Last night I was as physically shattered as I’d been in almost a year. My eyes felt pushed from their sockets, due to dehydration, by hands were so dry they seemed to stick, with a combination of sandpaper and velcro, to everything I touched. My triceps ached, from paddling, my ribs stung, from jackknifing attempts to unstick my boat from mud, and my thighs radiated the heat and agony of peddling a loaded bike up sand and gravel and mud and graded road. I was right off a bikerafting trip on the Dirty Devil river, roughly 60 miles of peddling and pushing, paddling and dragging, in 2.5 days. And if you took away the 1.5 mile downhill hikeabike, and all the boat dragging, I hadn’t walked a foot with a loaded pack.
Odd, it seemed to me, that the clothing I brought along was essentially the same for a summer packrafting trip in the Bob, or a fall hunting trip, or a spring canyoneering trip. Maybe backcountry clothing isn’t actually that complicated.
If you took away everything in my closet save the stuff I mention in the video and detail below, I’d be just fine for 97% of the stuff I do outside. The few occasions where I’d miss something else are noted. No guarantees other folks will, after years of trial, error, and refinement, develop similar preferences, but if you want to shortcut from the beginning of technical clothing acquisition straight to a dialed system this is my suggestion.
Yes, it’s $35 MSRP. Worth it (a theme here). Combines warmth where you need it, good venting, and quick sweat mitigation with no compromises. And it’s long enough to cover my ears even when my hair is long. Hat search over.
I take the low-tech route here, with a cap I got as swag at OR this year, that retails for $15. It’s big enough to layer over the performance beanie, but not so huge it won’t fit under all my hoods. Basic, and essential.
Gloves: work in progress
Honestly the answer most of the time is none. Going through the screaming barfies once makes for amazingly warm hands for the rest of the day, usually.
Hard shells: BD Helio Alpine jacket and Liquid Point pants
For the last six years my go-to has been the Haglofs Ozo, whose DWR is finally starting to give out. The choice of the Helio to replace it had as much to do with trying something a bit different, and cost, than anything. Jury still out, but the fabric seems great thus far (features, less so). Long story short, I want hard shells to keep water out, and over the years Goretex has done that better than anything.
Primary insulation: BD Hot Forge hoody
As discussed in the link, down/synthetic blends have performed better than I would have thought. Longevity remains the x-factor, but even the best pure down coats don’t last too long with frequent use. The Hot Forge is warm enough, light enough, and has the pockets I want. Expensive at MSRP, yes, but thus far good enough to justify it, for me. The current Cold Forge has heavier face fabric and more insulation, I’m not aware of anything quite analogous currently available (readers?). Deep winter requires a massive (10+ oz fill) down coat.
Secondary insulation: Patagonia R2 vest
Two insulation layers are better than one. I’ve tried otherwise, and always come back to wanting to have one to keep dry while the other gets soaked. Fleece is the obvious choice for active insulation, but oddly, it’s tough to find fleece that does what I want. Too many technically featured and cut options use too much spandex, which in this likely to get wet and thick (and thus already slow to dry) layer is a more emphatic no than usual. The R1 in my vest, for instance, is only 2% spandex. The current R3 hoodie is the right kind of fabric, as is the Rab Firebrand, or just plain old 100 weight fleece.
Windshirt: BD Alpine Start
The most versatile piece of outdoor clothing yet made didn’t make it into the video, because much though I love it, the Alpine Start usually doesn’t get worn boating. Too much spandex, though it does dry fast given it’s composition. It was essential on the biking, and every time I’ve left it home in the last three years I miss it.
Baselayer shirt: Sitka Core LW hoody
Written plenty about this one, and put lots of miles on it, without dampening my enthusiasm or putting dent it the shirt. Aside from some pilling on the little thumb loop ribbon, it still looks almost new. It is not quite light enough to be an ideal sun shirt, but does that job well enough, while still working well in the cold. If I could only have one other baselayer I’d do the Patagonia Sun Stretch for crazy heat, and this for everything else. Yes, that puts Cap 4 in third place.
Pants: Patagonia Rock Craft
I have a hard time getting excited about pants. They need to fit decently, be slim enough but not too much, dry fast, and hang around for a long time. These get the job done. Not sure what the equivalent is, which could be a problem as after 3 years these pants will probably die in the next few months (blown seat seam would be my guess). Are the RPS pants as good?
Boxers: Patagonia Capilene 1 Stretch
The perverse exception to my jihad against spandex, these have low double digit content in memory serves. But they’re super comfy, especially cycling and hiking high mileage. Longer dry time is oddly enough a decent price to pay.
Long johns: Kuiu Peloton 200
Too be added soon! I’ve spent a lot of time not carrying anything extra for my legs, and the cold and lack of anything to wear in camp while I dried my pants over the fire got old. This will doubtless open the gate for sleep clothes and all sorts of redundant crap.
Shoes and socks: way beyond the present scope.