Gadling gear review: Outdoor Research women’s Frescoe Hoody activewear

women's activewearI love hoodies, and ever since I was old enough to waddle around in my brother’s hand-me-downs (which unfortunately included his tighty-whiteys, until I was old enough to realize that, while my mom’s thriftiness was admirable, clothing your daughter in boy’s underwear was not), I’ve worn them. The versatility, quirky style, and marsupial-like comfort a great hoody can provide make it an unbeatable wardrobe staple for travel or at home.

When I started running a decade ago, zip-up sweatshirt hoodies were my favorite layering accessory. Unfortunately, they’re bulky, and one of the reasons I took up running was so I could exercise while traveling. Thus, like most active women, I require workout gear that fulfills my various needs.

That’s why I love Outdoor Research’s Frescoe Hoody. This lightweight pullover debuted last spring in the Seattle-based company’s women’s apparel line, just in time for me to give it a test-run on a monthlong backpacking trip through Australia.

For this particular trip, I needed a piece of activewear that could perform well in a variety of climates (it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere). It also needed to serve as sleepwear in a Sydney backpacker’s, and at a friend’s Arctic-like, 120-year-old stone cottage in the rainy Barossa Valley. Most important: I would have little opportunity to do laundry, so the hoody needed to, as advertised, deliver moisture-wicking, “quick-dry performance,” and remain stink-proof.women's activewearThe Frescoe Hoody is made of Dri-Release® E.C.O. fabric: 83% recycled polyester, 15% organic cotton, and 2% Spandex. New for 2011 is Built-in FreshGuard® odor neutralization. I have no idea what that last part means from a manufacturing standpoint, but it’s a huge selling point for someone (that would be me) who has been known to travel for weeks at a time in climatic extremes ranging from tropical jungle to high-altitude blizzard, sans access to laundry services. My test hoody didn’t have FreshGuard, and still miraculously kept stench at bay.

Pros

I confess that when I first received my Frescoe in the mail and unpacked it, I was dismayed by both the color (see Cons) and size. Although I’d ordered an XS (sizes go up to L), the “relaxed fit” was still generous. I’m 5’2″, and wear a 32A bra, so the V-neck (which is double-layered, to help prevent gaping, I presume) was a bit too low for me, but I’m used to that. How the flat-chested do suffer.

  • From the first time I wore it, however, I decided I loved the Frescoe’s slouchy design, in part because the bottom hem has a wide, flattering, slightly stretchy band. It’s slimming, but also retains body heat. The fabric is soft, light, and unbelievably comfortable, and the hood stays put but doesn’t constrict (there are no drawstrings). When I got too warm on a run, the hoody was easy to whip off while maintaining my pace, due to its loose fit. Once tied around my waist, it didn’t hinder my movement with weight or bulk.
  • women's activewear
  • What really made me fall in love with the Frescoe, however, are two fantastic features: a tiny, hidden zippered pocket ideal for holding keys, a Chapstick, and a couple of bucks, and cuff fold flaps. For cold-handed types like me, these are ideal when it’s too warm for gloves.
  • I’ve worn my Frescoe in Seattle drizzle, hiking and camping in Shenandoah National Park, and on the windy beaches of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. On that trip, I was only able to do laundry once, 10 days into my trip. Yet the top survived daily runs for two weeks, before being crammed in my backpack for four days while I was in the blistering heat of the Ningaloo Reef region in Western Australia. On day 20, the Frescoe emerged, still smelling reasonably fresh, to accompany me on a long run around Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. I even slept in it that night because it passed the “sniff test.” What? Like you haven’t done the same thing.
  • The $55 price tag may seem a bit steep for what is essentially a glorified long-sleeve T-shirt. But when you take into consideration the bells and whistles, performance ability, durability, and responsible manufacturing materials, it’s a steal.

Cons

  • At 11.8 ounces, the Frescoe isn’t as lightweight and compressible as some activewear, but it’s not bad and it kept me warm. Given how well it performs, I don’t mind a little extra bulk in my baggage.
  • women's activewearMy only other nitpick are the colors. I admittedly have a pet peeve about women’s gear that only comes in impractical, pastelly or bright hues. I do, however, like the little flower graphic on the Frescoe’s right hip. New 2011 shades (available starting in February) include Mist (light blue), Fuschia, Mandarin, and Mushroom (brown-grey).

My own hoody is Fossil, a not-terribly flattering greyish-green that makes me look somewhat cadaverous. It’s practical, however, and never shows dirt. If OR could make this baby in charcoal, burgundy, forest green, or black, I’d buy another one in a heartbeat to wear on the street, or while tossing back an apres-ski cocktail or four.

In summary, I was really impressed with the Frescoe Hoody. It delivered on its promises to stay dry and not get stinky, and the hidden zip and cuff fold features totally rock for practicality, cleverness, and cuteness. I highly recommend this top as a multi-use travel wardrobe staple. P.S. It’s also great to wear for lounging or while typing up Gadling posts.

Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast is eco-chic

At Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast, the mission statement is clear. Comfort, style and luxury can co-exist with sustainable, eco-friendly practices. And when it comes to green initiatives, Milan Doshi, the b&b’s owner, seems to have thought of everything. The bedding, the paint, the food, the labor – every aspect of the b&b was specifically chosen to be as green as possible.

According to the Denver Post, Doshi bought the hotel in summer of 2008 and immediately began a massive renovation. New floors, from Sustainable Floors in Boulder, were made of compressed leftover wood fibers and installed. Eco-friendly Keesta mattresses, made of recycled metal coils and memory foam infused with green tea extracts, were put in the bedrooms. The walls were covered in eco-friendly low VOC paints. And a heavy wooden table, made of a material called Italian ebony (also made of leftover wood fibers) was selected as the dining room centerpiece. It’s the place where Colorado Allegro coffee is served with a locally-sourced organic breakfast each day (many of the herbs and veggies are pulled from the b&b garden), and where Colorado wines and cheeses are served each evening at happy hour.

Doshi used local products whenever possible and even went so far as to make sure the labor he used was local too. All of the contractors and some of the suppliers he worked with were found within a 10-mile radius. Local craftsmen carved the oak platform beds, and small plastic bottles of toiletries have been replaced with bulk dispensers (which eliminate waste and reduce trash) from Colorado-based Jason Organics.

The green bonanza doesn’t stop there. The linens on the beds are organic cotton; all cleaning products used are 100% natural, biodegradable, and dye-free; paper products are recycled, biodegradable, unbleached and dye-free; only glass drinking cups are used; and the shower heads and toilets have had low-flow adapters installed. The b&b even requires the dry cleaners they work with to recycle their hangers and plastic, and provides free bikes for guest transportation.

Doshi hopes that in the near future, the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast will be the nation’s first LEED certified bed and breakfast. He’d also like to see the b&b certified as “cradle-to-cradle”, meaning that it creates no pollution and nothing is wasted in its operation. To that end, he has big plans for additional green features, such as a system that could convert used sink water into toilet water.

So, all these green features are great, but if the property doesn’t stack up to it’s less-green counterparts, who would want to stay there? Well luckily, the Queen Anne does measure up. Of the 15 TripAdvisor reviews written since Doshi took over (there are an additional 45 written about the previous incarnation of the b&b), 14 rate it 5-stars. The other one knocked it down to 4-stars. Guests all agree that the staff are helpful and friendly, the rooms are beautiful and comfortable, and the food is fresh and delicious. The location, about a 10-minute walk from downtown, is ideal as well. It seems to me that you really can’t ask for more in a bed and breakfast.

Of course, for a frugal traveler, price is an important consideration too. Some of the more ornate or larger of the 14 rooms, which feature king beds, whirlpool tubs, log fireplaces or cathedral ceilings, go for $175 to $215 per night. But four rooms also cost $145 or $165, and the Oak Room, with it’s deep pedestal tub and original pull-chain commode, is just $135 a night. It’s good to know that you can go green, and still save a little green at the same time.

How green is your hotel?

Not too long ago, any hotel that had one of those “please reuse your towels” signs in the bathroom was considered “green“. But with new hotels upping the ante by adding more features that reduce waste and environmental impact, it takes a lot more than that to truly be green. Here are some of the greenest hotel features to look for in an eco-friendly hotel.

Sheet and Towel Reuse Programs
Literally, this is the least a hotel can do. Asking guests to reuse towels and only changing the linens every few days or between guests no doubt saves water (and money for the hotel) but those positive contributions can easily be negated through other actions. If this all the hotel does, it might just be more frugal than green.

Bulk Toiletry Dispensers
Every time you check into a hotel, you’re provided with small bottles of face wash, body wash, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. Even if you’ve only used a minuscule drop, those bottles are tossed out and restocked at the end of your stay. This happens every day, for every room sold, at hotels all around the world. That’s a lot of tiny bottles clogging up landfills. The greener option being implemented in many hotels is to install bulk dispensers (similar to soap dispensers in public restrooms) that dole out small amounts of shampoo, soap and lotion without the extra packaging.

Local and Organic Cooking
Hotel restaurant chefs that use local, fair-trade, sustainable and organic ingredients get a gold-star for for being green. Using local products means that the food travels less to get to the consumer, which in turn means less energy is used and less emissions are added to the air from the planes, trains and trucks that transport food. Organic ingredients are created without the chemicals and pesticides that can harm the surrounding eco-systems, fair-trade products support local farmers, and sustainable foodstuffs are made in a way that doesn’t deplete the natural resources of the area. Hotels that employ these practices in their restaurants are doing something that is not only healthy for their guests, but is healthy for the community and environment as well. The hotel gets even more bonus points if some or all of the produce comes from the hotel’s own garden.

Green Lighting Practices
Replacing fluorescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) means that a hotel will use 75% less energy per year. While hotel guests can do their part by turning off all unnecessary lights when not in the room, some hotels, like the LEED-certified Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco, make this easier by requiring the lights to be activated by key card. The key card, usually attached to the hotel key, must be inserted into a slot in order to turn the lights on. Since you’ll obviously need to take the key and lighting key card with you when you leave the room, there’s no way you can leave the lights on while you’re out.

Green Building Materials
The buildings at Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Alaska are constructed from scavenged driftwood, the mattresses and bedding at the Asheville Green Cottage in South Carolina are made from all organic materials, and the walls at Los Manos B&B in Colorado are built of local adobe and the ceilings are insulated with cellulose from old newspapers. All of these properties are using green building practices that help conserve precious resources. Using recycled, organic, scavenged and eco-friendly (like low-emission paints) materials in the building process makes a hotel green from the very beginning.

Reducing Water Usage
The El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico filters its wastewater into pure drinking water, but there are plenty of other ways hotels can save water that are a littler easier to do. Many green hotels install low-flow regulators in showers and toilet tanks, and some even put in automatic-timer showers that shut off after a certain number of minutes. (You can restart them with the push of a button, but the ticking clock serves as a powerful reminder to make it quick). Hotels in temperate areas have chosen to do their landscaping with tropical plants, which require less water to maintain.

Alternative Power
Many hotels are looking to alternative sources of power; the Alpine House in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, gets all of its power from wind turbines. Look for hotels that boast the use of solar and wind power for even part of their energy usage. Hotels that use shade trees and crosswinds to cool rooms, rather than air conditioning, also increase their eco-friendly factor.

Recycling Programs
All the paper used in the Hotel Triton in San Francisco, from napkins in the restaurant to stationary in the guest rooms, is made from recycled materials. Of course, after it’s used, it still gets tossed out. I’ve never seen a recycling bin in any hotel I’ve stayed in, and I highly doubt that housekeeping takes the time to separate recyclables from trash. As a result, plenty of paper, aluminum and plastic that could be recycled ends up getting tossed. Any hotel that offers recycling bins in the room is one step up on the green ladder.

Green Cleaning Products
Using non-toxic, all-natural cleaning products helps reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals that get into the water system and cause pollution. Look for hotels like Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast which uses only baking soda to its clean tubs, sinks and toilets.

Other Green Practices
When combined with some of these larger-scale practices, the smallest acts can help make a green hotel even more eco-friendly. All Fairmont hotels offer free parking for hybrid cars, the Vancouver Hilton offers an alternative fueling station, and many hotels will provide free bikes for guests to get around on. Stocking guest rooms with glass drinking cups instead of plastic and relying on natural lighting as much as possible in public areas are two additional practices that make a big difference.

I doubt there’s any hotel that employs every single one of these practices. But it’s a safe bet to say that the more of these strategies a hotel uses, the greener it is. No hotel will have zero impact on the environment, but choosing a hotel that take does its best to use environmentally-friendly policies will help make your travels greener.