Winter is a bit of an ephemeral season here in Southern California, so I’m always on the lookout for gear that can pull double duty across multiple seasons and for various activities – from hiking to backpacking to climbing. In that spirit, here are my favorite pieces from this winter that will carry me through spring and right back into next fall.
Acorn Slipper Socks: These might not be considered “performance” gear, but they are the perfect après-performance wear. These cozy slipper socks are the definition of “comfort,” from the tall, thick ribbed sock upper to the plush, cushioned sole. The sole offers enough protection to allow wear outside of the house (or cabin, if you’re that lucky)…but once you snuggle up with these on, I doubt you’d want to leave the couch. Learn more at acorn.com or buy them now on Amazon.
Ahnu Twain Harte Insulated Boots: The first thing that struck me about these boots is their weight – most waterproof, insulated hiking boots tend to feel like they’re dragging my feet down the minute I tie them on, but these felt incredibly lightweight from the moment I knotted the laces right through to the end of the day – in fact, they were so comfortable that I ended up wearing them as camp shoes several times. The waterproofing held its ground in ankle-deep snow, and the Thinsulate lining kept my feet warm for nearly 12-hour stints snowshoeing and hanging around at camp in the Sierra – an impressive feat for such a seemingly laid-back boot. They performed well with snowshoes, but my only caveat is that the upper is not terribly rugged and offers almost no foot protection – save these for casual outings. Head to ahnu.com for more. Buy now at REI.com or Amazon.
Champion Duofold – Tech Fleece Tights and Varitherm Crew and Pants: I was surprised to see Champion sporting a booth at this year’s Winter Outdoor Retailer; after all, the brand is known more for their gym wear than their outdoor performance gear. All preconceived notions flew out the window as I started testing their Tech Fleece Tights and Varitherm Expedition weight base layers, technical pieces made with Duofold’s Everest-tested doubled fabric technology. The tights are a new wardrobe staple – the inner fleece is completely soft against my skin, the exterior perfectly slimming. I’ve worn these to yoga, running, hiking, and even climbing, and there’s not so much as one pill in the fabric. The base layers are heavier than those I’d usually bring on a backpacking trip, but after several subfreezing nights, I’m sold on their ability to keep me warm outside of my sleeping bag – and insanely toasty inside. I’ve worn the pants hiking and I can attest to the wicking capabilities provided by the doubled fabric system – impressive for such a warm piece. One of the best selling points is the relatively low price, making these much more affordable than your typical wool layers – unless you’re an ultralighter, a little added weight is worth it for a lot of saved money. champion.com
Eddie Bauer Sandstone Shield: This soft shell jacket pulled multiple duties for me this winter as a great layering piece in a variety of environments – both urban and backcountry. The waterproof DWR finish performed well in light rain and snow, and I stayed warm while battered by gusty winds. The fabric is incredibly stretchy, making this an excellent choice for peak baggers who might need something a bit more nimble when scrambling around in the mountains – and if you’re aiming for something a bit more technical, the hood fits comfortably around a climbing helmet. The slim, athletic cut kept it stylish when worn as an urban raincoat, and meant that the jacket didn’t feel bulky when I wore a full backpack. Bonus: the women’s cut has ample butt coverage, something that can be very hard to come by with athletic cut gear! My only complaint is that there are no pit zips for venting, but the sides are lined with a fairly breathable fabric to minimize that swampy feeling you sometimes get from high exertion in a shell. eddiebauer.com. Buy women’s and men’s Sandstone Shield on Amazon.
Injiji Performance 2.0 Outdoor Socks: “Toe socks” have long been a staple in my outdoor wardrobe, since they’ve pretty much eradicated any hot spot and blistering issues for me: toe socks are my gospel, as anyone who hikes with me can tell you. The problem is that since a certain wool brand stopped manufacturing them, I’ve been stuck with synthetics that stink up my shoes. Enter Injiji’s Outdoor series, made with NüWool merino – in addition to the blister-banishing properties of most toe socks, these are not just comfortable, but thanks to the wool blend, they’re also funk free! Proof? I wore the same pair for three days in a row on a high-intensity backpacking trip, and I assure you my tent mate was none the wiser. injinji.com. Buy from REI.com.
Kahtoola KTS Crampons: Traction devices are worn over your shoes or boots to offer a means of traveling over slick, snowy terrain; products range from minimalist slip-on “spikes” to full-on mountaineering crampons with razor-sharp teeth. Kahtoola’s KTS Crampons offer a middle ground for hikers looking to transition to non-technical travel over compacted snow. I tested these on a range of low-angle to steep snow slopes and was incredibly pleased with the fit: my heel sat flush against the back cup, adjustable straps allowed for a custom fit over my toebox, and the LeafSpring length adjustment bar wasn’t terribly difficult to maneuver once I had my gloves off. The 1” steel spikes bit well into hard snow crust, front points allowed me to ascend low- to medium-angle slopes straight-on (“frontpointing”), and the LeafSpring bar allowed for slight flexibility in my steps (good if you’re planning to use these with non-rigid soled shoes). They pack down relatively small and the weight is in line with similar offerings. My only gripe is that they don’t come with an anti-balling plate (an insert on the bottom of the crampons that prevents snow from building up), so you’d need to buy Kahtoola’s KTS Snow Release Skins to bring these up to snuff, nudging up the price on what is already a relatively expensive investment. kahtoola.com. Buy from Amazon.
Merrell Frost Belay Pant: Hello, new favorite hiking pants! Like the Champion tights, these have a subtle, soft fleece lining that provides a bit of a barrier against chilly air (and wind), with the added bonus of being water (and stain) repellant thanks to a DWR finish. These fit like magic, with a slim profile and plenty of stretch – and they look nice, to boot. I have a feeling the non-lined version will find their way into my wardrobe soon for some upcoming climbing sessions. merrell.com. Pick these up now from Amazon.
Native Eyewear Penrose Sunglasses: If there’s anything on this list that I consistently received compliments on every single time I wore them, it would be these sunnies – people especially loved the faux wood finish and several sticky-fingered friends almost walked off with them (I can’t blame ‘em!). Folks were doubly impressed when I handed the sunglasses over for them to try, since they not only look great, but also weigh practically nothing – a little bit of a bonus on several backpacking trips where my typically lightweight pack was crammed to the gills full of winter gear. The featherlight weight, polarized lenses, lifetime warranty, and slick styles (including interchangeable lenses for most models) make these great for both backcountry and frontcountry – and I think they’ve turned me away from $5 drugstore eyewear for good. nativeyewear.com or buy now from Amazon.
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Tags: Acorn, Ahnu, backpacking gear, camping gear, Champion, Champion Duofold, Duofold, Eddie Bauer, gear, gear reviews, hiking gear, Injiji, Kahtoola, merrell, Native Eyewear, outdoor gear, womens gear