowshoeing locally. Snowy golf courses and parks make for great first excursions to get a feel for the sport.
Plus, taking breaks is encouraged! It’s an opportunity to catch your breath, but also to look at the beauty around you. Parks and trails take on a whole new look in the snow. It’s incredible how our backyard can feel like a completely different place after a snowstorm. Enjoy it!
Go Out On An Adventure!
If you’re looking for adventure, WNDRoutdoor will offer size-inclusive events in Colorado throughout the year, dependent on COVID guidelines. Some of the events to come may include camping, horseback riding, or rock climbing. In the long-term, both Kara and Arwen mentioned that they would like to expand their size-inclusive events to places outside of Colorado as well.
To keep up to date on their upcoming size-inclusive events and see highlights from their snowshoeing and snowmobiling events this winter, check out the WNDRoutdoors Facebook page.
And remember, as Arwen mentioned, “It’s not about how far you’re going or the calories burned or how fast, it’s really about being able to experience something in a safe community.”
Would you go on a size-inclusive adventure with WNDRoutdoors or go on your own? Share your thoughts and experience with us in the comments below. 🙂