1. Hey, Steph, Tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
I'm Steph and I live in Bristol. By day, I work in comms and media, and I'm also a very enthusiastic hiker with a real love for long distance paths. I'm also plus-sized, and I'm one of the founders of Every Body Outdoors, an organisation that we recently launched to highlight the need for plus size inclusivity in the outdoors. We're working to address the lack of kit and clothing available for plus size folk, as well as trying to get better representation of larger bodies on social and wider media.
2. How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I've always loved being outdoors, but my passion for hiking started about seven years ago - I was living in Canada at the time, and a friend there took me on my first real hike up to a place called Gwillim Lakes in the Valhallas. I'd always felt like I couldn't do longer or more challenging hikes because of my size, but my friend was so reassuring that I trusted her and just went for it. We carried all the gear for an overnight trip with us and it was the most empowering experience of my life, standing on top2 of the world and knowing my body had taken me there. That's when I caught the hiking bug and since then it's been a huge part of my life.
When I came back to the UK it took me a while to find my confidence in the outdoors. I still felt like an outsider in the outdoors movement as there is so little representation for plus size bodies, and it's incredibly difficult to find the clothing and kit you need. I did a lot of solo walking for the first few years as I was so worried about slowing people down and self-conscious of standing out in a group. My first multi-day walk was a real moment of change for me - I walked the Coleridge Way which is a 51-mile route across the Quantocks and Exmoor - and it gave me such confidence in my ability.
Since then I've walked the West Mendip Way, the Cotswold Way, Cleveland Way and St Cuthberts Way. I try to get out every week and feel lucky that within reach of Bristol I have the Quantocks, Mendips, Cotswolds, Wiltshire and South Wales!
3. What's been your favourite trip or adventure?
In 2019 I went to Norway on my own to hike for two weeks along a pilgrimage route called St Olav's Way. It was my first major solo wild camping trip (I'd done multi day walks on my own before) and I just loved it. I loved the feeling of carrying everything I needed for days at a time, being able to camp in incredibly remote spots, and the independence it gave me. I also loved the experience of walking it solo - towards the end I fell into the rhythm of camping at night with a few other hikers, but I love the headspace of walking on my own all day.
4. How do you make find a balance between being active and life's other responsibilities, i.e. work and family?
I definitely plan it in - I find that if I don't prioritise it, things get booked up really easily, so I'll make sure I book out days in my calendar weeks in advance. I've also made the choice to not work full time - I have a day off every other week and this gives me time to go walking on my own away from competing priorities at the weekend.
I'm also pretty lucky that my partner also loves walking so can often be persuaded to join me, and I have several friends who I also go on weekend or longer walking trips with, so it fits well into my life and how I like to spend my holidays!
5. Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Yes, hugely. I've struggled a lot with anxiety in the past and walking has been a huge part of learning to manage that. I have the kind of brain that sometimes struggle to switch off - it makes me very efficient in my job and life, but it can be a lot. A long walk, especially on my own, really provides a wonderful antidote to that and takes me away from the distractions of life and technology. Added into the physical activity of several hours of exercise, I've found it really grounds me in a way that nothing else does.
6. What is it about hiking specifically that you love?
I love that hiking takes me to places that I would never otherwise have gone to - from forgotten bits of coast path to lesser known mountains to hidden pockets of woodland. And I love the slow paced nature of it - it forces me to slow down and really be present in the place where I am.
Also, as someone who has struggled with my body for a lot of my life, I love how it has helped me change how I view it - instead of focusing on the negatives I now see what amazing things my body is capable of, and how strong it is.
7. When did you discover FINDRA?
I discovered FINDRA a few years ago. I'd discovered merino thermals when I lived in Canada and it got down to -20 in the winter. But when I came back to the UK all I could find where poly-blend base layers in my size.
When I discovered FINDRA there were only a few items available in my size but I found out they were working on increasing their sizing and I'm really excited to now be able to buy across the whole range.
For me, I love the quality of the products and how well they perform, but also that I feel comfortable enough in them to wear them in my non-outdoors life!
8. What's the biggest challenge you've faced and overcome?
I've faced a lot of judgement in the outdoors movement based on my size. From the countless occasions where people have cast a doubtful glance up and down my body when I say I like hiking, to the times that people presume I must be a beginner or not know what I'm doing because I'm plus-sized.
In the past I really let it get to me but now it motivates me to showcase what plus size bodies are capable of - both to inspire other plus size folk, but also to challenge the preconceptions that people have about weight and fitness. Representation is so important and a huge reason why I wanted to start Every Body Outdoors - it's hard to feel like you don't belong if you don't see yourself represented in that space.
9.On writing this blog, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more.
Everyone has a place in the outdoors and don't let anyone make you feel like you don't belong. The mountains don't care if you're a size 8 or a size 28!
Getting outdoors isn't a competition - you don't have to get to the top of the mountain or be the fastest or walk the longest. It's about finding what you enjoy about it and how far you can push yourself (not how far anyone else can push you).
I’m constantly inspired by Jenny Bruso, founder of Unlikely Hikers. The community and movement she has created in North America around inclusivity for plus size and fat people, LGBTQIA+ folk and People of Colour is truly amazing. She’s been a huge inspiration in my journey of feeling comfortable in my body in the outdoors the journey that has taken me to launch Every Body Outdoors.
The Black Mountains
I love the Black Mountains in South Wales, and going there always feels like going home. I’ve walked so many different paths and trails across the hills over the past five years, and have some favourites that I go back to again and again, but there’s always a new route to explore or a different view to be found. I love that they’re a bit off the beaten track (if you avoid the Sugarloaf anyway) and I often only see a few people in a day long walk.
Elergy by Leif Vollebekk
Elergy by Leif Vollebekk reminds me of golden evening sunshine in the summertime. It makes me want to escape to the coast with some friends and just sit and watch the sunset.