Notes: Outfitting a First-Time Hiker

Understanding the value of technical clothing and embracing its style

I heard the rip before I knew what it meant exactly. I felt a sensation as well. We all know that strange, infrequent out-of-body experience: a tear taking place in our clothes, with seam tearing from seam. The incident occurred mid-hike, while I was wearing houndstooth shorts I had custom-made in Shanghai almost a decade earlier. The rip extended one inch just below the fly zipper. A step that required substantial stretch was the culprit. The shorts weren’t ruined, and nobody noticed, but that isn’t the point. I was on a proper hike for the first time in almost 20 years and I hadn’t committed to dressing for the occasion. In Sedona, as the guest of Columbia Sportswear, I took to the trails and came back smarter for it—and I didn’t feel as if I compromised my sartorial self. Shorts aside, every other exterior article of clothing I wore was a technical hiking piece and it carried substantial benefit.

Sedona’s Hangover Trail comprises one epic 8.4 mile loop and an 810-foot elevation change. It’s graded “difficult”—mostly because of a rock scramble mid-hike. As this was the first hiking experience I’d been on since my Boy Scout days, I embraced the fact that we’d only be going 2.8 miles in and then back down (rather than complete the loop) for a 5.6 mile stretch total. As one would expect, the first portion was predominantly uphill. The footing included everything from iron-coated sand and stone to slick rock formations. We began at 9:30AM; late for a June hike. The sun was a constant presence, the temperature hovered in the 90s and water was a frequent necessity. As we reached our peak, a vast stone saddle with a vista stretching across Oak Creek Canyon, I was very grateful for a few things in particular—beyond the beauty all around us.

Wearing the Men’s Titan Ice Short Sleeve Shirt (in the zinc and heather colorway), I found one of its technical features baffling. I’ve grown accustomed to moisture-wicking thanks to running gear—that wasn’t what struck me. Columbia has a proprietary Omni-Freeze ZERO technology that initiates sweat-activated cooling. During the hike’s duration, I maintained my body temperature thanks to the way my own perspiration was put to use. It sounds weird but it works. One of my travel counterparts wore the Men’s Irico Short Sleeve Shirt. Something about short-sleeve button down shirts causes me duress in most circumstances. This back-vented piece, however, offers the same technology as the T-shirt I was wearing—as it’s composed of 100% Omni-Freeze ZERO Vent-Air Mesh polyester. It provided breathability. Coupled with the lightweight Men’s Trail Strike Long-Sleeve Shirt, it’s a handsome look with the outer layer offering UPF 30 sun protection and an antimicrobial treatment.

What struck me most, however, were the shoes. We were all outfitted in the Conspiracy Titanium OutDry Trail Shoe. Two factors immediately come into play. First, comfortability matters and there’s a gentle snugness to the footwear that feels good all hike and acts in defiance of blisters (thanks to a Techlite cushioning midsole). Second, the Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber outsole with flex grooves actually catches looser terrain and helps to sustain balance. Less evident, but of equal importance, an Outdry exterior membrane grants breathability (for real) while waterproofing. These were game changers in all circumstances.

For the rest of my Sedona experience, I did wear technical shorts—a move I wish I had committed to earlier on but I really just didn’t think it would be necessary. For an early morning hike and yoga session within Amitabha Stupa + Peace Park, I donned the Men’s Hybrid Trek Short. There was the moisture-wicking feature at play, but most necessary was the comfort stretch. My physical experience was substantially better. I felt better. That is the impact of dressing properly. Technical attire can be a hindrance two-fold: beginners don’t know where to start and many consumers might not be aware that technical clothing can look casual. The hybrid-like look of this line appealed. And, of course, they worked.

Images by David Graver