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.