When Mike Crowe talks about what he wore on his first nature adventure, he sounds like a pioneer. In Ohio in the 1970s, he dressed in tight polyester shirts, boated in cheap swimming trunks and walked in uncomfortable flip-flops. “Sweating like crazy,” he and his friends wore tube socks and lathered in baby oil, walking without sunglasses or a hat, boots, poles or a backpack.
Step aside, pioneers: The trails of nature are becoming fashion runways. A revolution in gear and apparel is completely changing the experience for exercisers and explorers. Instead of getting in the way of the fun, outdoor couture is facilitating it.
How is it happening?
First, stores founded by outdoor lovers—L.L.Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports and REI, the co-op—have expanded to serve the market for adventure. Got a compass? You might need one to navigate the enormous Cabella’s & Bass Outdoors stores serving those who hunt and fish. Besides clothing and gear, they offer clinics, books and good advice.
These stores include brands launched by outdoor entrepreneurs. Kahtoola MICROspikes made in Flagstaff, AZ, Buff tubular bandanas, and the simple canvas Tilley hat were created by founders to cover their own outdoor needs. Today, their users swear by them.
Apparel like this is proving that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Hi-tech and environmentally safe accessories such as insulated sleeping bags, tents, bug repellents and sun lotions are making the outdoors feel like home. The food tastes better, too; Clif Bars, dehydrated meals and insulated tumblers have replaced O’Henry’s, military rations and surplus canteens.
Modern, sophisticated fabrics not only work better, but look better. Fifty-something Kent Tewel, who has upgraded his apparel, has a practical rationale for doing so. “The cheap stuff smells when you sweat in it, even after you launder it.”
Now he’s migrating to Lululemon. Tewel acknowledges that the retailer became known for women’s yogawear, but insists their odor-resistant, moisture-wicking clothes work great outdoors. And if it looks good, he doesn’t mind.
What about you? Ready to don fashionable colors that attract the eye, without scaring off the wildlife? Here are my three tips for your next shopping run:
- Test & buy components together. Many companies offer demos—the chance to try new equipment before buying it, and generous return policies. So give those new hiking boots a try, but do so with the right pair of socks to make sure it fits..
- Seek sustainability and a guarantee. Caring for clothes that take care of you combats clutter and pollution. Seek clothing that will last. Beyond return policies, consider lifetime guarantees, the kind offered by firms such as Outdoor Research.
- Check the weather … and the label. Consider your habits to determine if you need rain gear for running, or footwear to hike among cacti. Take note that many outdoor-friendly silks and knits require a gentle washing cycle, and should not be put in the dryer.
Will it cost slightly more to become an outdoor fashionista? In the short-run, yes. But the well-being from entering nature, and perhaps, staying longer, will make it an investment with a high rate of return.
After all, why should nature have all the beauty?