On a recent hiking trip to Yosemite, I did something I’d never done before: I let the pros pack for me.
I take packing very seriously (probably too seriously, the effect of having written packing tips for 15 years), so it was a pretty big leap of faith to turn my suitcase over to JAM Collective, which represents companies that have been making beloved outdoor gear for decades.
What I Would Have Packed (left to my own devices): I have a few key pieces of what I think of as my outdoor adventure wardrobe: Title Nine Clamber pants, my trusty Tilley hat, and an old leather pair of Vasque hiking boots that just keep on keepin’ on. But beyond that, my spring and summer hiking go-tos look a lot like my casual-weekend staples: cotton T-shirts and shorts, sports socks, and the like. I’ve long accepted that this approach yields imperfect results: cotton T-shirts, for instance, don’t wick sweat, stay damp for longer—and in the worst case scenarios, are dangerous. But I didn’t think there would be that much of a difference, so I hadn’t invested in additional key pieces of hiking clothing.
The Pro Gear: I received Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX hiking shoes, Prana Halle Straight leg pants, SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt, Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt, SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew, SmartWool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie.
The Testing Ground: My big hike on a recent trip to Yosemite was the round-trip Nevada Falls hike, which covers 2,000 feet of elevation change over 6.5 miles of gorgeous, rugged terrain. The trek includes the famous Mist Trail, an enchanting but treacherous stretch of 600 steep and slippery granite steps that’s constantly showered by the heavy mist flowing off the adjacent Vernal Falls. It also includes a four-mile stretch on the famous John Muir Trail, a 211-mile trail that takes hikers through some of California’s wildest and most beautiful lands. (Note: If you’re visiting Yosemite and are in reasonably good shape, you should do this hike. Especially if you can do it in late spring when the waterfalls are raging.)
The Results: It turns out wearing the right gear for the job makes a huge difference. Not only did having the right layers mean I could adapt easily and comfortably for temperature changes, but it allowed me to dry within minutes after reaching the top of Vernal Falls soaking wet after finishing the more-like-a-firehose-than-mist Mist Trail. And having lightweight, sun-protective layers kept me comfortably cool and sunburn-free throughout the long day. A few years ago, while traveling the wild western coast of Sweden, a wise grandmother told me there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. After traveling with the exact right clothing for the situation, I finally understand.
Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX Hiking Shoes (also available for men; and comes as a hiking boot for women and men): My first pair of Vasques has lasted me 25 years and counting. In that quarter century, however, Vasque has been busy making hiking shoes and boots lighter and more supportive. These shoes required very little breaking in—I wore mine around town three or four times before hitting the trail, which was a good but not totally necessary move—and were comfortable from the get-go. Their grip—aided by custom Vibram outsoles—was exceptional; I felt surefooted even on wet granite. They stayed comfortable all day, and supported my feet and ankles on uneven trails.
Prana Halle Straight leg pants: These hiking pants are durable but stretchy—a winning combo on hiking trips that include scrambling up rocks and snack breaks on boulders. The back pockets (which button) were wide and deep enough to hold a phone in a case, and the roll-up legs made it easy to shift gears for hot afternoons and stream wading. After getting completely soaked on the Mist Trail, these pants remained comfortable and dried quickly.
SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt: When I first tried this on, I appreciated the well-styled touches like the split hem bottom and the flattering fit. But wearing it on a hike that included a cold morning, hot afternoon, and thorough waterfall-induced soaking gave me a new level of appreciation for the wicking power and temperature regulation of this 50 percent Merino wool, 50 percent polyester shirt.
Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt: Having relied on always-too-hot cotton long-sleeves shirts as a sun layer for years, I was surprised at the impressive functionality of an actual sun shirt. Wearing this ultralightweight top that’s rated UPF 50+ was an aha moment that made me embrace the right-gear-for-the-job mentality. Even as the day heated up and I sweated my way up the granite switchbacks, I stayed comfortable and sun protected thanks to the lightweight, wicking fabric. Bonus: the contrast stitching gives this practical shirt a bit of style, and a zippered pocket makes it easy to stash an item or two and travel light.
SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew: Warmth without bulk; that’s the magic of this best-selling baselayer. It’s comfortable, it’s cozy, and when you don’t need it anymore, it takes up almost no room in a day bag. Because it’s such an effective base layer, it allowed me to rely on thinner, lighter outer layers—which freed up space in my day pack.
Glerups: When I first saw Glerups, I wasn’t quite sure how to use them. They look not unlike slippers with rubber (or leather) soles, but they’re more rugged and hip in a confident Scandinavian way. It wasn’t until someone explained to me that these Danish mainstays are the perfect recovery shoe—the ones you keep in your car and slip into after you return from a day of hiking—that I experienced the life-changing power of socially acceptable outdoor slipper wearing. After hiking all day, these ultra-comfortable felted wool shoes (that come in boot, shoe, and slipper styles) offered sweet relief. And since they’re made to be worn both out- and indoors, I wore them for the rest of the day—right through to the s’mores and whiskey campfire end of the evening.
Hiking with the right gear—as opposed to with approximations of the right layers—was a vastly more comfortable experience than I’m used to. Since I wasn’t bouncing between being too hot and too cold, I could concentrate on the hike—which yielded Yosemite Valley views, two bear sightings, and waterfall dousings. I used to think that performance-wear was really only worth it for people who were hiking all the time. But now I see the feedback loop: outdoor performance-wear makes hiking more comfortable and pleasant. We’re all more likely to repeat activities that are comfortable and pleasant. The Swedish grandmother was right: outfit yourself well, and you’ll always be ready for the outdoors no matter what the weather.
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