Chelsea McCurdy strands on a scenic bridge looking into the distance.
HIKING

This Body Positivity Activist Reviewed Our Best Plus-Size Hiking Clothes

We sent a popular gear tester a pile of our best hiking gear and activewear—these were her top five picks
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
Don’t let Chelsea McCurdy’s sweet smile or southern drawl fool you—the Arkansas native is a certified badass. The popular outdoorswoman, who goes by the name @_whatwouldellewoodsdo_ on social media (a reference to Reese Witherspoon’s upbeat character in “Legally Blonde”), is constantly seeking out new adventures.

She recently hiked through Arkansas’ Richland Creek Wilderness Area, trekked around Pinnacle Mountain State Park, and roamed the Balinese countryside—and that was just in the month of May.

Hiking fuels her soul, she says, and helps nourish her mental health.

“I realized a while ago that being outside in the woods is what I need to be happy,” McCurdy says. “The more I go out there, the happier I get.”
Chelsea McCurdy smiles at the camera wearing Columbia Sportswear’s Leslie Falls™ plus-size hiking shirt.
We sent more than a dozen items from Columbia’s plus-size hiking collection to Chelsea McCurdy, a popular social media influencer, to review each of the products in the field and pick her five favorites.
Given how much time she spends outside, hiking gear is important to McCurdy. She wants high-quality trail clothes that are durable and performance driven yet also stylish. The magic combination is tough to find in activewear for a lot of women—and when you add “plus size” to the equation, it gets even tougher.

“It's hell out there trying to find something that is functional, cute, fits your body, and allows you to be mobile on the trail,” McCurdy explains. “When you’re talking about extended sizes, it's nearly impossible—like trying to find a unicorn. It is stressful and not healthy for our body image.

“It makes us not want to do things outside because it feels like we’re not invited. It’s like these brands are saying: ‘We have nothing for you. The outdoors are for everyone, but only if you can fit in our clothes.’”
The frustration of finding adequate outdoor gear is one of the reasons McCurdy has been a longtime fan of Columbia Sportswear—we’ve been making outdoor clothing in extended sizing for 15 years.

Not only that, we’ve learned over the years how to tailor our apparel to fit larger bodies.

“With extended sizing, the whole garment needs to be larger,” McCurdy says. “Not just the chest—the sleeves too. Columbia is great about that. Another thing I've noticed is that your prices don't go up for plus-size stuff. A lot of brands upcharge for three more inches of fabric, which is quite upsetting. It feels alienating to us. Why should we have to pay a ‘fat tax’?”
“This jacket is my all-time favorite article of clothing that Columbia makes.”
Chelsea McCurdy on the Powder Lite
Columbia is known industry-wide for our plus-size ski gear and we also make plus-size sportswear for hiking, fishing, camping, and other activities.

We’ve been ahead of the game primarily because our founder, Gert Boyle, was a plus-size woman herself. She was the brand's first extended-size fit model and often advocated for size inclusion, leading us to make plus-size athletic wear earlier than most outdoor companies.

In an effort to show off our plus-size hiking collection, we sent a pile of clothes to McCurdy and asked her to take them out on some adventures. Over the course of six weeks, the Arkansas outdoorswoman tested more than a dozen hiking shirts, pants, leggings, jackets, baselayers, and other garments on a variety of trails and conditions.

Here were her top five choices, summarized in her own words.

The Best Plus-Size Hiking Clothes

1. Best hiking pullover top: Leslie Falls™ Long Sleeve
2. Best hiking button-down shirt: Silver Ridge Utility™ Shirt
3. Best hiking pants: Saturday Trail™ Hiking Stretch Pants
4. Best hiking jacket: Powder Lite™ Jacket
5. Best hiking UPF hat: Silver Ridge™ III Ball Cap
Chelsea McCurdy stands amid green foliage in Allsopp Park, Arkansas, wearing Columbia Sportswear’s Leslie Falls long sleeve hiking top.
McCurdy poses in the Leslie Falls™ long sleeve top while hiking in Allsopp Park in Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

1. The Best Hiking Pullover Top: Leslie Falls™ Long Sleeve

This is one the most comfortable hiking shirts I’ve ever worn. It's super soft and it has thumb holes, which I love because you never know when you might need a little hand protection if you’re climbing up something, or leaning against a rock or tree.

Looking at it on the rack, I was afraid it might be see-through but it’s not. The ruching on the side is very flattering and hits you around the obliques, looking nice on your waist.

I love that it doesn't ride up. It holds its shape. I'm not super tall, but I have a long torso. With some hiking shirts, I find they are too short in the torso and I end up pulling them down a lot. But this one is very long, which I appreciate because when I’m getting dressed to go hiking, I like to have my layers overlapping for protection from insects, sun, and other elements.

It’s a good material—very lightweight, like a sun shirt, with UPF-rated fabric for sun protection. It was a pretty hot day, probably in the 80s, and there wasn’t much of a breeze, but I felt fresh and clean. I was hiking pretty hard in Allsopp Park in Little Rock, Ark., and it did a great job as far as odor management goes. The material is moisture-wicking, so the shirt didn’t stick to my body.

I loved the length of the arms too. Plus-size tops will sometimes be plus-size in the body but not the arms—it’s very odd. Another thing is that they’re often too big in the chest. It’s like you're not allowed to be plus-size and have a small chest. My chest isn’t necessarily small, but it used to be bigger. Then I lost some weight and because life is cruel, most of it came from my chest. So when I wear extended-size shirts, they’re always too big in the chest. But Columbia shirts don't do that—they’re tailored for the bust as well as the rest of the sizing, which I appreciate.

This is a great shirt that feels good to wear and fits in all the right places.
Chelsea McCurdy stands in a sunny field with trees all around her wearing Columbia Sportwear’s Silver Ridge Utility shirt. 
The Silver Ridge Utility™ long sleeve was one of McCurdy’s favorite hiking tops, which she wore on a trip to Bali as well as in Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Ark. (pictured above). She loved how the UPF-rated button-up shirt kept her cool and protected her from insects while also looking stylish.

2. The Best Hiking Button-Up Top: Silver Ridge Utility™ Shirt

I wore this shirt in Bali on an agricultural tour through rice fields and farmlands. We were hiking through this farm all day and it was really hot, so I chose this shirt because it had air vents. Plus, I needed sun protection because I sunburn easily.

It's got UPF 50 sun protection built in as well as moisture-wicking capabilities, which was great because we were wearing backpacks, which tend to make you sweaty around the shoulders and armpits. This shirt is great for hiking, but also for traveling in general. It was very humid during that trip—the type of thing where you're soaked with sweat the minute you walk out of your hotel room. But I wasn’t dying of heat the whole time, even though a lot of people I was traveling with were. They were pouring sweat and I felt pretty chill.

Plus, it’s stylish. I was feeling very cute—I had a “Laura Dern in Jurassic Park” look going on. When I walked out of my hotel room, before we even hit the trail, people were saying, “You look so adorable, like you’re ready to go on an adventure.”

In addition to staying cool, I didn’t come home with a million bug bites like everyone else because I was covered up, nor did I get sunburned.

Another nice thing is that it has tabs on the sleeves so you can roll them up and hold them there—you're not constantly pushing them up while you're hiking.

There are front pockets to stash stuff in and they have a hook-and-loop opening so you can access the pocket through the side instead of the top.

Overall, it’s a really great shirt—a good blend of stylish, but also very functional.
Chelsea McCurdy sits on a pretty stone wall on a hiking trail at Cadron Settlement Park, rolling up the leg of Columbia Sportswear’s Saturday Trail™ Stretch Pants.
Sitting on a pretty stone wall at Cadron Settlement Park, Ark., McCurdy shows off the roll-up leg on the Saturday Trail™ Stretch Pants—one of her favorite features of the pants. The convertible bottoms can be worn as full-length pants or capris, depending on your preference.

3. The Best Hiking Pants: Saturday Trail™ Hiking Stretch Pants

I love these pants. They're stretchy, but they look like pants, not leggings. They have these cool tabs with a snap so you can roll them up and turn them into capris.

I wore them for a hike in the Ozark National Forest. I started with them rolled up so I’d be a little cooler temperature-wise, and I thought there might be some water crossings. But when I got there, I checked the trail guide and saw people pointing out that it’s tick season, so I rolled those bad boys back down, which was really convenient.

I usually change my shoes at the end of a hike before I drive home because they tend to be muddy or nasty. With these pants though, I was able to roll them up and change shoes easily. I didn't have to try to hold my pants while squatting by the car and getting dirty. And I like how the snap on the leg is hidden—it's tucked in this little pocket, which looks nice.

I also like the fit a lot. They have a mid-rise waist and they move well. I’m hourglass-shaped—I have very large thighs and hips with a smaller waist, so hiking pants sometimes feel too tight in those areas. But these didn’t.

They have a side zipper pocket on the leg that’s the perfect size for car keys or a debit card, and you know it's safe and secure. I have wide hips, so sometimes shallow side pockets have a tendency to come open and I can lose things. That didn’t happen with these.

The mesh pockets are great for breathability and the material is really comfortable. It's one of the coolest materials you can hike in—not like those spandex compression leggings where it feels like you're hiking in a wetsuit. There was the usual inner thigh sweat because I've got thick thighs and I'm hiking, but I can say they were very cool and comfortable to hike in.

They are definitely the most breathable pants I've worn from Columbia.
Chelsea McCurdy stands in a scenic outdoor setting at Toad Suck State Park wearing a blue-gray Powder Lite hiking jacket. 
Standing amidst foliage at Toad Suck State Park, McCurdy is pictured wearing our Powder Lite™ hiking jacket, which she called her “all-time favorite article of clothing that Columbia makes.”

4. The Best Hiking Jacket: Powder Lite™ Jacket

This jacket is my all-time favorite article of clothing that Columbia makes. It’s so lightweight—it doesn’t weigh a thing, but it’s the warmest thing in the world. It has the Omni-Heat™ reflective technology, so it’s ultra-cozy but you can also wear it when it's not freezing because it's not overly hot.

And if the temperature gets too warm, you can pack it down easily because it's not bulky. It’s like a lightweight puffer jacket, but very thin, so it doesn’t have that puffy feel.

It has the biggest pockets known to man. They're warm on the inside with this fleecy, super soft blanket material and sturdy zippers.The collar is super comfortable with a covered zipper so it doesn't bother your chin, and the quality is excellent.

The arms are a good length. That's one of the things I love about Columbia jackets is the arms always hit me right where they need to, so I don't feel like I'm freezing to death with my arms sticking out, but I also don't feel like I’m walking around with my sleeves below my hands.

There’s a drawcord around the bottom so you can cinch your jacket up around your hips if you want. My hips are big so I don’t usually have to do that, but there’s the option if you’re bigger in the stomach—it won’t be riding up.

On top of all that, it’s really durable. You can wear it anywhere—hike in the worst conditions and it's not going to rip but you can also wear it to work or running errands because it's comfortable and stylish.

This is my new favorite jacket.
Chelsea McCurdy smiles widely for the camera at Yellowstone National Park wearing a Columbia Sportwear Coolhead II ball cap with a beautiful lake behind her. 
McCurdy says she is “obsessed” with Columbia ball caps and the Coolhead II is one of her favorites, with an Omni-Wick™ headband to reduce sweat, along with UPF-rated fabric and a soft, comfortable feel.

5. The Best Hiking UPF Hat: Coolhead™ II Ball Cap

Due to the popularity of this article, the Coolhead Ball Cap is currently out of stock. Please check out these other great hats for hiking.

I’ve always had an obsession with Columbia hats, and even more so since we did this gear testing. I really like the Coolhead Ball Cap. Aside from the fact that it gives me different hairstyle options, it has all the performance features. It's really good at wicking sweat away and I don’t get sunburns on my face when I’m out hiking all day.

I wear it backwards when I’m in town, but when I’m hiking or doing things outside, I wear it forward to protect my face. It doesn't get sweaty like some hats do, and it never smells bad because the Omni-Wick™ gives it odor control. If it gets dirty, I can throw it in the washing machine and it keeps its shape.

There's a hook-and-loop system on the back to customize the fit so it stays on my head and doesn’t fall off. I’ve even worn it on boats.

When I wore it hiking, I noticed that the wicking sweatband prevented my face from getting sweaty and nasty.

It’s lightweight, so it never gave me a headache or made my head feel like it was in a boiler, and it never itched or bothered my head. You feel yourself sweating, but then it very quickly evaporates and dries so you don't have that hot, sticky feeling.

It is decently cool for having an extra piece of clothing on my head, and my face is protected from UPF rays. I really love this ball cap.
Ready to hit the trail? Check out our plus-size hiking clothes.
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