The Great Outdoors: Hiking Inspired Looks for Spring
18 March 2015
The snow is finally receding, and after a long, dark winter the sun has arrived and the days are slowly lengthening. Time to get out of the house and explore half frozen lakes, thawing pine forests and winding mountain paths. Unfortunately for those who care about clothing, hiking & hill walking gear is pretty poor looking. Most of it is bright neon shades with uneccessary ‘futuristic’ detailing. In this way its not that different from other modern sportswear, as we exercise less and amateur contests give way to major commercial events, sportswear has become highly specialised and in the process lost much of it’s charm—cricket does without sweaters, rugby without rugby shirts. We used to run in sweatpants & t-shirt's but now feel inadequate without some proprietary polyester-blend with a buzzy name like ‘clima-heat-tek-cool.’ This is especially disappointing if you enjoy being outdoors for the sake of it. Not out of some competitive urge to conquer nature but simply for fresh air, sun and a sense of well being. Its not about having the most expensive gear or trying to be the best at exercising.
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
—Henry David Thoreau, Naturalist & Philosopher
However, even easy going hikes require clothes that are both light & warm; hardwearing and easy to clean; bags that can carry the essentials and wont fall apart; and good, light, comfortable shoes. Luckily hiking has a long history and some great styles to suit all tastes. There are still companies that aren’t trying to dazzle us with cheap tricks.
Look One: Classic
Germany was the home of hiking and hillwalking in the early 1800s, and by the early 1900s had many societies devoted to the pursuit. Among these were the ‘Wandervogul’ or ‘Wandering Birds’, loosely organized groups of teens from the cities & towns who would take off to the countryside to enjoy freedom from parents, authority & repressive social codes while enjoying a rare oppurtunity to freely mix with the other sex. Although superficially similar to the scouting movement the Wandervogul were far more democratic, and anti-establishment and would go on to influence the hippie movement of the 1960s. For clothing they relied on light jackets, boots and camp shorts although they later substituted boots for light running shoes.
A good casual hiking outfit doesn't need to prepare you for a nuclear apocalypse or running the Iron Man, it just needs to be comfortable, useful and hard wearing. This look inspired by the Wandervogul has plenty of utility, with good quality natural fibres, while still being easy to wear in everyday life.
Look Two: Counterculture
The next golden age for the outdoors would be the post-hippie era in California in the 1970s. Driven by the 'back-to-nature’ philosphy of the time and helped along by the development of the first high quality performance fabrics & equipment, notably the famous 60/40 jacket (named for its mix of poly-cotton), hard wearing nylon cordura bags & GORTEX that meant you didn't have to be weighed down in thick wool layers and heavy canvas to protect yourself from the elements. It was also when some of the biggest names in outdoors equipment would appear: Jan Sport, Patagonia* & Kelty among them. Outside of bags & jackets, hikers & rock climbers were still wearing a mix of traditional wool sweaters, jeans, military surplus gear and flannel shirts, creating a mountaineering hippie aesthetic that still looks great today.
Look Three: Modernist
This is a tough one, I can't deny that modern outdoors clothing is as good as it gets from a practical standpoint, it has never been as warm or light, unfortunately it has gone downhill in the looks department with most of the gear coming in clashing neon shades with too much ‘technical’ window dressing and boxy or skintight fits. There is some light in the dark though, Patagonia still makes great high quality clothes that look good and perform in the elements, Surf brand Finisterre has a great low-key collection and numerous Japanese companies like Mont Bell and Snow Peak haven't lost sight of good aesthetics when chasing performance, not to mention boutique lines like Arcteryx's great looking but pricey Veilance line or Nike's incredible jogging range with Undercover: Gyakusou.
I decided the best way to approach modern outdoors gear was to follow the gold standard set out by legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams (who has influenced Apple heavily, among others) and select items that are useful & long lasting, innovative & honest, the best of this gear lives up to that description.
So that's it. It's likely that we are best served by taking from the past and mixing it with the future, technical jackets are incredible these days, and its nice not to be sweating in some rubber bound cagoule or wax jacket when your 3 hours into a hike and modern runners are great improvements on their predecessor's but there is also something to be said for hiking casually, where you can enjoy a beer by a lakeside or go to sleep in the grass and in those cases some of the classic hiking wear is just perfect. Enjoy.