Katherine Donnelly | 07.24.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I aim to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Summer.

The outdoors is truly for everyone, and this Woman In The Wild is working hard to break down lingering stigmas around body size and shape on the trails while encouraging and inspiring others to get out and get wild! Her Fat Girls Hiking community is rapidly growing as more and more ladies find their way into the world of hiking and reap the benefits of a judgment-free, body-positive outdoors. Get the fulls scoop below.

OP: Give us the quick and dirty on who Summer is. 

Summer: I am a queer, fat femme photographer, hiker and writer. I founded Fat Girls Hiking, a body positive outdoor community with chapters in Portland, Knoxville, Seattle, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Summer: I hated the outdoors most of my adult life. I moved to Portland a decade ago. Everyone hikes in Portland. I would roll my eyes any time someone asked me to go for a hike with them. “People like me don’t hike,” I’d joke. I didn’t really know I wanted to spend time in the outdoors until I started hiking solo with my dog. I found it incredibly healing to climb to the summit of a mountain. It gave me such strength to know my body was capable of more than I knew. To know that this body that is shamed for its size and imperfections can climb mountains, traverse trails, and walk for miles through lava boulders to a hidden seasonal waterfall.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Summer: Being a woman in the outdoor industry is no different than being a woman in any other industry. Women are marginalized and omitted from outdoor industry conversations most of the time. We are seen as less capable. Add being fat and queer to that, and it’s easy to see why I never felt like I belonged in the outdoors.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you and how do you pay it back?

Summer: The outdoors have given me so much! I have found such healing in the outdoors! Hiking is my #1 self-care tool. The outdoors have allowed me to be self reliant, have empowered me and given me strength. I pay it back by creating inclusive community and hosting outdoor events that people of all sizes, genders and abilities are welcomed to attend. The Fat Girls Hiking community offers marginalized folks a place to feel included, seen, represented and celebrated just as they are!

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think hikers - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Summer: Anyone who spends time outdoors should know and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace and pass information along about how to respectfully appreciate the outdoors.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Summer: So many people inspire me! There weren’t any diverse, body positive, women-focused communities when Fat Girls Hiking started in 2015. The first inspirations I had when I started Fat Girls Hiking were Mirna Valerio (Fat Girl Running), Latino Outdoors, Escaping Your Comfort Zone, Outdoor Afro, Trail Dames and Jes Baker (The Militant Baker). And all the amazing folks that use our hashtags: #fatgirlshiking #trailsnotscales.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Summer: Adventure means getting out of my comfort zone, facing my fears, being playful and letting my inner child be wild.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Summer: Badass means strength, thriving and confidence.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Summer: My cell phone. Ugh, I hate this answer, but it’s true.

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Summer: Gear is such a loaded topic for me. There isn’t much women’s gear in plus sizes, so my choices are very limited. In order for me to find gear that fits, I always have to buy men’s. The fit is usually slightly off, but I make it work because it’s my only option. I love hiking in dresses and leggings.  

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as a hiker/outdoor enthusiast, what would it be?

Summer: That hike won’t kill you. Seriously, that hard hike you want to do, just take it one step at a time. It’s not a race. Be present. Appreciate the moss. Take as many photos as you want.  

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Summer: I want fat people like me to have representation in the outdoors, so I like posting photos and videos of myself and other fat/body positive women, LGBTQIA folks, BIPOC and other marginalized bodies.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Summer: More Fat Girls Hiking chapters in at least 10 cities across the country.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Summer: Hiking in a Dress

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Summer: A rainbow.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Summer: I have immense self-doubt and imposter syndrome.  

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Summer: Anyone out there who thinks, “Hiking isn’t for me.” I see you. I was you. And if you really want to, you absolutely can. Quiet your self-doubt, quiet any voice that says you can’t. If you want to join us, you will be welcomed and celebrated just as you are.

Learn more about Summer and her work with Fat Girls Hiking online, on Facebook, and on the 'gram.


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