Buying a new sleeping bag is a big deal.
Seeping bags last years (hopefully) and make up a major portion of your weight calculations when you’re backpacking. A good sleeping bag makes the difference between a night of rest and a sleepless night in the backcountry. Or when car camping.
The sleeping bags I’ve been camping with were 15 years old, and designed for car camping adventures. My mom bought them years ago in the hopes that we would end up camping together. It never worked out that way due to various life situations, but they came into my care and have been great. I took one to college and both to grad school. They’ve seen me through summer camp counselor jobs, to and from Chicago, and in and out of a marriage. They are great.
They are heavy.
Sleeping bag technology, and my requirements for a bag, have changed greatly in the last decade or more. The Sailor and I have been slowly gathering what is required for us to do multiple-night backpacking trips, and a new sleeping bag for both of us was #1 on the list. So when Sports Chalet near us was going out of business I swooped on the chance to get a bag at a reduced rate. I had done research and knew what I was looking for. I got a good deal and a bag that I was very pleased with.
So I was super excited to give it a whirl. Our first night out with it was shaping out to be a very cold one at a high elevation, doing some car camping in the Eastern Sierras with our dogs. I can’t sleep in pants, so I did a quick change maneuver and shoved myself into the new bag in the dark, shivering full-blow. Shaking, I pulled up the zipper.
To my hips.
It wouldn’t go any further. I hadn’t even CONSIDERED that I wouldn’t be able to FIT in a sleeping bag. I mean, I checked the length, of course, but the girth? It literally never occurred to me.
I mean, I know I’m overweight. Clearly. I own a mirror. But also, I never considered the combined girth of my arms with the girth of my waist (because I gain all my weight around my middle). When I got home, I looked it up. 60 inches is the “fits girth”. I really had assumed that I would fit in that and never even measured.
So, my own fault.
BUT knowing that doesn’t make the reality any better. I expect to be too big for most regular hiking gear. I’m ok with getting an extender for the waist of my pack. I’m aware that I’m carrying a lot of extra weight when I hike beyond what’s in my bag. But there was something about not fitting into a SLEEPING BAG that was particularly humiliating. It’s literally a bag that I’m too fat for.
It begs the question: Do I belong out here? Am I too fat to have adventures? Is there an upper weight limit on things like backpacking?
General culture seems to say so. At least, as a woman.
I see lots of overweight guys on the trails. Men beating their bulge off against the unrelenting rock of a mountainside is a common sight. There are always 300lb male rock climbers prove that it’s all in the legs. Books and books of heroic stories are written about men who are overweight, then set off on adventures and come out hardened and stripped-down versions of their former selves.
There’s something iconic in our culture about the epic story of a man going out into the wilderness and finding himself physically and mentally through the struggle against the elements.
It’s the ultimate boy’s club.
As a woman, there seems to be an idea that unless I’m super athletic I have no place having adventures. There’s already a stigma against women being alone in the wilderness, or on solo adventures, but it seems that for women who aren’t in top physical shape there is an even stronger stigma.
There is nothing about being in a female body, however, that makes me less able to grow strong in the course of an adventure. There is nothing about a female body that requires me to be in great physical shape before undertaking life changing experiences.
I feel as if I’ve been waiting around for years for permission to play outside. As if participation in outdoor activities requires a resume and waiver. Here’s the big secret: it doesn’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong – you need to be careful not to hurt yourself (enter requisite “if you’re considering physical activity please check with your doctor” statement). Listen to your body. Not to society.
I’m very good at listening to my body. I know that I don’t push through pain (see: “cause of being overweight” and “why I hate the gym”), so I know that I’m very unlikely to hurt myself. I imagine that for some people this is an actual concern, but for me it just really isn’t. Sure, I’ll probably get sore. Sure, I’ll be short of breath. Sure, I’ll struggle. Then at the end of the adventure I’ll go home, have a bath and relax in front of the TV.
Choosing not to listen to society is harder. Permission is not coming.
I’m done waiting. The truth is this: I need no permission other than what I can give to myself. I have the knowledge and the skills to survive and thrive in the wilderness.
And I’m going to prove it.