A huge welcome to Claire, our first Vampire Outdoors Ambassador.
Read on to learn more about Claire, what she loves to get up to in the outdoors, and the struggles she has faced and overcome in living her best adventurous outdoorsy life.
Hello there! I’m Claire, a 38 year old woman living in West Yorkshire. I openly and happily describe myself as a fat woman, roughly a 3XL-5XL. However, since women’s clothing sizes are varied, a more accurate way to do this is with my measurements – Bust 140cm – Waist 127cm and hip 158cm when standing.
My outdoor activities are mostly hiking/walking and whilst I’m doing that. I’m usually looking for flowers, bugs, or trees as I very much enjoy spotting things around me and figuring out what they are. More recently I have tried open water swimming, canoeing, and paddle boarding, and hope to do these activities more as part of getting outside and doing fun things.
There are many things I like about getting outside but the most memorable times haven’t been the struggling, crying, huffing and puffing. When I think back, the memories are usually of a view, a perfect lunch spot, a new (to me) flower or insect, or simply getting to the tea room at the end of a walk and feeling tired and content. I’ve found the Every Body Outdoors plus size community to be very inspirational in trying a new route or new activity, and seeing others who both look like me and face the same challenges as me really helps lower the barriers to me trying.
I got into hiking after I started dating my now husband, 16 years ago. I didn’t do any exercise for fun before I met him and only cycled for commuting or went to the gym (which I’ve never particularly enjoyed). Our first holiday together was to Wasdale in the Lake District and having grown up near the Fens in Cambridgeshire I was blown away by the hills around me, and the woodlands, waterfalls and an abundance of places to explore.
If I’m honest, I was not a natural at getting outdoors. I had little experience, very basic gear, and no knowledge of map reading or route planning. I am thankful I had my husband to introduce me. Being outdoorsy doesn’t always come easily for me and there are days where I just don’t want to hike, particularly when trudging in the rain. I’ve also picked up a number of injuries over the years which has changed how I approach walking. For example, in the beginning I used to be quite a hill bagger and was overly focussed on the summits and challenges etc. Now I have more of a slow pace and focus on the landscape, peacefulness, and calmness that walking from one place to another brings.
I hike mostly with my husband or by myself. My slower pace and overall anxiety of being the slowest put me off group hiking for a long time, and I still don’t seek it out often. I have had a few experiences which weren’t very enjoyable, so now make sure I go on walks with others who are mindful of the whole group. I would love to go on more group hikes and meet new people and have found more openly mixed groups to be much more welcoming.
Like a lot of fat people I’ve had negative experiences when accessing the outdoors. Much of the time it isn’t overtly-sounding discrimination that you can point to, but it’s in the lack of clothing options (sizes, range and quality) and the advertising of all outdoor activities or even recreational spaces. It’s also the anti-fat and very narrow-minded comments made by members of organisations who are bringing in more inclusivity.
Most people don’t say things to your face when you meet them, but I’ve had more than enough comments like “you’re nearly there”, “well done you”, “keep going”, like I haven’t been doing this for many years and created this route myself. My thin husband doesn’t seem to get these comments, ever.
The impact of not having suitable clothing is as simple as I cannot do the activity at all, to I am mildly uncomfortable for the whole time, or that I would be in danger if I got into trouble. These comments and experiences can, and do, get me down sometimes and it’s difficult not to be irritated at every new ‘inclusivity’ launch and still feel excluded.
However, I would rather see the change happen slowly than not at all. There are now many more options in the technical gear range and thankfully I’ve been able to order waterproofs and a backpack designed for plus sizes and the difference in fit is noticeably different. I’m so happy to now have options.
When I first took out my Outdoor Research Aspire II plus size waterproof coat that I’d purchased from Vampire Outdoors I remember stopping and describing in detail to my husband that for the first time I wasn’t acutely aware of my body in my outdoor clothing. The jacket simply fit me without being too long in the arm, or too big around the chest, or too small at the hip. I was entirely free from thoughts of discomfort from my clothing and I was quite emotional. That’s the impact of having clothing that fits me. I can now focus on the walk itself and the company I’m in, rather than fidgeting with my clothes.
I’ll also say that my sanity was saved partly by creating my own outdoor clothing out of frustration at not being able to find gear. My first sewing pattern launched through my sewing pattern company, Sew Outdoorsy, in 2022, was the Borrowdale Waterproof Trouser. At the time there simply weren’t any options for me to buy which fit me like I needed. So, I created a PDF sewing pattern for sale to enable people to learn to sew their own should they want to. I’ve gone on to launch four patterns so far and many more to come!
Despite the negatives I’ve mentioned in accessing the outdoors I’ve also seen compassion, solidarity and change over the years. From the Every Body Outdoors community, seeing creators on social media show up and be themselves, and show what they’re doing to brands stepping up and supporting size inclusivity.
I can now get a wider range of clothing to purchase and now have the majority of the technical items I need. I am still at the top of those size ranges, and still can’t go into a shop and purchase which is frustrating, but at least having the clothing to wear is wonderful.
Now I’m getting into new activities such as watersports, I’ve found I’ve had to lean into the knowledge of others to help find gear, as wetsuits, swimwear, and flotation devices all have their issues with size inclusivity too! I’ve also found an online community that I hope to be more involved in, in real life, soon.
For those just starting out it can be daunting, I have a lot of experience in the hills now and getting started is hard when you have both the clothing and the inexperience to think about but you can do it. Start with small manageable trips or days and join local groups to give you confidence and not worry about doing your own navigation.
Claire is a regional volunteer for Every Body Outdoors CIC, so keep an eye out for activities you can join and meet Claire.!