How big is big?

The heat is still giving me quite a bit of a hard time even if temperatures here in Germany are nowhere near the insane numbers they experience in Southern Europe at the moment, so I’m still feeling rather lazy most of the time, but at least the rheumatic pain in my fingers has subsided for now and I can try to continue and work on some of the stuff I have been cooking up.

One thing that has been on my mind for some time already is that I always wanted to revisit and expand upon some of my introductory articles from way back then when I started this site/ blog. As my own experience has grown by using and testing different products some of my views have changed and regardless of this, some recurring subjects simply can be discussed indefinitely and keep dangling over our heads as much as we may not want to read yet another take on them. Picking the right size for your incontinence products is one of those.

As you well know I also regularly keep referring to size issues in my articles, so there’s even more reason to provide a somewhat more objective spin on this, even more so since few of you will ever have the opportunity of having access to such a wide range of products just to check them out on a whim. In addition it is also a good way to put my internal database/ spreadsheet to use in which I document and record various info about the products. This might also yield some further benefits in the future, but of course I’ve been saying that for a long time and yet never seem to get around to it. ;-)

For this article I made use of a generous supply of product samples from Tena for the simple reason that they were available in all sizes and absorption levels and I didn’t have to beg someone on my knees to get them. So huge thanks for that! This also gives us a chance to sprinkle in some bits about their XL size for the Tena Slip which they only introduced earlier this year. There’s an additional payoff in future articles when we will explore some other things.

Metrics are still in Effect

In my ponderings earlier in my career as an article writer on incontinence-related stuff I went out of my way to illustrate the relevant points of a diaper’s measurements and how they relate to the fit on your body. The annoying part is that these observations and assessments still stand and are as valid as they were back then – you can completely ruin your day if you wear a wrongly sized product. However, I’ve become a bit more open-minded about using “oversized” products and making them work, a lot of which of course has to do with finding a suitable technique for the adhesive tapes and where to put them. This will become more clear when we have a look at individual sizes later on. Now finally let’s move on to the interesting part.

Thank Goodness there’s Label Prints!

Fresh out of their package sizes of products from the same manufacturer/ vendor are not necessarily easily distinguishable. In case of Tena products this is less of an issue because they have clearly discernible prints on them, but you can imagine what a mess it can be when you made a pile of similar diapers all with green foil.

The reasoning as to why sometimes the folding pattern of the products produces nearly identical rectangular shapes is not quite clear to me since there seems no advantage one way or the other. Most products will have an arbitrary number of pieces for different sizes and a different wrapper, anyway, so there is no requirement to adapt the shape to match some imaginary specification of some packaging machine. In reverse, if a vendor chooses to pack the same number of pieces into a bag it will simply end up being a different size, which given today’s technology isn’t much of an issue, either. So for the most part this is probably coincidental. It offers an interesting challenge, though: When you need to stack multiple packs at multiple sizes or from different brands you have to give some thought to how to arrange things.

Tena Slip Sizes

Tena Flex Sizes

One more thing revealed in the two images is that it doesn’t necessarily make sense for a manufacturer to offer his products in all sizes or for that matter all sizes at all absorption levels. Even my own dirty little survey from last year clearly indicated that size M and L are predominant with the other sizes quickly tapering off in terms of user base. In case of Tena this means that for the Slip the XS really only is available at the Plus absorbency level for instance. Other manufacturers take a similar approach and only offer select versions of their products at certain sizes.

All measured out

One of the secrets of my database is that I’m not relying on the info provided by the vendors themselves and instead make it a point to take actual measurements myself. You may ask why, but there’s a good reason. Typically the companies will only offer crude, rounded values and then only those they deem relevant. Usually you are only told a circumference value and if you are lucky you may get a front to back length as well, but that’s about it. Now that’s all fine and good in terms of their marketing and providing a rough overview, but once you get into the finer details it’s not much use. There is a couple of things to consider.

First, many sizes share a certain overlap. If someone tells you his size M is suitable for a circumference of 70 to 110 centimeters and his L is from 90 to 140 cm, which one do you go with? Ultimately of course only some test wearing and hands-on usage can give you a definitive result, but here’s the thing: More relevant than the overall circumference is the actual width of the front and back panels. This more or less determines how adaptable a diaper is plus as I also keep saying in my reviews how “small-ish” or “large-ish” it will be compared to standard measurements and sizes. Narrow panels will always make things feel tighter because the tapes inevitably will end up farther out on your hip whereas wider flaps will allow to fixate the tapes further in up to the point where a very oversized product has them meet in the middle. This can then mean that you have to employ tricks to get them there at all and you risk the product not sitting safely at all.

The second, oft-neglected bit of relevant info is the height of the front and back panels, as it determines the centering of the diaper and in my case also becomes important for how well-protected you feel in the bum region. For a size M these values can be anywhere between 11 and 27 cm for the front and 14 to 35 cm in the back. This wide range alone should illustrate my point nicely – different manufacturers clearly have different opinions on the matter. Some prefer a very lofty approach where short front panels allow good freedom of leg movement, others have diapers with very long panels that reach far down the legs and high up the back, more aiming at being safely wrapped all the way round. Personally I prefer the latter and that’s why products like the ID Slip Super or MoliCare Slip maxi still rank amongst my favorites (the likes of the rare and expensive ABU and Rearz products just as well).

The Tena products are for the most parts almost symmetrical in that regard with the aft sections most of the time only being one or two centimeters higher. This almost 1:1 ratio skewers for the smaller sizes however, where for anatomical reasons due to the intended use on kids and adolescents the back sections are proportionally larger. What hopefully also becomes clear in my little infographic is the fact that the shapes/ cut patterns are not simply scaled for each size. Since you are going to need some space on which to put your tapes just like you need a minimum coverage for the absorbent pad to do its magic, the front panel can only be so short even in the smaller sizes. Likewise for the larger sizes it doesn’t mean that they get infinitely wider. Rather in this case the size XL was designed in such a manner that it potentially simply mitigates the effects of being pushed out of the way by a bulbous belly by reaching farther up.

Tena Slip Sizes

Similar observations can be made for the front to back length. I threw in a quick remark regarding this in my review of the Param products already and this is confirmed a second time here. A size XL is just as long as a size L and the difference in fit is merely achieved by different proportions. The below graphic should also get my point concerning this specific parameter across – even if the circumference may suffice, too short a length through your legs may still result in an insufficient and inconvenient fit. At the same time choosing a long diaper may unavoidably make it more difficult to prevent it from peeking out of your pants.

Tena Slip Sizes

With belted/ flex type diapers the story is a bit different and in a way I have to contradict myself a bit, though it’s logical and inherent in how these products work. Since you are supposed to wear them higher up on your waistline indeed those products sort of scale linearly in that for the pad to actually reach that far up they have to be longer, in turn necessitating longer ribbons because larger people have stronger trunks or if there’s a big tummy up there. ;-)

Tena Flex Sizes

Knowledge applied

With the theoretical considerations out of the way, what does this all tell you? The most apparent use is some simple math to determine the “true” size of your diaper and the possible minimums and maximums. This is nothing super-scientific – you simply add up the values:

Front Panel Width + Back Panel Width + Extender Tape Length Left + Extender Tape Length Right

Since most measurements are symmetrical/ identical, this can be simplified to:

2 x Panel width + 2 x Extender Tape Length

Great! Or is it? Of course we are forgetting that in order to be able to actually wear the diaper we need some overlap, but this shouldn’t exceed a certain maximum. We need to subtract some safety margins. Giving at least 5 cm of breathing room left and right, but not exceeding one-third of the overall circumference are good values in my opinion:


2 x Panel width + 2 x Extender Tape Length – 2 x 5 cm


2 x Panel width + 2 x Extender Tape Length – (2 x Panel width + 2 x Extender Tape Length) /3

Filling in the values for a size M Tena Slip therefore gives us:

Maximum: 2 x 68 cm – 2 x 5 cm = 126 cm

Minimum: 2 x 68 cm – 2 x 68 cm / 3 = ~ 90.6 cm

For a Tena Flex in size L the same formula would turn out like this:

Maximum: 2 x 40 cm +2 x 40 cm – 2 x 5 cm = 150 cm

Minimum: 2 x 40 cm +2 x 40 cm – (2x 40 cm + 2 x 40 cm) / 3 = ~ 106.6 cm

In both cases the math easily confirms my practical use: At values that keep meandering between 90 cm and slightly above 100 cm for my hip and waist circumferences both theoretical results almost perfectly resemble the actual situation with room to spare. In case of the Slip this means that the adhesive tapes are almost perfectly in alignment with the groin and for the Flex the turnout is such that the velcro pad that holds the ribbons together is very much in the front area of my belly where it doesn’t get annoying and itchy. That is pretty neat if you ask me, but naturally these are not absolutes as the next chapters will explain.

Hands-On: Tena Slip

Running a blog that deals with diapers means that I have to wear them to provide useful guidance to you, my readers. This also means that sometimes I have to make do with what I get my hands on or what people send me, even if it isn’t the right size. The interesting aspect then becomes figuring out how to put on the product in a fashion that I can still use it. Over time I therefore have developed my own strategies and borrowed a hint or two from others.

Of course there is no way to actually use a size XS for me. This was really only for the purpose of the article and to satisfy my curiosity. Things are slightly better with an S an in a pinch it will do, but I still had to use extra tape to even get it to close. Size M is of course my standard go-to size for all products and it fills the requirements in terms of fit perfectly as already mentioned. Specifically to the Tena however my biggest issue remains that due to its short panel height it doesn’t offer the best coverage in the posterior regions. I guess there might be an idea for something like a Slip+ with 5 cm more in the back and a shape that better caters for fecal incontinence in the air…

With size L things get interesting. Back in my original article I was quite opposed to the thought of using these larger sizes as may daily standard packaging. Part of it has of course to do with me pushing a tummy around, but even that doesn’t negate the fact that the biggest issue you are facing with this is finding ways to defeat some technical issues simply inherent in the shape of the product relative to your body. Even slender people with skinny legs will run into this regardless of whether they may be 1.90 meters tall. The two primary problems therefore are

  1. avoiding an all too loose fit to reduce movement and warping of the product itself
    and by extension
  2. reducing the amount of air and hollows inside the diaper so the absorbent pad stays in contact with the body and can do its job.

The strategies to deal with this are as numerous as there are people, but let me lay out a few things/ hacks that work for me:

Booster Pads/ double Padding

Yes, despite trying to keep things reasonable and “neutral” around here, I make no pretense about not using such stuff. Nothing beats snuggling up in bed thickly layered. Personally I prefer using a smaller (size M) “inner” diaper in such a scenario as opposed to using pads. This has the advantage that you still get a nice tight fit and minimize the risk of leakage just because something moved where it shouldn’t. Just don’t forget to shred that outer surface of the inside product or else the liquid will not go through and you have not achieved anything when it finds its own way trickles down your leg. If you use inserts/ pads instead, make sure you use ones that are smaller than the actual pad of the diaper. You’d hate it if a too large pad peeks out of your legs and then the combination again doesn’t work. The limitation of this is of course that you can only use so many pads/ diapers before things start getting impractical and ridiculous. So let’s move on.

Low Taping

By “low taping” I’m referring to a method whereby you literally pull the front flap as far up as you can and correspondingly allow the back to go down and then you put the tapes on somewhere halfway down just like it were your regular smaller diaper. While it kind of works, this approach has several disadvantages. The pulled up extra material will dangle around like the flap of a dungarees that has snapped from its suspenders. You need to consciously fold it around nicely and stuff it into your protective pants or use extra tape to keep it up. The latter may however not be possible because there often won’t be a matching back panel and you certainly don’t want to stick gaffe tape and the like directly onto your skin. A further disadvantage is that you considerably reduce the usable capacity of your diaper because large chunks of the absorbent pad will be in an area where it never gets wet. This is also true around your legs since you pulled up the material – the better freedom of movement comes at the cost of having less material available.

Diagonal/ Cross Taping

This is perhaps the most common workaround to this issue and simply means that you try to fixate the tapes in a way they form a horizontal St. Andrew’s Cross, i.e. the upper tapes target the lower region on the opposite side and vice versa. The underlying assumption here is that the diagonal forces will pull the relevant parts in the direction they need to go such as pulling up the aft section of the pad towards your butt cheeks and in the same vein pulling the upper sections around your hips like a waistband. As my little write-up may already imply, the success of this technique depends a lot of the shape of your hip and waist regions since you are basically still trying to use the diaper at its full size. A person with a nice voluptuous bubble butt therefore is bound to be more successful with this than an extremely thin one. ;-)

Naturally, all these things can be mixed and matched depending on the products used, your physique and personal preference. A lot of times you might want to use a bit of padding and your own version of the specific taping techniques. It also stands to note that a rather tight plastic pant or other fixation gear on top of your diaper can take some of these worries off your shoulder.

Finally let’s have a look at the XL flavor of the Tena Slip. As I wrote, this version is fresh off the production lines this year and wasn’t available before. While the measurements are to a large extent very close to the size L, the experience of wearing the product is completely different. In my case there’s two things to observe: First, because the panel height is so great, it reaches up so far that it almost feels like bodice/ vest. Along those lines, and that’s the second point, the tapes end up almost perfectly centered, which makes it feel like you’re indeed buttoning up your clothes. Interestingly enough I also found the fit to be much more pleasant than on the L version, likely also owing to the different shape. It tends to not flap around as much, strange as this may sound. The only thing that seems missing is a third set of tapes. With that much material on the wings there’s always an open crack somewhere at the seams.

Hands-On: Tena Flex

With the Tena Flex things are much more straightforward. To begin with, the temptation for weird experimentation is limited by the narrower shape. I still can’t get behind wearing this type of diaper fulltime since I’m always afraid that if and when I go through one of my diarrhea bursts stuff will literally shoot by left and right. That said of course I don’t mind using them in a controlled situation and least of all when I get free samples. ;-)

As expected, a size S is unusable for me. The funny thing is that this is merely a matter of the tapes being just about 7 centimeters or so too short to provide at least that bit of overlap. While it’s otherwise my standard size, I discovered quite some time ago that size M doesn’t work for me with flex products. Once again my tummy is to blame for pushing the ribbons too far down to make this anything worthwhile. On the bright side, recent revisions of the product have changed the width and shape of the velcro areas, which was one of my criticisms in my original test. The scratching on the skin was just awful. I’m not going to say that it has been completely eliminated, but with the velcros now leaving some space all around them, the risk of this has been reduced and it’s not as much of a challenge of having to perfectly align everything down to the micrometer as it used to be.

The size L version is my preferred version here. As explained further up, the math works out and the ribbons end up in a region where they can actually do their job. While I love a thick pad as much as the next guy, this doesn’t necessarily make sense here. I briefly mentioned this in my review of the Seni Optima, I think, and this is no different for these products. You simply won’t be able to exploit the full capacity of the pad, so there seems little point in burning your money by buying the highest absorbency class. For Tena this would be the Maxi, but in my opinion the Super is more than sufficient, given this limitation.

In contrast to the Slip, the XL version of the Flex has been around for some time already. For me it’s unfortunately unusable because it’s simply too big. This can even be confirmed easily if you check the picture with the measurements – 2 x 50 cm equals 100 cm, after all – and in my case this means that the width of the flap is about two or three centimeters too big. This may not sound all too bad, but what happens is that because of this the velcro pads on the front flap, of which there are three instead of just two, have nothing to hold on to. They just won’t claw into the surface of the back flap and only work on the belt itself. The belt ribbons however share a similar fate in that they are too long for me and also either end up on the outer surface of the back portion or just shortly before it, only allowing for an (to me not acceptable) rather loose and sloppy fit. So if you were thinking of trying this out just because you wanted to experience the feeling and are just an average guy like me you can save yourself the trouble.

The Lowdown

As you hopefully can gather from my longwinded write-up, the matter of the right size remains a hot topic and can’t be answered definitively, as comprehensive as I try to be in my article. There are too many factors at work. Still, I hope I could alleviate at least some concerns and spare you some bad experiences. If you have specific questions, feel free to fire away in the comments. In the meantime I’ll keep working and try to get this definitive size chart off the ground… ;-)

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