I would in no way consider myself an exhaustive gear geek (that’s Nathan’s forte). But over the last two months my wife and I have tested a pile of outdoor apparel over dozens of hikes, numerous outside elements, and even everyday wear.
Before divulging our favorites, I must admit: the selection of outdoor apparel has never been wider, brighter, more comfortable, more capable or better. The cuts for both genders are more fitting and less frumpy. The fabrics are more stretchy, breathable, durable and protective. And while still costly in some cases, new competition and manufacturing technologies are driving prices down for some adventure or otherwise “active” attire.
After considering and reviewing product from brands you know and respect—including two notable newcomers—these are the pieces that stood out in our trials.
For him: Although traditionally a skiing label, Stio’s Gannett Peak Hoodie is the nicest performance fleece I’ve ever owned. It’s expensive, but I reach for its elastic goodness both indoors and out and imagine it lasting for years. As for other tops I enjoyed, North Face’s Thermal Ball Vest and Eddie Bauer’s IgniteLite Hybrid both rocked my recent Patagonia trek.
For her: If you thought the above Stio hoodie was expensive, get a load of this: Fjallraven’s Abisko Stretch Fleece. Although a bit too warm for me, my wife and several other perfect user-reviews swear by it on cold hikes and runs. For half the price but just as much stretch (albeit for a little less warmth), my wife also took a liking to Lululemon’s versatile but striking Scuba Hoodie.
For him: I’ve tried a lot of new hiking pants, but Outdoor Research’s Voodoo Pants still reign supreme. They’re slim-fitting, perfectly weighted, pocket-filled and crazy stretchy so I can move. I like my single pair so much, I quick wash them in my hotel sink rather than don an inferior pair. They’re that good.
For her: As for my wife, the female equivalent of the above are undoubtedly Eddie Bauer’s Guide Pro Pants. Not only are they water-repellent and slim-fitting elastic, “they’re the cutest hiking pants I’ve ever worn,” says my wife. That said, she’ll jump for any Lululemon leggings on good weather hiking days.
For him: Although it looks a little shiny, Columbia’s Stretch Hooded Shell is the most comfortable, form-fitting, breathable and driest waterproof shell I’ve ever worn. In a word, fantastic. For lightweight weather, I also like their hyper-affordable Flash Hybrid Jacket. For colder temps on longer treks, I really like REI’s hyper-affordable and packable Magma Lightweight Down.
For her: For my wife’s part, Black Diamond’s Liquid Point Shell was her favorite waterproof coat this season. Plenty of zippers and protection without the bulk and bagginess of most rain gear. And like me, she also preferred REI’s affordable warmth over any other more expensive and often more frumpy down jacket.
Shoes & Packs
For him: After trying several new shoes, boots and packs, my opinion from last summer hasn’t changed at all. Under Armour’s award-winning Verge GTX are still the best hiking shoe on the market and Hyperlite’s award-winning 2400 Southwest remains as the best pack money can buy.
For her: After trying several new pairs, Forsake’s Patch Boots (pictured) were my wife’s favorite hiking shoes. Not only are they waterproof, well-treaded, breathable and light, they’re also the coolest-looking hiking shoes I’ve ever seen. As for packs, Gregory’s Stout 30 beat all other female packs in comfort, lightweight, utility and affordability.
Lead photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn/ Flickr CC BY 2.0
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him @blakesnow