Since techwear officially became A Thing, there are more brands than I can count that are now playing with takes on the “day-hiker in the big city” look, and you can find them from retailers ranging from Dick’s to Mr. Porter. What is it? Outdoor clothing, or outdoor-inspired clothing, that makes the wearer look as though they may ascend an Alp (or several Alps) at any moment. Hardshell outerwear, sweat-wicking mid-layers, safari shorts, and gore-tex trail shoes are the backbone of this look, along with the new required garment for any hip tech brand: climbing pants.
The best thing about this movement is that you can just wear your comfy hiking or trail shoes and feel fine about it. Well, with restrictions – those wide-toed Merrell things are always going to be ugly as sin, but Salomon trail shoes and Danner hikers are firmly established in all the hippest streetwear stores, and they’ve got decent arch support to boot. Rejoice, for the days of mincing around on painfully flat Serena cup soles are over!
Now, there are a few brands making what I think is really cool, wearable, outdoorsy clothing. The three that have currently caught my eye are New York’s Battenwear, Japan’s Snow Peak, and a Tokyo-based company called and Wander. Although all three brands focus on technical, outdoorsy clothing, they’ve all come up with very different answers to the same question.
That question, I assume, is “How can I look appear to hike a fourteener while carrying a surfboard without looking like a shapeless blob of nylon and polyester?” In all cases, you’ll have to visit the brand’s homepage to see the full range of offerings.
Snow Peak is a Japanese company that has been making camping gear such as backpacking stoves and titanium sporks since 1958, but they also make very cool (and occasionally bizarre) clothing that ranges from waxed down jackets to cable-knit leggings. Their shorts and pants are all of the mountaineering variety; most with cargo pockets and zips and elastic or self-belted waistbands. Crotch gussets feature prominently. More interesting pieces, such as water-resistant popover midlayers; cuddly, oversized fleece sweaters, and quilted lounge pants add much-needed whimsy that keeps the company from hard-tech goods such as those you might find at North Face or even Fjallraven.
I like to think that Snow Peak’s collection evokes an image of a small group of mountaineers climbing an unforgiving mountain in a whiteout. Sparkly motes wink in the air beside them, and magic crackles through the snow. It’s fairy techwear for a fantasy world, clothing that acts as a cozy, protective cocoon from the blizzard of the everyday.
Battenwear, designed in New York by Mr. Shinya Hasegawa and produced in the USA, offers a more Americanized take on outdoor goods. 60/40 cloth parkas and unassuming basics form the bulk of the collection, although lounge-centric pieces such as impeccably-constructed fleece hiking pants make you wonder why you’re still wearing denim. Mid-20th century cues guide color selection and product design, and in addition to the more experimental pieces you’ll find board shorts and hiking shorts in 50’s-flavored earth tones, florals, and the washed-out pastels of beachside California towns.
1970’s-inspired denim pieces and color-blocked looks add an out-of-time quality to Battenwear’s offerings, and the cuts are generally of the slim-but-boxy variety that is equally suggestive of European backpackers and A-frame tents. It’s all very ocean-to-mountain, and practically begs to be photographed alongside vintage National Park signage.
When two Issey Miyake alums come together to make urban-mori clothing, the results are bound to be pretty good. And Wander delivers technical wear that manages to be alluring and evocative of natural pursuits, and keeps the wearer from looking like an advertisement for suburban fitness boot camps. You won’t find neons here – the technical fabrics (nylons and nylon blends feature heavily) come in subdued greens, blues and purples. Don’t be fooled by all-black buys – this brand shines in its use of earth tones.
And Wander focuses heavily on body-centric pattern-making, just as its competitors do. Expect climbing pants that offer a wide range of motion, Coolmax shirting, and lightweight outerwear. Layering the less-traditional pieces, such as the technical skirts and long parkas, keeps the look from verging too far into caricature.
Like Miyake, And Wander shows a gleeful focus on objects and accessories, and non-traditional backpacks and vests are a seamless part of the collection, along with hats and gloves. For fall 2016, they’ve also worked with Paraboot to develop a vintage-style hiker that will – one hopes – keep your feet warm and dry during a slushy city winter.