Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Too fat to backpack?

My first visit to a store to shop for a backpack turned out differently from my expectations.

I stopped at Eastern Mountain Sports, a regional outdoor chain here in the Northeast United States, and one I've shopped at before. I spent a few minutes looking at backpacks. A salesman approached me, we started talking about my upcoming backpacking trip, and as soon as he discovered I have a 48 inch waist, he said "you shouldn't be backpacking."


"You can't get a hip belt in sizes that big. The pads will be in the wrong place and all the weight will be on your shoulders.You will hurt yourself."

"I don't want all the weight on my shoulders. What do you suggest?"

"I don't know. The only manufacturer I know that makes packs for bigger guys is Gregory, because the owner is a big guy himself, but he's built differently, with really big shoulders.They probably won't fit you."

The conversation continued on the same lines, with the salesman discouraging me from going on a backpacking overnight, at one point saying I could hurt "internal organs." He did offer me a rental, the EMS house brand Long Trail, which still didn't fit right but he thought looked better. He also didn't want to give me my torso size, which is what I'd need to correctly size a pack. He did, saying 20 inches was my size.

I left the store discouraged. Was my backpacking overnight not going to happen? Was I too fat to backpack?

However, a little bit of research resolved my doubts. To pick one example, Cabela's makes a backpack suitable for an overnight or weekend trip with a belt that will fit a 50 inch waist. Kelty makes a pack that will fit a 54 waist. I'm sure there are others.

Also, I learned that for some backpacks hip belts are changeable, meaning the belt could be swapped out for one larger. And I've been advised there's always do it yourself changes to the belt.

The point of this post isn't to trash Eastern Mountain Sports. However, there's a lot of bad information out there regarding bigger people and outdoor gear, and this is a chance to get good information in the public eye. Also, EMS lost a sale. I was in retail sales for several years, and you don't make money telling people no. This is something they can work on.

I am attempting to open a conversation with Eastern Mountain Sports on Twitter about what happened yesterday. I'm also asking for information on packs for larger folks from manufacturers. Follow me: @ATaste4TheWoods

Oh, and the backpacking project is still on.



At May 14, 2014 at 6:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you did some reasearch and found packs that will work. Good for you Neil!

At May 14, 2014 at 6:16 AM , Anonymous David Crowell said...

Same thing with some bike shops - as I'm sure you're aware.

I knew a woman who didn't start cycling because a shop told her she'd need a custom frame for her 400lbs. Load. Of. Bull.

At May 14, 2014 at 6:25 AM , Blogger Jim Darroch said...

My name is Jim Darroch and I'm Brand Communications Manager at Eastern Mountain Sports.

First and foremost, I apologize for the unprofessional way you were treated in our Collegeville store. Suffice to say, this is NOT how we train our employees to take care of our customers. Custom orders from our fulfillment center or straight from our vendors are very common. The associate should have taken that extra step and saved the judgment of what you are physically capable of to you and only you.

I am profoundly sorry for your experience and I would appreciate the opportunity to make this up to you. Please contact me at 603-371-8827 or

Kind regards,

Jim Darroch
Brand Communications Manager
Eastern Mountain Sports

At May 14, 2014 at 6:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw your post on facebook and was really glad that you got positive feedback on finding a pack that fits or using an extension.

I am disappointed that a sales representative took that route. They should be the first ones in line to encourage people to get out there and get the right gear. Even if he did not know of a suitable product, or about extensions, he should have encouraged you to get a piece of webbing and make it work.

Some people look at others and judge their status as a result of their previous decisions and now want you to pay the price. They say "oh this guy is over weight, its his fault and he should pay". I see that all the time with people that have been in prison and our society disregards and hinder their progress and keep them from getting past bad decisions or a difficult situation.

I am glad you were not discouraged and hope you get your first backpacking trip soon. Saw your post about the creek hikes in State Gamelands 13 and now that's on my To Do list.

Congratulations on your wright loss and more importantly on having a good time outdoors.


At May 14, 2014 at 7:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also as a Big Guy I found Mountainsmith makes hip belts big enough and they are decent bags especially for the price.

At May 14, 2014 at 8:43 AM , Blogger Jo said...

This is inspirational. Thank you for not giving up. Backpacking is a perfect sport for larger people - I can go at my own pace, pick the level of challenge I want, and feel great about life all at the same time.

At May 14, 2014 at 8:44 AM , Blogger The Historian said...

This happens too often. The outdoors is for everyone.

At May 14, 2014 at 8:47 AM , Blogger The Historian said...

Jim, I've sent you an email. I'll just add here that I think its great that EMS is responding to my concerns, and that your company does believe the outdoors is for everyone. And I love the microspikes I got from you in February. I almost miss the snow. Almost.

At May 14, 2014 at 2:14 PM , Blogger Eric M said...

Good show. Also, though some disagree and it's been a long time since I've done it myself: For a normal overnight camping trip, with a few miles of fairly normal terrain, you do not need a hip belt for the pack. On a long trip, or if your pack is, er, packed, or if it's unevenly distributed and can't be helped, then a hip belt is great. I found (again, this is many years ago) that the hip belt can sometimes clash with the 'regular' belt looped around my pants. Anyway, have fun!

At May 16, 2014 at 2:58 AM , Blogger bob said...

I shop at EMS. Personnel have been top notch! I find it hard to believe that their salesperson was discouraging someone from trying to purchase items from the store. Perhaps the customer is overly sensitive about his appearance and taking it out on others. There is always two sides to a story.

At May 19, 2014 at 5:25 AM , Blogger Song of Joy said...

This is so encouraging! I want to take my dad backpacking on the AT & was wondering about gear. I'd love to know how your trip goes & your advice about different gear that you use or find.

At May 19, 2014 at 5:34 AM , Anonymous Jenny said...

I loved hearing your story! Glad you found a way to do what you love despite obstacles.

At May 20, 2014 at 4:26 AM , Blogger The Historian said...

Perhaps, but its hard to reconcile an alleged sensitivity about my appearance with the many photos of me in Lycra posted on I haven't been exactly shy.

At May 20, 2014 at 8:35 AM , Anonymous Tam said...

Bob, are you fat? Don't bother answering, because I know already that you're not. If you were, you wouldn't be surprised by random discouragement, bigotry, and shame. You'd experience it all the time, yes, even in great places filled with generally good people, like EMS. I love EMS, I shop there all the time and I've spent a good deal of my money outfitting myself there for backpacking. And yet, I couldn't get someone to help me pick a pack either. My husband however, couldn't get the salesman off of him when he just tried to lift one down to put it on. He's not fat. I am. I also had a matching experience trying to get a proper fit for backpacking boots.
And yet, I like EMS and I shop there a lot. But, I didn't buy my packs or my boots there.
So, Is it because I'm oversensitive about my appearance? Or is it because the salesman is oversensitive about my body and his notions about what's wrong with it? Or maybe it's just because this particular person didn't seem to want to take people seriously if they don't fit his idea of what an outdoorsman looks like.
There's always two sides of a story and the other side of this one is:
This guy found the right pack at a different store because someone treated him with respect.


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

A Taste For The Woods: Too fat to backpack?

This page has moved to a new address.

Too fat to backpack?