I hate to revisit yet again my problem with the retail store that tried to discourage me from backpacking because I was “too fat.” But in order to explain the big project we are undertaking, I need to rehash it.
To recap, I was discouraged from taking a backpacking trip because my waist at 48 inches was too wide, and allegedly no manufacturer made anything to fit me. The details, complete with an apology from the company, are here. What I hadn’t reported until now is the back and forth I had with the company to do more than make things right for me. As I was thinking how to respond, I realized this isn’t just a case of someone being a gatekeeper to me. Other people have had this problem. Or if they haven’t been directly discouraged, they’ve been subtly discouraged by the lack of information available to them. I knew I couldn’t talk about the outdoors being for everyone if I didn’t use this moment for everyone.
After some thought, I wrote the email below. I’ve edited it to remove names and other references, and updated a link, but it’s substantially as I sent it back in May.
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“However, while your offer to make things right is very kind, I think all of us can go further. You probably haven’t see A Taste For The Woods. The subtitle of it is “A formerly sedentary man rediscovers the outdoors.” I touch on weight loss and other topics, but most posts are descriptions of outdoor activities that a non-athlete might be interested in, or might push themselves to do. As I wrote in my initial email, I go out and do things because I want to do them, but I write about them so other people might be encouraged or advised. And being a 48 year old man who struggles with his weight or minor aches means I have more in common with the average American than the typical 23 year old Ironman who appears in ads for outdoor products. (Has Bicycling ever NOT had a cover with a shaved-leg roadie standing out of the saddle?)
“If you go to this blog entry you will see what I do. Look at the group hike I led. In particular notice the photo of Josh, the large man on the rocks at Pole Steeple. Not only did I get a 400 pound man up that hill, but I sold him on hiking poles, and getting real hiking shoes instead of the knockoff brand at your discount rivals. He’s gotta get the gear somewhere. Do you want his money? Or should he give it to the big box store instead?
“The point I’m getting at here is there is a neglected market – the 68 per cent of Americans over 45 who do no outdoor activity in a year, and people shaped differently than the outdoor industry thinks the norm. But there’s little information out there for people who aren’t the 23 year old Ironman I mentioned above. People know the benefits of physical activity and the outdoors, but they don’t realize how easy it can be and how fun. Lets reach out to them together.
“For instance, when I come in and we start trying on packs to fit my excessive belly, let’s document it. I’ve done a web search and there’s nothing out there on fitting a larger guy. Somebody get this on video. Post it to your website or A Taste For The Woods or YouTube. Ditto for information on having the hip belt adjusted. And you can subtly make the point that there’s an outdoor store that can help anyone with gear regardless of their size or physical condition.
“Then, after I’m fitted and alterations made and I’ve gone on a backpacking overnight, I can review the pack and write about the experience for you as well as A Taste For The Woods.
“All this is a little more work for both of us, but the potential benefits are worth it – publicity for you and a public service. Let’s take this opportunity to show, by example, that the outdoors is for everyone. “
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Some said it couldn’t be done.

The response was a polite “This is interesting” and then the sound of crickets as my suggestion got shunted to another department. I wound up purchasing my backpack elsewhere. It would be easy to make one retailer a villain and the other a hero, but I don’t see either company in such roles. The gatekeepers in this case were the individual employees who assisted me. I was at their mercy because I wasn’t informed about backpacks. Had I been, I wouldn’t have been so upset at the suggestion I’d never find a pack to fit me. While the employee should have been better informed, or had access to better information, I too should have done homework.
Which brings us to what I am calling Gearbase. What Gearbase will do is two things – teach about gear, and tell you who makes it to fit you. The first is the video I’ve described above, and others like it. The large chain I’ve mentioned above didn’t express an interest in working with me, but I’m sure other businesses will love to do a public service for the outdoor community – and the free publicity from such service.
The second part is a database, directory, what have you, of manufacturers of clothing and gear and the size ranges they make things in. Need a pair of hiking boots in US size 16 Wide? Go here. Need gaiters to fit around your tree trunk legs? Try this. Need a backpack when you have a 48 inch waist? Gregory, Kelty, and Cabela’s all have bags that will fit. 54 inch waist? Kelty and Cabela’s… you get the idea.
The Gearbase project is still in the brainstorming phase. The type of pages and locations of the pages are still to be determined. (Tech savvy folks, contact me with suggestions please!) But I’d like to have something open by January 8, 2015 – my 49th birthday. I’ll of course post updates as I have them.
As I wrote in the letter above, I go out and do things because I want to do them, but I write about them to help others. this project is just another way to help. Gearbase will help the outdoors be for everyone.