by Sam Ortiz
When I first started climbing I had never seen anyone who looked like me rock climb before. In fact, even after I had been climbing for years, I still struggled to find even a single other plus-size person who could relate to me in the climbing community. Eventually, I connected with other badass plus-size climbers online and a community was born! Plus-size climbers are growing in numbers and knowing what gear to use and where to find it is an important place to start.
The type gear you’ll need depends on the type of climbing you’re planning on doing. The three main categories of climbing we’ll focus on are bouldering, top roping, and lead climbing.
One of the considerations for many plus-size climbers is finding shoes that fit wide feet. While climbing shoes are supposed to be snug, they definitely don’t have to choke your feet to work! Opt for a shoe that hugs your feet, especially at the toe, but does not make your feet hurt to wear. The Miura are a great option for this and come with a velcro closure for easy adjustment.
Extra tip: If you have wide feet, opt for men’s shoes over women’s, as they’re typically wider.
I have tried many different climbing harnesses, and this is by far the most plus-size friendly climbing harness I’ve come across! Not only does it offer the most extended waist belt we’ve seen yet, but its padding makes it great for all-day wear and ample gear loops are available to store gear for outdoor climbing.
This harness will comfortably fit up to a typical 4X+, depending on body shape.
Harness tip: If you’re looking for a harness in store, or trying out a rental, look for a harness that fully unclasps at the waist. When unclasped, this will allow you to pull it up over the widest parts of your body (often the hips and butt), and clasp it at your waist. Obviously, it’s not ideal to have to do this, but is sometimes the only option available.
Chest harnesses are often used for rescue, but can be used for extra support by plus size climbers, too! For climbers who are top heavy and worried about inverting, a simple chest harness fastened from webbing can be clipped to a top rope to keep you upright.
You can get webbing at your local REI or outdoors store. For more information on how to safely fasten and assemble a chest harness, check out the book Mountaineers Freedom of the Hills for detailed instructions.
Please note: a chest harness should not be used for lead climbing.
The Ohm is an awesome tool for plus-size climbers who are being belayed by a smaller partner. It acts as an additional breaking device that adds friction to the system.
For climbers of significantly different weights, if the larger climber falls it can pull the smaller climber off the ground. The Ohm works as an assisted braking device for climbing partners with a significant weight difference. The Ohm orks uses similar technology to a gri-gri, and is engaged when the rope is weighted, such as during a fall or when being lowered. This especially comes in handy for lead climbing, where falls are often bigger.
Most people start their rock climbing journey by first trying it out at an indoor rock wall. Rock gyms like these are awesome because they provide gear for rent that makes it easier to get started. However, plus-size friendly harnesses are not the norm (yet!). For this reason, I suggested you call ahead if you’re planning on trying rental gear.
“Do you have plus-size harnesses available? If not, can you tell me the size of the largest harness you have available?” Some gyms do have harnesses specifically tailored for people who wear plus sizes. If not, I ask for the brand of the harness and the harness model so that I can look up the measurements for that exact harness. Then, I compare them against a size chart I already know works for my body from my favorite clothing store.
Is there a weight limit for any equipment? If so, what is it? Talking about specific numbers like this can be uncomfortable for some. If so, simply skip the auto-belay stations! Regular rope climbing systems are built to withstand thousands of pounds, so they’re completely safe for climbers of all sizes to use.
What safety measures do you have in place for a team where the belayer is significantly lighter than the climber? Size difference in climbing partners is normal, so don’t worry if your partner isn’t exactly the same size as you. However, if there is a significant weight difference between you, there are options to help keep the belayer safely on the ground when belaying a larger partner. Often sand bags, or ground clips are offered for belayers to attach to for help staying on the ground.
As the founder of Climb Big, an initiative focused on getting more plus size folks into rock climbing, getting more fat folks into climbing is my passion. If you’d like to join our community online, check out Climb Big on Instagram and join the Climb Big Community Group on Facebook.
All photos courtesy of Sam Ortiz.
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