Paige Emerson, 27, pauses while on a hike of Mount Tire’m in Waterford. Her Instagram account, @Chubbyhikerreviews, has more than 6,600 followers. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

WATERFORD — Paige Emerson is like a lot of native Mainers. She’s proud of where she grew up, and she loves the outdoors.

One look at her right arm and left hand makes her love of nature obvious. They’re adorned with tattoos of ferns, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and a salamander. 

But two years ago when Emerson started an Instagram account to inspire plus-sized hikers like her to get outside, she never expected to attract so many fans. Today her account, @chubbyhikerreviews, has more than 6,600 followers and her posts regularly get 300 to 700 likes as she offers photos, information and insight aimed at a more honest review of hikes for larger hikers.

Now the Old Town resident is working on getting her license as a Registered Maine Guide so she can lead other plus-sized hikers, and possibly clients she helps as a clinical social worker. 

“My message is about loving yourself for who you are,” said Emerson, 27, as she hiked down Mt. Tire’m two weeks ago. “I really found my passion. I never thought I could hike because I was a bigger person. But just because you’re bigger, you can still be a hiker. There shouldn’t be barriers. And it doesn’t matter if a hike is not on a mountain. It’s still a hike.”

She broached the idea of guiding clients with her boss, Darin Knapp, at Behavioral Health Center in Bangor. Knapp loved the idea and encouraged Emerson to follow her hunch that time in nature would be a powerful aid for those struggling with anxiety or depression.


“She has a lot of endearing qualities that are important as a social worker, things that can’t be taught,” said Knapp, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Maine. “She has compassion and the ability to lead with empathy for others.”

In her first post at @chubbyhikerreviews in June 2020, Emerson welcomed anyone who has ever wanted to hike but felt uncertain: “If you’re a lil chunky and a wee bit out of shape but love to hike, then you know the drill. You pick a mountain that looks GREAT and is rated as easy, only to find out that it’s actually hard and wasn’t what you prepared for… So I’m here to bring you honest reviews on trails and mountains in Maine and whether my chunky (butt) survived them.”

The post received 222 likes.

Instagram influencer Paige Emerson hopes to use the healing calm she finds in nature with the clients she helps as a clinical social worker. Derek Davis

Since then, she has posted about her hikes as many as six or more times a month. With each one, Emerson includes the directions to the trail head, the trail length, the elevation, the time it took her and the “chunky rating” indicating whether it was easy or difficult. She describes the views using a 10-point scale – and posts photos, lots of photos, including selfies of herself celebrating, looking out at the view, and always grinning.

When Emerson hiked the Beehive Summit Trail in Acadia National Park – the notoriously skinny ledge trail that has iron rung ladders and steep drop-offs – the post got 805 likes.

“Being out in nature is so soothing. The practice of mindfulness is basically the concept of being present in the current moment without thinking about the past or future, to use all your senses and focus on your breathing,” Emerson said. “It would be perfect to do (with my clients) while hiking and being outside.”


Emerson strives to be genuine, honest, and accessible. She never uses filters on her photos. And she tries to spend about an hour each weekend responding to messages.

“I definitely have had my own mental-health struggles. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. And I share that. I don’t want my followers to feel alone with their personal struggles,” Emerson said. “I didn’t plan on being an Instagram influencer. It wasn’t my goal. But once I realized it was OK if I took a break when I needed to (from posting), that took the pressure off. I communicate that, and my followers know I’ll still be there for them. I want it to be personal. I want them to feel supported.”

Erin Corbo, a 23-year-old hiker from Newton, Connecticut, who had to use a wheelchair as a child, called Emerson’s “raw and genuine” approach to hiking reviews inspirational.

Paige Emerson starts off on a hike of Mt. Tirem in Waterford. Paige is a Maine native, clinical therapist and social worker who recently rediscovered the joys of hiking during the pandemic. Paige is getting a Maine Guides License to lead groups of people who are overweight or not fit on hikes. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Because of a disease that infected the bone in their leg, Corbo said, mobility was restricted from age 6 to 20, and they had to use a wheelchair. Once they started walking at age 20, they soon discovered hiking and the emotional and physical benefits. About a year ago, they stumbled upon Emerson’s hiking review. Corbo became an instant follower and fan.

“My therapist said it’s important that you follow online people who look like you and have the same morals and the same values,” they said. “I found Paige incredibly inspiring and helpful toward hiking. I love hiking and biking and paddling and just being outside in general. Once I found hiking, I knew I wanted to follow people spreading the message for everyone, people of all different weights and abilities and genders. Paige does a great job spreading the word.”

Emerson had hiked some during her childhood, but much preferred camping. So when she tried hiking again in 2020, she needed boots and a daypack – which she found through research and asking her followers.


“I hiked a few times as a kid but it wasn’t really my thing at the time. I remember hiking Douglas Mountain as a teen and not enjoying it,” Emerson said.

After embracing hiking two years ago, she lost as much as 30 pounds at first. But weight loss hasn’t been consistent, and it hasn’t been her goal. In fact, she stays away from the topic in her posts to avoid discouraging others. It’s not her mission. She wants others to enjoy nature. Although she has grown stronger through hiking.

Paige Emerson always has loved nature, which is why she has sunflowers and ferns tattooed on her arm. Derek Davis/Staff photographer

On every hike, Emerson grabs selfies by propping her phone on her backpack, since she mostly hikes alone. And while she uses online trail sites for research – she’s ready to use her map-and-compass skills learned in her guide course, if needed.

A few times last year, Emerson went offline, only to be asked by followers if she was OK. But as a therapist who coaches people with mental illness, Emerson remains aware of her own shortcomings and strengths. She periodically shares reminders to be patient with others, and kind to yourself.

“Even though my number of hikes may be small in comparison to the number I had in my head, the lessons I’ve learned are many,” Emerson posted at the end of 2021. “Thanks for being on this ride with me this year as I learn to love myself a little bit more each day.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.