Plus-Size Activewear

For all seasons!

June 2, 2021: This is getting a major revamp right now and will be including gear! So much to look forward to. Check back soon xo

If you’re looking for the Unlikely Hikers SHOE, go here: MERRELL x UNLIKELY HIKERS

It’s still so ridiculously hard to find good, quality plus size activewear for all seasons, especially if you’re over a size 3X. I compiled this list of leggings, activewear, baselayers, jackets, rain/snow protection, underwear & bathing suits to ease some of the anxiety and frustration of being a plus-size outdoorsperson. WE EXIST! Even if they don’t see us or, I guess, want our money? These resources are definitely coming from a femme and “women’s” perspective (quotation marks very intentional), with a few androgynous items here and there. I’m considering including “mens” stuff, but I know so many of us are tired of wearing mens clothing as alternatives to what we haven’t been able to find.

I want this list to be for us, by us. It will be updated and added-to regularly. Please add your thoughts, advice and resources and be a part of the conversation!

We’ve got A LOT to cover:

  1. We Just Want Functional Clothing That Isn’t Ugly
  2. Clothing resources up to 6X
  3. Price hacks because this stuff is EXPENSIVE
  4. Chub rub! Perennially unchill
  5. How to layer for cold temperatures
  6. Contribute to the conversation!

  1. We Just Want Functional Clothing That Isn’t Ugly

The topic of plus-size clothing tends to find its way into almost everything I write even when I’m really trying not to talk about it. I’ll write some sincere, personal post about something else entirely, but if I attach it to a selfie, the comments will be about my clothes. “What are you wearing?” “Where did you get your leggings?” “I’m trying to find a rain jacket that works.” I’ve dreaded these questions because I’ve been wearing clothing that hasn’t worked for me the way I’d like it to, like wearing mens clothes because I can actually get them on my body, though they don’t exactly fit. I don’t want to encourage people to buy more clothes that are simply halfway decent, especially with how expensive this stuff is. Until recently, I wore almost nothing that could be bought at an outdoor retailer. That feels weird and frustrating to say as I become more enmeshed in the outdoor industry and I’m being asked to speak at events for brands that don’t make clothes in my size. What’s been available to me is either only online, ugly or doesn’t fit right despite being “my size.” This is far more difficult for folks who wear bigger sizes. Do they really think we don’t get out? Or, at the very least, that we don’t need protection from rain and cold? When I walk into a retailer of any kind and my size isn’t included it shows me I’m not being considered. How do you not internalize that?

Representation & barriers

Representation matters and I know this has played a part in what took me so long to get outdoors. When we don’t see ourselves represented, it sends a subconscious message we don’t belong. Which brings me to my least favorite thing: online shopping. With the few options we’ve had, why have we been relegated to online shopping? Plus-sizes are so inconsistent in design and sizing, not being able to try something on first is a gamble some of us aren’t willing to take. I often hear folks say they buy THREE sizes of one item online and send back the two that don’t fit. Most of us don’t have the money to do that. This is especially hard for plus-size people who live outside of the U.S., as plus-sizes are even more scarce and ordering American stuff online is more expensive, with crazy high shipping and it’s more of a hassle to return and exchange things that don’t work. We want the same basic things straight-size (meaning, not plus-size) people get to have, but we’re often having to settle for things we don’t actually like or nothing at all. Not making clothes in our sizes, not carrying them in the actual stores and pricing them out of our means are forms of exclusion.

There’s often a notable gap between how much “womens” straight sizes and plus sizes cost and both cost more than “mens” options. We’re paying more because it’s considered special. Considering plus-size women and femmes are systematically paid less than our thinner peers, this doesn’t bode well. And my god, we can’t stop sizing at a 3X. According to most brands, it’s not “profitable” to make extended sizing and I’m calling bullshit on that. People can’t buy what they don’t know exists and I don’t believe most of these brands have ever been in touch with what plus-size people want. Choosing to not make bigger clothes is choosing to exclude people.

Style

Let’s not insult our own intelligence and act like we don’t care about how we look. It’s all about function, blah, blah blah. Of course function matters, but we all care about our appearance. It’s not a bad thing and it’s not our fault. So much of our social capital is based on it. It totally matters even if it shouldn’t. We should be able to express ourselves with our clothing. For the longest time, plus-size outdoor offerings have been so drab and matronly, like grandma-on-safari or, worse, infantalizing color palettes of pinks and purples. To be clear, grandma-on-safari sounds badass, but it’s not the look I want. It’s not current and I imagine plenty of older women don’t want it either. The shapes are oversized, tent-like. I want things to fit my body, not hide it. My body is not a secret. I want function, but I also want clothes that make me feel empowered and stylish. I want them to make me want to go outside and go harder because I know I look awesome.

Embodiment

Plus-size people are out here. It hurts when people comment on my posts saying they wish they could be as brave as me to go hiking and post photos of myself in movement. Finding joyful movement has healed me tremendously. Learning to be in touch with my body’s abilities and disabilities and feel empowered by movement is a gift I wish for everyone who wants it. There are so many messages on a daily basis telling us we don’t look right, we don’t know how to feed ourselves, we don’t know what our bodies need, that we always need to be chasing something that costs money to make us “better.” Nobody knows what our bodies need more than we do. This messaging is trampling our intuition and not allowing us to be IN our bodies. And that goes for people of all sizes, all genders. In the outdoors, my physical being doesn’t take up too much space the way I have learned it does in daily life. I’m able to fully be in my body without all of that harmful messaging. And I deserve to feel really freaking cute and comfortable in my clothes while doing it.


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Pants by, Columbia. Shirt by, Smartwool. Pack by, Granite Gear. Shoes are always Merrell.
  1. Clothing Resources

-Stay away from COTTON! Just in case some know-it-all outdoorsperson hasn’t already told you, it takes forever to dry, sticks to your skin and can be potentially dangerous in cold weather. While shopping, pay attention to fabrics. You want synthetic fabrics, for the most part, or wool. Eff the polyester stigma, it’s great!
-I’m only posting things that go up to 3X or bigger.
-Things I have personally tried have a “*” next to them.
-I can’t tell anyone what will work for them, even if they’re the same size. Surprise, plus-size bodies are diverse! I just want to present options.

Brands outside of the U.S.

Plus-size clothing is even harder to find outside of the U.S. and the shipping from buying American brands online is exorbitant. I made this a separate category so it would be easy to find.

Active Truth (up to 3X) – Australia – leggings, tights and tops.
Sportive Plus (up to 4X) – Canada – All of the things! And some Canadian brands! There are three physical locations in Quebec in Saint-Clet, Boucherville & Laval. You can also find a U.S. website.
Addition Elle (up to 4X) – Canada – Trendy activewear and bizarrely low prices… I hope they aren’t going out of business.

Special shout-out to Dia & Co (up to 32) – shop their catalog or opt for personal styling! You fill out their style quiz and they prepare a box of selected goodies in-line with the information you provided. They also offer an Active box for activewear. Plus, your purchases directly support Unlikely Hikers!

Leggings & Everyday Activewear

*Unlikely Hikers (up to 4X) – Performance Tees *wink* I desperately want these to go up to a 6X. It’s wild how difficult this is, but I’m TRYING.
*Eddie Bauer (up to 3X) – Best fit EVER! Leggings, activewear and beyond. The price points are some of the best in the industry.
*Superfit Hero (up to 5X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras. These are my FAVORITE leggings! Get yours with code “UNLIKELYHIKERS” for 15% off!
*Day Won (up to 30/32) -finally fit, style, sustainability AND sizes up to 30/32. I am obsessed with these.
*Columbia (up to 3X) – all of the things! And you can find many of these items in store.
*REI (up to 3X) – all of the things! And you can find many of these items in store.
*Walmart (up to 5X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, light jackets. CHEAP! You can find many of these items in store.
Bombsheller (up to 6X) – THE CUTEST LEGGINGS. Not cheap, but they’re a small company and they’re not see-thru #holygrail
LightHeart Gear (up to 3X) – Cottage brand, made in the U.S., leggings, shorts, hiking skirts & dresses along with other ultralight gear.
Rsport (up to 6X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, light jackets, accessories.
Torrid (up to 6X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, bathing suits. You can find many of these items in store.
Old Navy (up to 4X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops.
Yogatech (up to 3X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops.
Woman Within (up to 5X) – Leggings. Not all of these are considered activewear. You don’t want anything with cotton if these are for exercise!
Lands’ End (up to 3X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, light jackets. Cheap!
JunoActive (up to 6X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, light jackets. Not all of these are cotton-free! Pay attention to the materials.
LIVI Active By, Lane Bryant (up to 3X) – Leggings, shorts, sports bras, active tops, light jackets, athleisure. Fancy, expensive shit. You can find many of these items in store.
Addition Elle (up to 4X) – Canadian brand with super cute activewear.
JCPenney Xersion (up to 5X) – leggings, shorts, shirts, cheap!

Sports Bras

Shefit (up to the 6Luxe, which is a 51-55” bust, 42-48” rib cage) – this looks amazing. I am def going to try it.
Enell (up to an 8, which is a 56”-60” bust, 49”-53” rib cage. They also do CUSTOM fits!)
Glamorise Sport (up to 50J)
LIVI Active By, Lane Bryant (up to 44H) –  You can find many of these items in store.
Brooks (up to 44E) – not a great size selection, but this category is feeling a little desperate.
Note: 1. I haven’t a clue about functional sports bras. Seriously, help me. I wear a $12 job from Walmart over my regular bras and it does fine, but I’d LOVE to know more about great sports bras. 2) Many of the “Leggings & Everyday Activewear” brands above carry sports bras, they’re just not as techy as these.

Base Layers (Basically, long johns. Scroll down for winter layering guide!)

For more in depth reviews of winter layers up to 3x, check out my Outside Magazine article, Winter Layering for the Plus-Size Hiker.

*Columbia (up to 3X) – the Midweight Stretch Long Sleeve Shirt and Tight are my favorite! You might find these in store.
*Smartwool 250 Base Layers (up to 3X) – Expensive, but gorgeous. They’re stretchy and would likely fit someone up to 4X. I am very excited to say Smartwool updated their previous plus-size fit and I LOVE THEM! Currently, only available through REI, I believe.
Land’s End (up to 3X) – more affordable.
AlpineCurves (up to 4X)
DSG Outwerwear (up to 4X)
Notes: 1. I couldn’t find anything above a 4X even in men’s sizes. This sucks. 2. Most of these are extremely stretchy and could likely fit a person at least one size bigger. 2. Base layers can also be like leggings, long sleeve active tops, long johns all things without cotton but you don’t want them to be too tight.

Outer Layers aka Soft Shells (Jackets & Pants)

*Eddie Bauer (up to 3X) – Best fitting outerwear and they even have snow options. EB might be the holy grail.
*Columbia (up to 3X) – The Anytime Casual Pull On Pant and Pike Lake Hooded Vest are personal favorites. You might find these in store.
*REI (up to 3X) – the Co-Op 650 Down Jacket & Vest are classic. You can find these in store!
AlpineCurves (up to 5X in some styles)
DSG Outerwear (up to 5X in some styles) – many options for snow activities
Woman Within (up to 6X in some styles) – not very techy, but many cute styles for everyday wear AND rain/wind/cold protection.
Lands’ End (up to 3X) – not very techy, but many cute styles for everyday wear AND rain/wind/cold protection.
Pulse (up to 6X in some styles) – Jackets. Everywhere I looked, Pulse jackets were mostly sold out. Worth an extensive Google. I found the best selection on Amazon, but when I clicked on the brand page, it took me a to a lube brand, lolz.

Shell aka Hard Shell (Rain Jackets & Pants for Weather Protection)

*REI (up to 3X) – the Co-Op Rainier Rain Jacket is my favorite everyday rain jacket and they come in great colors! For more heavy duty activities, the Co-Op XeroDry GTX Pants and Jacket are THE BEST. More function than fashion, but sometimes that’s what you need. You can find these in store!
Columbia (up to 3X) – sooo many options and colors! Columbia’s ahead of the game. You can find these in store!
AlpineCurves (up to 5X in *some* styles)
DSG Outerwear (up to 5X in *some* styles) – many options for snow activities.
Woman Within (up to 6X in some styles) – not very techy, but many cute styles for everyday wear AND rain/wind/cold protection.
Lands’ End (up to 3X) – not very techy, but many cute styles for everyday wear AND rain/wind/cold protection.
Pulse (up to 6X in some styles) – Jackets. As stated elsewhere, everywhere I looked, Pulse jackets were mostly sold out. Worth an extensive Google. I found the best selection on Amazon.

Underwear

*Duluth Trading Company (up to 3X) – these are my favorite underwear, especially the Buck Naked boy shorts. The Armachillo unders are awesome, too. I heard a rumor these may be going up to a 4X. You can find them in store!
Undersummers (up to 5x) – most of these only go to 4X, so dig a little for the 5Xs. These are mostly for chafing protection than being actual underwear, but they do have a few underwear options. Not shape wear!
JunoActive (up to 6X in some styles)
TomboyX (up to 4X) – the MicroModal collection is cotton-free and the Active Drirelease collection contains only 15% cotton.
ExOfficio (up to 3X) – Linked is the only style I found going up to a 3X, which made me kind of not want to list it, but folks have been raving about these.
Fruit of the Loom (up to 13)
Lane Bryant (up to 28) – the seamless stuff is all cotton-free. So are these “cooling” options. You can find these in store!
Note: Remember, the fabric just needs to be cotton-free so it dries faster. You can find cotton-free underwear in many places you’d normally shop. Pro-tip: nylon dries best.

Bathing Suits

*Swimsuits For All (up to size 26) – my favorite. Especially the GabiFresh and Ashley Graham collections.
Gyv Me Body (up to 4X) – Sexy ass thotwear. Like, I want to wear these at the nude beach and in the club. Woman of color owned!
Torrid (up to 6X) – SO CUTE. So many styles. I will definitely be nabbing one (or more of these) soon. You can find these in store!
Beefcake Swimwear (up to 4X) – One-piece, 1920s style, androgynous bathing suits. So cute!
TomboyX (up to 4X) – gender-free swimwear!
Lane Bryant (up to size 28) – Impressed with all of these cute styles. Different coverage levels for all preferences! You can find these in store!
Unique Vintage (up to 4X) – These bathing suits are SO HOT.
Mod Cloth (up to 4X in some styles) – These are so cute, but I am disturbed by all of the backviews being of thin people. Go look! It’s so weird. Like, hot fat babe from the front, thin babe from the back.
Note: I focused on fashion more than function as that’s where *I’m* coming from, but I’d love some functional suggestions from you hardcore swimmers and divers.

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Bathing suit by, Swimsuits For All.

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Entire outfit by, Walmart except for leg brace and backpack. Photo by, Isaac Lane Koval
  1. Price Hacks

As long as you know that cotton is a NO (how many times can I say this?!), you can find good enough clothing at most of your big name stores. They might be less technical, more weighty and maybe not compress as well in your pack (I’m thinking about cold layers like puffy coats, in particular), but you don’t need all of the bells and whistles for a day hike. You just want to be dry, warm enough and unencumbered. Synthetic fabrics are important for all weather. Wool works well for cold weather. I know I’m not supposed to encourage shopping at Walmart, but not all of us have the financial privilege of making that decision and they actually make plus sizes. Target, Kohl’s, and anywhere else you buy your plus sizes are great places to bargain shop now that you know what to look for (Avenue, Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Rainbow, etc). Online: Amazon and eBay are great resources AND you might be able to find the high-end stuff cheaply. If you like shopping online, looking for these items off season, or better, the end of a season can yield some amazing deals. Thrifting is another great option, though I find plus sizes scarce, especially anything over a 2X or 18/20. Still, if you’ve got the will, you might find some amazing stuff. In Portland, we have this great store, Next Adventure, with a bargain basement of used clothing and gear. I’ve gotten a bunch of stuff there!


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Shorts by, Superfit Hero. Shirt by, me, obv. Get your Superfits with code “UNLIKELYHIKERS” for 15% off!
  1. Chub Rub

I had no idea where to put this, but it’s SO IMPORTANT. My m.o. is to keep my sweaty skin from rubbing against other sweaty areas, especially inner thighs, by wearing leggings or bike shorts long enough to keep skin from touching. When this isn’t possible because of shorter shorts, skirts, dresses and bathing suits, I’ll use an anti-chafing product. Body Glide is my go-to. It’s longer lasting, not messy and holds up while sweating. Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel is another good option, but the tube is small and it doesn’t last as long for me. I am really sweaty. Powders, like Goldbond don’t work for me at all if I’m sweating and I’m also worried about the talc factor (cancer, but what doesn’t give us cancer these days…). I’ve heard great things about ChafeZone, but haven’t tried it. Another good option are garments specifically made for inner thigh chafe, like Undersummers (up to 5x).


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Leggings, Superfit Hero. Vest, Columbia. Shirt, Smartwool. Get your Superfits with code “UNLIKELYHIKERS” for 15% off!
  1. How to layer for colder weather

For more in depth reviews of winter layers up to 3x, check out my Outside Magazine article, Winter Layering for the Plus-Size Hiker.

I didn’t know what a base layer was until this year. Seriously. I grew up in San Diego and I’ve never been a snow person. Layering is about more than staying warm. Wearing the right materials helps regulate your comfort as your activity level or the weather changes. When you get sweaty and stop for a break or a snack, you can get cold fast and run the risk of hypothermia, especially in windy conditions. How many times can I say “no cotton?” It clings when you sweat and doesn’t dry as quickly as wool or synthetic materials, leaving you shivering in cold, soggy layers longer. Note: I’ve never had to layer for temps colder than 10 degrees fahrenheit.I welcome suggestions! Here are the basics:

  • Base layer: A thin, lightweight, moisture-wicking layer between your skin and winter wear to keep you from steeping in your own sweat. Think long-sleeved tops, long johns and legging-style pants that conform to your body but aren’t too tight or restrictive.
  • Midlayer: Clothing that holds your body heat in. What types of midlayer you choose, if any, are a little more dependent on weather conditions: How cold is it? How long will you be out? Think flannels, fleeces, sweaters, light jackets, and puffy vests.
  • Outer layer aka soft shell: Designed to keep cold and wind out. Think puffy coats and waterproof pants. The warmness level of puffy coats varies based on their fill. If it’s not pouring rain, I prefer a rain-resistant pant, which is lighter and more breathable. Snow pants are too warm for me, but they’re a good idea if you run cold or if you’re participating in snow sports rather than hiking snowy trails.
  • Shell aka hard shell: A piece that shields you from rain, wind, and snow. A hooded waterproof jacket is essential. My jam? A puffy coat under a rain jacket, which are generally thin and only protect from wind and rain. Waterproof puffy coats also exist. Make sure your shell is big enough to fit over all your layers.
  • Accessories: I suggest wearing a knit cap long enough to cover your ears or a fleece-lined cold-weather headband. Waterproof gloves are a must. I prefer the kind that transition from mittens to fingerless gloves for dexterity. A buff is great for face coverage, especially in the wind.

I rarely put on all of these things at the outset of a hike. Usually, I start out with my base layer, midlayer, rain-resistant pants or, if it’s raining or snowing, a shell and rain pants. When I get moving, I heat up fast. I put on my top-half outer layers as I need them. Don’t let yourself get soaked before putting them on!

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Layering close-up: Base layer, Columbia. Shirt, Smartwool. Puffy, REI. Shell, REI.

  1. Contribute to the Conversation

Please make your own suggestions in the comment box below and I will likely add them to the lists as long as suggestions are for sizes over 2X. There are too many things that stop at a 2X and I’m not trying to promote that. Any hacks, ideas, etc. welcome! Let’s build this out.

[Title image outfit: base layer and flannel by, Columbia. Bottoms are Smartwool. Merrell shoes and Carhartt beanie.]
If you use or enjoy the content I create, please consider making a donation to sustain my work. Thank you for the support!
More writing of mine you may find of interest:
Outside: Winter Layering for the Plus-Size Hiker
Outside: I Don’t Hike to Lose Weight. I Hike Because I Love It.
Does this Mountain I Just Climbed Make Me Look Fat?

1 Comment

  1. Hey Jenny!
    This list is AMAZING. Thank you!! You have to add Live-In High Waist Zella leggings from Nordstrom to the list. Worth every penny. The regular ones though that basically never go on sale except for during the Anniversary sale. The Zella leggings you can get at Nordstrom Rack aren’t quite the same – those ones stretch out and the ones with pockets tended to fit differently and roll at the waist, but the regular ones are phenomenal for big booty hour glass shapes. So many reviews, check them out.

    Girlfriend Collective is amazing but for me the leggings were noisy. I know that’s a weird observation but it drives me crazy when I hear my pants when I’m walking. Thick thighs save lives and all, but I don’t want to hear mine in the woods 🤣

    And yes, soo much YES on SheFIT. Bought my first two bras this week (one ultimate, one flex). I was desperately in need of new sports bras, my last two were Champion from Target but I was getting some painful chafing because they bras were too loose and couldn’t tape my girls under the bra any longer (all the BodyGlide and Megababe in the world wasn’t helping). At first the SheFIT bras felt a little tight but I hit the trail for a 5-miler in the Ultimate anyway. I was kind of annoyed when I started to chafe a little on the one side about 2 miles in until I realized the UTTER BRILLIANCE of being able to adjust each strap separately because obviously they’re sisters, not twins! I locked the (ever-so-slightly) smaller one down a bit more and perfection! Of course once done with the hike, I was able to loosen it up and not lock them down as tight until I was able to get home to change, which was great too. Seriously, life changing. (Not affiliated, just newly obsessed)

    Oh and SPIBELT! I didn’t look to see if you had accessories listed but I’m obsessed with this too. I didn’t think it would fit but it stretches to fit my hips (I’m a solid 2X/20) and wear it every hike for even easier access to my phone, chapstick, etc. if I don’t want to mess with the pockets on my pack or whatever. Game changer.

    Like

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