I talk a lot about how much I love outdoor gear and how well-made gear will make your experiences in the outdoors that much better. I really mean that! We’ve all been there: That girl (or guy) on the trail with the giant blisters gimping along in pain, whining loudly. You can admit it. It sucks. Being prepared and knowing how to prevent situations like these is key. It starts with good gear.
Over time, I have acquired an array of essential items that I now cannot live without. From the right pair of shoes and the essential non-cotton sock, to the importance of light technical layering and gear that fits your own body like a glove. You shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. Sometimes these things make a world of difference.
For the longest time I wore the wrong stuff. All of it. I wore the city running shoes with cotton socks to hike miles and miles and navigate slippery granite domes. Stupid. I wore jean cut-off shorts, tank tops, regular bras and no sunscreen, again, to hike miles and miles. And again, stupid. Sure, I may have looked cute, but my teen years were spent feeling completely miserable while learning things the hard way. I just knew no different. Now, almost 30 and a mom of two, I am equipped and I am ready with my arsenal of technical outerwear to outrun, outlast and push harder than I ever could have before.
When I first started wearing technical outerwear my whole world changed because I became comfortable in ways I never had imagined before. I no longer got the blisters. I rarely got the sunburns. I didn’t get the chaffing between my legs from the jean shorts. I wasn’t having my bra straps dig into my shoulders causing me to bleed. I could go and go and go and go some more and I would leave my friends behind me in the dust. At the time, my comfort was the missing link to me excelling into a new level of endurance and duration in the outdoors. A few years later, it changed again.
I am 6 feet tall, don’t have much as far as curves go, and for the longest time had been wearing women’s smalls and mediums. Though the new technical fabrics I began wearing were perfect, I didn’t realize how women’s sizing was just NOT right for me. The sleeves were short, the waist was short, the body typically too large, and so on. Eventually I would buy women’s larges just so the sleeves and body would be somewhat long enough even though I would be completely swimming in the body of the garment. Just recently, a good friend and coworker at the local mountaineering shop recommended that I try a mens size small. I had never thought of this before and I was almost offended. Mens!? Really? I reluctantly tried on a mens small Arc’teryx jacket for ice climbing, and holy shit.. it fit like a glove. Mind blown! I immediately tried on a men’s small Patagonia Nano Air, and yep! That fit like a glove too! My world changed yet again! FINALLY!!! Clothes narrow and long enough for my body type! I can lift my arms up without the sleeves going to my elbows and without my stomach being completely exposed. I can bend over without my back exposed. This was one of the happiest moments for me, because shopping was no longer going to be a daunting struggle that it had been most of my life. It’s the small things 🙂
This is something that I don’t think men will ever understand as their loose fitting clothes are always the definition of comfort. Women typically always want to look feminine and attractive which isn’t always in line with technical outerwear. Especially if you’re like me wearing mens clothes. Haha. Luckily, that is beginning to change! Outerwear companies are beginning to realize that all body types are NOT created equally and different sizes, lengths and fits are now starting to appear. THANK YOU, Arc’teryx and Mountain Hardwear with your extended lengths and awesome color options!
With all that being said, I’m just going to get on with a list of my very favorite things that I cannot live without. In no particular order, here they are:
- Patagonia Nano Air– I wear a men’s small, but all the ladies I know that wear this piece wear a womens 🙂 The Nano Air is the bees knees of synthetic, highly breathable warmth and you’ll probably never want to take it off. Patagonia claims that this is the layering piece that you wear from car to summit and back without ever needing to take it off. Perhaps it was never cold enough, but that has not exactly the case for me. This jacket is warm. Yes, it is highly breathable! In fact, if you keep your cell phone in the chest pocket and exert a good amount of energy, you will later see that your phone has collected a significant amount of condensation or sweat. First hand proof of its breathability. With all of that said I really do love this jacket and it’s grade A comfort!
- Mountain Hardwear Desna Grid Hooded Jacket– A thin, yet warm layering piece that I wear constantly. Surprisingly, I was able to buy a women’s in this piece because the sleeves and body are long enough, and the color is amazing! I use this as my staple layering piece over t-shirts and under light weight down or GoreTex jackets.
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hoody– perfect, perfect, perfect for alpine climbing! This is the lightest weight, fully featured down jacket on the market. It is just under 8oz and packs up tiny into its own pocket where it can then be clipped to your harness. Did I mention that it is 800 fill down!? LOVE. I sacrificed the fit and bought a women’s just because it was hot pink, and as per usual, the body is slightly too wide and slightly too short. I am ok with it this time because of how great the jacket is and because the men’s didn’t come in hot pink. Ha!
- Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX & XA Pro 3D and just about every shoe by Salomon. I’ve been wearing Salomons for about 7 years now and it is very, very rare that I find any other shoe nearly as comfortable. Keep in mind that GoreTex shoes are key for keeping your feet dry and somewhat clean on the trails.
- Darn Tough merino wool hiking socks– Guaranteed for the life of the sock, these $19 socks are comfortable and totally awesome! Somehow I’ve never managed to blow out a pair of socks, but my husband and most of my friends go through socks like there is no tomorrow. One of the reasons why Darn Tough socks are so rad. They have a “No questions asked” policy. If you manage to get holes in your socks they provide you a new pair. No questions asked. AND they’re made in the USA. Pretty rad.
- Arc’teryx Palisade pants– Arc’teryx is one of my favorite companies and is one of the few outdoor apparel companies that offers an extended length technical pant for women. And when I say “extended length”, I am talking about lengths that exceed 32 inches. Sorry, but that is not a tall. Arc’teryx offers a 35” inseam in this pant and it is wonderful! These pants are my go to for their light weight, fast drying, extreme comfort with a built in belt. The thigh pocket might just be favorite feature of the pant especially for climbing. Easy access. I hike in them, climb in them and wear them all the time. Not exactly the cutest or the most flattering, but definitely the most practical! (Do keep in mind these pants look much better on and in person than they do on the website)
- Delorme In Reach Explorer– Satellite communicator/ GPS. This device took me a little while to figure out, but once I was able to use it properly it quickly became my favorite tech toy. From your computer you are able to download topo maps, create routes, set way points, and completely map out your journeys. Most of the trips we do are in the backcountry off trail where we navigate mountains, ridge lines and traverses, so this device comes in very handy. Because its a satellite communicator, you can send out SOS messages anywhere in the world. God forbid something happen to me or my loved ones, but in the case that something like that should happen, we could send out a SOS with our exact coordinates, the appropriate agencies and whoever we have as our emergency contacts will be contacted, and we will be rescued. Your service plan can also come with rescue insurance. It’s a must if you are a parent or travel off the beaten trail.
- Arc’teryx AR-385a Harness– The do it all 4-season climbing harness. Prior to owning this harness, I was not a fan of the thin, ultra light climbing harnesses that compromised comfort for style and light weight. Then I tried this harness and I was hooked. This harness is extremely thin, light weight AND comfortable and can be worn for sport/trad, mixed, alpine and ice climbing.
- Patagonia Capeline 1 silk-weight t-shirt– Quite possibly the most comfortable shirt you will ever wear. Trust me. Need I say more?
- Leki Micro Vario Carbon trekking poles– These rad ultralight poles (just over 14 oz) are carbon fiber and super compact. They break down and collapse like a modern tent pole and can be stowed in a little sack. These are great when wearing the weight of a child, a heavy pack or need stability on the trail. Poles are one of the essential items I never knew I needed until I tried them. These days I carry them with me everywhere. It’s like in being 4-wheel drive and you move faster, safer and more precise.
- Scarpa Crux approach shoe– As I mentioned above, Salomon shoes are my favorite and I rarely find another shoe that competes in comfort. Well, here it is folks. The sticky rubber approach shoe that seriously competes with Salomon for comfort. Right now, these are my go-to for technical hiking, scrambling and approaches. They were stiff the first couple of days which had me worried, then began to break in and mold around my foot. Even in mild rain I stick to granite like a gecko. These shoes will not disappoint.
(**at any point click on an underlined item above to be taken directly to the webpage)
I warn you. When you branch out into the technical apparel world it is hard to go back. Very hard. Sometimes I try to force myself to wear a cute pair of jeans or shorts just so I don’t look so.. durable. I helplessly try to maintain my feminine appearance as much as possible, but then quickly realize how uncomfortable it is. It doesn’t take long for me to be wishing I was wearing my Arc’teryx palisade pants that won’t get pushed right off my butt from my backpack rubbing on my waist. Built-in belt, I love you! Fast drying, breathable fabrics, you rock my world! I’m a fan for life.
Because there are so many great products our there, gear gets reinvented, I love trying new things, and seasons change I will be updating this list from time to time. Feel free to check back for new blog posts.