“Son, calling me ‘Sir’ is like putting an elevator in an outhouse; it just doesn’t fit.”
-- Emmet, Roadhouse, 1989
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have never been mistaken for a supermodel and I’m not exactly what we call a “girlie-girl”. I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls as a child, never could get used to carrying a purse and make-up rarely graces this face. No, I was the girl you’d find out on the ball field with the boys, wandering through the weeds examining bugs and wildflowers or digging in the dirt for fishing worms. Most summers my legs looked like I’d been in a fight with my razor from all the cuts I’d have from running through the briars and the rash of sores from itching at poison ivy. Yep, I was tomboy through and through or as my friend, Sonya says, a real Dirt Barbie.
Now, I’ve always admired those women who seem to have flawless beauty, graceful moves, the lovely clothing and fancy shoes, but I just don’t fit into that category. Most attempts at trying to wear make-up or dressy clothes just leave me feeling uncomfortable and irritable. It feels like trying to wear someone else’s skin. My husband once saw me attempt to put on a pair of high heels in a shoe store and promptly remarked, “Get out of those before you hurt yourself!” See, I wear a size 11 or 12 woman’s shoe depending on how they’re made and at 5’8”, I run to the taller side of most women’s sizes. Add to that, the extra pounds I carry around and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see why I’m out of the running for Miss U.S. A. So, give me a pair of denim jeans, a cotton T-shirt, sneakers or flip-flops and I’m good to go.
However, these clothing choices, while acceptable for a short day hike, are not going to work on a long distance, multi-month hike. While years ago, everyone went hiking in denim jeans and cotton shirts, now we know that these are not good fabrics to protect you from hyperthermia situations which can occur anytime of the year. A hiker on the Appalachian Trail is especially prone to this danger after walking along rain-soaked trails in those notorious thunderstorms that are so common in the spring and summer months. So, I had to invest in a new wardrobe for this trip and clothes shopping is not one of my favorite activities, but I was in for a bit of a surprise.
For those of you who have been involved in sports or physical training of any kind over the last 5-10 years, I’m sure you are quite familiar with the current active-wear line of clothing, but for someone like me, who hasn’t had a gym membership or participated in any organized sports, aside from bowling, for decades now, these apparel choices are all new to me. Terms like “wicking fabric” and mid or base layers are new to my vocabulary. Companies like Under Armour, The North Face, Patagonia and Columbia have joined the ranks of the old school names of Nike, Adidas and New Balance. Maybe they have even been around longer than I realize, but these brands are not normally included in my clothing purchases. And of course, there is that taboo fabric of spandex that should never be stretched over some figures; mine included.
Well, after educating myself and receiving a lot of advice from experienced hikers, I have overcome my ignorance and am thrilled with my new hiker wardrobe. It turns out that while there may be new terms for the material and there may even be some technological advances in the strength or durability of some of the fabrics, most all of this “new” athletic gear is nothing more than a combination of nylon, polyester and spandex blends. Here’s a breakdown of my very fashionable hiker attire:
Pants: I will be sporting Cabella’s Guidewear GXII convertible pants that are listed as 100% nylon performance fabric online and the tag reads 100% nylon shell with 100% polyester lining. As convertible pants, the lower leg zips off to become a pair of shorts and they are equipped with a side leg zipper from the hem line to about mid-calf so that the pants can be converted without having to remove muddy boots.
Shirts: The shirt that I will wear is by Columbia and is listed as 100% polyester double piqued fabric with Omni-wicking technology. Ok, yeah, sure….it’s a polyester shirt, very light and very comfortable and I love the color…teal for my first one, with a mint green one in reserve at home. I am also carrying a spare shirt that is a Patagonia capilene 2 made of 100% polyester to wear if I need another insulating layer or in case my main shirt is wet, in the wash, etc.
Socks: Two layers here. The first is the Injinji Performance Toesock Liners which are supposed to help with moisture wicking and prevent blisters. They are made of 75% Coolmax, which is an enhanced polyester fiber, 22% nylon and 3% Lycra, which is another word for spandex. The second layer is the Smartwool PhD crew sock of 72% Merino wool, 26% nylon and 2% Elastane. I will be carrying 2 pair of sock liners and 3 pair of Smartwool socks.
The Unmentionables: Ok, so I’m mentioning them anyway. I’m doing something in this department that I never thought I would and am wearing men’s Adidas Climalite boxer-briefs with an 8” inseam. These are surprisingly comfortable and are made of 91% polyester and 9% spandex. The 8” inseam helps prevent thigh chafing and the material will wick away moisture. There’s nothing like a good case of chafing to slow a hiker down. These briefs are more like biking shorts than underwear and can be used for swimwear as well.
As for the upper half, I will be wearing a good ole Fruit of the Loom full back, colored (either dark blue or a striped multi-blue & white) sports bra. While this item is the only thing in the wardrobe with 95% cotton and 5% Lycra/spandex, it serves its purpose well, is comfortable and will double as a swimming top when needed. Although, if and when I decide to dip into the water for a cool down and some relaxation, I don’t think it will be in a very public arena and I wouldn’t count on getting any pictures posted online either. Some images just aren’t meant to be implanted into the brain.
Long underwear/thermal wear: Columbia Omni-heat reflective thermal wear (pants and shirt) also made of 85% polyester and 15% Elastane/spandex. My son says I look like I work at SeaWorld when I put these on, but this material is cool just to look at with its space-aged, shiny, silver lining that is supposed to reflect your body heat back to you. Think of wearing an ultrathin car windshield shade covered in polyester.
My other cold weather clothing is all outer wear items such as a Patagonia down jacket, a Mountain Hardware fleece hat, a Marmot Trailrunner windbreaker jacket (100% polyester), a set of leather gloves and a pair of Thermasilk glove liners made of 100% silk…yes, you heard me right, silk. I have never owned anything made of silk, which in my mind, is the ultimate in luxury fabrics. On top of the glove liners, I also have a silk sleeping bag liner for inside my big, fluffy down sleeping bag which can add another few degrees protection in the cold and also will serve as my summer sleeping bag on its own.
Down, there’s another item that is new to my wardrobe. The only down item I have ever owned is my down pillow. Now, while out in the wilderness, I’m going to have the pleasure of wrapping myself inside this wonderfully full, down cocoon every night for the first couple of months. And around camp in the evening, I’ll have my Patagonia down jacket to insulate my body. I don’t know about you, but I get a real sense of comfort when I wrap myself inside a nice, warm, soft blanket and these down items definitely fit the bill.
So, here I am, about to embark on probably the dirtiest, smelliest and most rugged trip I will ever take, one that I thought would appeal to my tomboy nature and instead of durable denim and my common cotton tee, I’m going to be wearing silk, polyester and nylon; all materials that are soft, slippery and the most sensual of fabrics. I keep shaking my head in disbelief and trying to make sense of all of it. I wonder…should I pack a little black dress and heels too? Nah, that might be taking things a bit too far, but I sure do like this luxurious new wardrobe.