When climber and general outdoor enthusiast Bennett Rahn decided to learn to ski this past season, she had a hell of a time finding shell bibs that fit her.
“I’ve always had to shop in the men’s department,” Rahn says. “My first pair of rain pants were men’s, my first sleeping bag was men’s. The problem is when I’m looking for specific technical gear, and there’s just nothing.”
So when Rahn, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, decided to add skiing to her outdoor repertoire, she wasn’t at all surprised that finding adequate pants was problematic. After trying a cheap pair of snow pants that sat too low on her hips and dug into her belly, Rahn, who is 5’10” and wears between an XL and 1X, had had enough.
“I’d bend over and the button would pop open, then my pants would fall down,” Rahn laughs. “I realized I needed not just fit but function.” That’s when she started calling every brand she could think of, asking if they’d considered adding more inclusive sizing across their technical clothing lines.
“‘This is ridiculous,’ I thought. My straight-sized friends have 16 different options in dozens of colors, and I have none!,” Rahn exclaims. “Clothing that fits bodies of all shapes and sizes should not be something that we have to ask for in the outdoor industry. And by not offering plus-sizes in their lines, outdoor clothing manufacturers are sending a message that fat men and women don’t belong in the outdoors—whether they mean to or not.”
That’s why Rahn partnered with Outdoor Research to expand its line for Fall and Winter 2021 to include up to XXXL, and will go even further with its Spring 2022 line, launching a plus-size collection featuring 1X-3X and 16W-24W with proportionally more room at the bust and waist.
In order to do this right the first time, OR put together an advisory committee consisting of Rahn and several other plus-size athletes, including LatinX mountaineer Sam Ortiz, Portland-based climber Megan Banker, and founder of Fat Wander Babes Kaila Walton.
“This is about getting people outside, people whose outdoor experiences are compromised by the lack of outdoor clothing that fits and performs well,” says Liz Wilson, OR’s VP of Product. “To make sure we are meeting their needs, we partnered with a group of advisors representing this long-underserved community of guides, athletes, and adventurers. And with their help, we begin a journey toward empowering outdoor adventures for all.”
In the 2021 ski collection, OR has expanded the sizing on core pieces including the Snowcrew Jacket and Pants and the Coldfront down hoodie and vest insulation pieces. For base and mid layers, the Alpine Onset Merino wool top and bottom and the Trailmix fleece pullover and full-zip jacket offer a few options for warmth, temperature regulation, and high performance on the slopes. OR is the first brand focusing on a technical layering system from base to shell.
“I’m super-excited about some of OR’s base layer pieces,” says Rahn, who says that finding next-to-skin layers that are actually warm, sweat wicking, and lightweight has been hard for her. She has high hopes for OR’s inclusive sizes because the brand used plus-size athletes in its development process.
“It makes a huge difference in the fit and function,” says Rahn. “Human bodies don’t just expand exponentially from size medium.”
In the spring 2022 collection, the plus-size pieces notable for skiers include the softshell Cirque II pant, a mountaineering favorite, and the Helium Insulated Hoodie, the brand’s warmest and most technical down jacket, which makes a great insulation layer under a ski shell.
“Inclusive sizing isn’t a product launch, it’s a commitment to doing things intentionally and, frankly, it’s something that is long overdue,” Wilson says. “So, for us, this is a starting point from which we plan to build on as we become a more inclusive brand.”
OR is doing good work here, but they’re not the only ones entering the plus-size outerwear and gear space. Gregory launched the Amber 44 Plus-Size pack this summer, with a hip belt that goes to 60 inches—and an optional extender that lengthens it to 100 inches—redesigned shoulder straps for better mobility, and large, easy-access zippered hip pockets. The Amber Plus-Size is aimed toward sizes 2X to 6X.
Columbia is one of the biggest apparel names that’s been catering to plus-sized adventurers for a while, with sizing on most pieces that go up to 3X for women and 5XT for men. REI is another big brand that does a great job with inclusive sizing, offering women’s gear up to size 4X and men’s to 5X. Eddie Bauer also makes women’s apparel up to 3X and men’s to 2X (which is close to a 2XL). Rahn wears the brand’s BC Fineline Bib, and “could rave about it for hours,” she says.
“The common reaction I’ve gotten when I’ve reached out to outerwear brands is ‘We didn’t think there was a market for it,’” says Rahn. “That tells us that 1) we are not welcome, and 2) we are not worth investing in. But regardless, the outerwear companies are objectively wrong, there’s a huge market. It’s just that there’s been so few options, so no one has anything to spend money on.”