Hipster Hats that Make Me Happy

We’re no Portland or Brooklyn, but dude, you can’t swing a cat in Seattle without hitting a 20 something in something tweedy, a vest, maybe, and a flat cap. The thing is, you need a good hat in this town, it’s not totally impractical to protect your melon from the relentless drizzle that dampens our spirits and waters down our Americanos. As much as I try to mock the bearded skinny jeans what on earth is your day job and did you think about how that tattoo is going to look when you are 50 plus all that bacon is bad for you set, I can’t argue with a good hat. I just can’t.

Which is why I left the house in a Tilley Endurable Ivy Cap. I joined the hipster masses and you know what people said? “Nice headwear!” The other style I tried, the Tec-Wool, got the same response. What did I say? I said you can’t argue with a good hat. No one even tried.

Here’s what I like about the Tilley winter caps. They have quilted lining and tuck away low profile ear flaps, so they’re really warm and get warmer when you pull the ear flaps out. There’s a secret pocket in the top where you can keep your bus pass or your marching orders or that love letter that really appeals to your brain. They’re made of a very water resistant wool and they keep their shape when you smash them in your backpack with your laptop and your refillable coffee canister and all the other stuff you carry around. There’s a little cinch strap inside so you can adjust the fit — a nice touch. Both caps come in a tweedy brown or a textured black that’s really a very dark charcoal gray. And I think I mentioned, they look great.Both caps are $76.00, a pretty penny to drop on a hat, but they come with a lifetime guarantee which includes — get this, insurance against loss for two years. You’ll need your receipt or registration form, so don’t lose that too, and if you can prove you bought a hat, Tilley will replace it. Really. I asked, twice, because I didn’t believe it the first time. The lifetime guarantee will outlast hipster fashion, I promise you.

These things are great for wearing out and about around town, to the microbrewery, while shopping for artisanal cheeses or smoked meats, or heading to a knitters meetup, but they’re also great for travel to blustery cold places where you just need to be warm. Want one? Measure your head (they come in multiple sizes) and to the Tilley website.

Oh, and yes, that’s me in the picture. I look like a freaking hipster. I don’t care.

Gadling Gear Review: Heat Holders Socks

I suffer terribly from cold feet; it’s why I don’t cheap out on socks. It’s also why I have one of those electric heater mats on the floor under my desk (a gift from my mate who sometimes just nails the gift giving with weird yet supremely likeable prezzies). Socks are way low on the scale of glam gear down with quick-dry underwear and refillable three ounce bottles, but they’re essential, and having warm feet can really make the difference between a lousy day or a good one.

Because of my terminally chilly paws, I was keen to see if Heat Holders are any better than the merino brands that stuff my sock drawer (SmartWool, IceBreaker, Dahlgren, and Darn Tough Vermont) at keeping my feet warm. (I am a fan of good socks, you may have guessed.) The short answer? Well, sort of.

I have a strong preference for natural fibers, it’s a “less plastic stuff” thing. I’m not totally naive; I do know that sometimes, the synthetics are the way to go. I’m just not that keen to spend a couple of hours waxing a canvas raincoat because I want to go with heavy cotton over far superior modern materials like GoreTex or PolarTech. Heat Holders are an acrylic poly blend; there’s nothing particularly natural about them.

They feel fine, though. They have a deep pile fleecy inside, they’re kind of cuddly, furry, even, a little bit like the inside or your lambswool slippers. (No, I don’t have those. The husband does and they’re sweet.) Outside, they’re, uh, a little plastic-y. I’ve been spoiled by merino, which I tend to prefer. But it’s the outside of the sock, who cares?

Here’s my issue with these socks. They’re really bulky. All that fluffy really does work to keep your feet warmer, and they’re great for sleeping in. But I couldn’t get them in most of my shoes. I’m not totally sold on the idea that adding bulk is the best way to stay warm. I get it — loft is how you hold heat and the loft that these socks somehow manage to provide, even after a full day’s wear, works. They worked great in my wellies, which are a little big, but I couldn’t wear them with many of my other winter boots. I’m wearing mine around the house and with my rain boots out in the wet, but for travel? Nope, too bulky.

The marketing text on the elaborate packaging says that these socks are “seven times warmer than your basic cotton sock.” That’s probably true. But I’m not sure they’re seven times warmer than some of the wool or alpaca fiber socks I’ve got, and that’s a more useful comparison.
Heat Holders socks come in a few styles: stripey, long, and in a slipper sock. Their original sock goes for just just under $20.00.

Seven Days in a SmartWool Sweater

Here’s the thing: When I review gear, I actually use the stuff, I don’t just scribble a few words about how fluffy it is out of the box, and how the tag says it’s good in all kinds of weather or water resistant or… Nope, I trim the tags, throw everything that’s wearable into the wash (and sometimes, in complete disregard of the instructions, the dryer). And then, I go out into the world in pants that are not quite the right size or a sweater that’s a color I didn’t pick out myself. That’s how I roll.

I’ve just spent the last week in a SmartWool TML Light Sport Zip sweater. I’ve been in this sweater for not quite 24 hours a day, but I have been in it rather a lot, in fact, I’m wearing it as I type this review. I put in on when I headed to the airport a week ago, wore it for most of a long haul flight, wore it over dress clothes for a fancy-ish dinner at a spa hotel, wore it in my mother-in-law’s garden with shorts, in fact, I’ve worn it everywhere I needed a warm, not too sloppy outer layer.

At the risk of sounding like I’ve been paid to say so, I’ll tell you the truth. I loves me some SmartWool. I love this sweater.

I’m not a recent convert to the joys of SmartWool — several years back I wrote gear reviews for a snowshoeing magazine, and I couldn’t get enough of SmartWool then. I traded all my base layers for merino wool. Not a cheap move, but worth it as my SmartWool gear has outlasted all my synthetics, and, lasted a crazy long time through years of tough wear. Plus, anyone who’s spent any time in synthetics knows about the smell, it’s weird. Natural fibers just don’t get that odd smell from the combination of human heat and artificial materials.The sweater I won’t stop wearing is a little long in the sleeves and the body for a short person, but I don’t mind that so much, it gives me extra length to pull over the back of my hands when I’m using the thumb loops. There are zippered pockets on both sides — one has come un-anchored over the week of wear (too short a time!) but it’s a minor repair. The zipper goes up into a crew neck collar and there’s a little tab that covers the metal bit of the zip so it doesn’t scratch your neck or chin; that’s a nice detail. There’s ribbing on the sides and the underside of the sleeves giving the sweater a nice variety in texture and some thoughtful styling. It looks nice; I got compliments on it whenever I wore it (which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is every day for the last seven days.

This particular sweater goes up on the SmartWool site in August. It comes in teal, claret, and black and will retail for $170. Yes, there will be a similar model for guys. It’s expensive, but you’ll have it for a very long time, trust me on this. I’ve got the gear in my kit to prove it.

Top 5 reasons Icebreaker underwear are my favorite pieces of travel gear

Icebreaker ram underwear underpants boxersGadling has sung the praises of New Zealand-based Icebreaker clothing before. We love it. However, on a recent trip to Indonesia, I learned just how fantastic the merino wool garments actually are when put to the test. While you may think that wool clothing would be far too hot for the humid Balinese climate, you’ll be surprised to learn just how critical a role Icebreaker played in keeping me comfortable. I brought several pairs of Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs with me to Bali and, if I hadn’t, I can honestly say that I would have been miserably uncomfortable. Are a few pairs of underwear really that critical?

I so enjoyed Icebreaker’s boxer briefs that they have become my favorite piece of travel gear. With each passing day of the trip, as temperatures approached 90°F and humidity constantly hovered at around 98%, I was increasingly more thankful that the most intimate parts of my body were enrobed in Icebreaker. Why the glowing praise? Here are the top five reasons:

5. Style

Plenty of performance garments fulfill their promise to keep you comfortable. Many, however, do so in a hideous fashion (literally). While it’s fine to look rugged while you’re out for a hike or exploring some ruins, you still want your gear to allow you to dress up nicely. Considering that my girlfriend was with me in Bali, it was nice that Icebreaker’s underwear showed that I hadn’t given up on romance.

4. Packing

No underwear should take up much space in your luggage, but Icebreaker boxer briefs are so thin – yet durable – that they fold up neatly and compactly. And, since you don’t need to pack too many pairs, they really help lighten your load. Speaking of not having to pack too many pairs…

3. Quick Dry

Rather than pack 14 pairs of underwear for a two week trip, I rotated three pairs of Icebreaker boxer briefs. When they needed a wash, I’d rinse them in the sink with some Dr. Bronner’s and hang them to dry. In just a few hours (overnight was more than enough time), they were bone dry and ready to be worn again. However, I didn’t have to wash them too often because…

2. Odorless

Icebreaker gear doesn’t absorb odor. You can wear their gear for days – and I did – without washing it and the people around you are none the wiser. No matter how much I sweat in Bali (read: a lot), my underwear still seemed fresh at the end of the day. Not having to do laundry daily allowed me to make the most of my time in Indonesia. Which was easy considering…

1. Breathable

Perhaps my underwear stayed so fresh because I never felt that hot in my crotch. Unlike traditional cotton underwear (which I wore for one day and refused to use for the rest of the trip), Icebreaker boxer briefs allowed air to flow. As such, I stayed dry where it was most important. Lest you make a joke about groin discomfort, jock itch (aka tinea cruris) is no laughing matter. Having a rash in your crotch and inner thighs from sweat is uncomfortable and takes days to clear up. Icebreaker boxer briefs made sure that I avoided that travel nightmare.

Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs are available on the company’s website, at their stores in Portland and New York and at various outdoor gear suppliers. They retail for $43 per pair.

Wool fleece: smarter than your average fleece

We’re in an era now of green travel and green experiences. Bio fuels are the new sexy pronouncement in the airline industry, and with every mile traveled, we’re encouraged to offset our carbon to save parts per million per million somewhere further down the road.

Nary a trip out the front door goes by without the opportunity to stay green, but with tangible travel goods it’s hard to escape the benefits afforded by oil. It’s all around us — the vinyl in our tents, the Lexan in our water bottles and the polyethylene terephthalate in our jet black fleeces. Popular as those goods may be, they’re all cracked from long-chain petroleum hydrocarbons and in the end, contribute to our dependence on fossil fuels.

Unfortunately it’s hard to escape oil when trying to source good, outdoor travel clothing. Most of the warm, breathable fabrics that are used in a flexible, athletic cut are based on a space-aged stretchy polymer or some sort of other synthetic, non-biodegradable material. Gore-tex windstopper fleece, for example, is made from the same base material that Teflon and some armor piercing bullets use — all created from oil molecules.

Some of the outdoor gear industry is starting to go green though with the creation of merino wool fleeces. Technical wool clothing, if you’re up to snuff on your gear, has been around for some time, but it’s usually used in socks and the occasional base layer. Whether it was a limitation with the manufacturing process or the targeted demographic, thicker piles of wool clothing were never developed until the last season or so, but they’re now starting to creep into the mainstream consumer market. Follow the gearjunkie over at twitter and you’ll get a good idea of how often the material is discussed.The obvious benefit of the material, of course, is its natural source and structure. Most of the merino wool on the planet is produced from Merino sheep in Oceania, South America and the United States, and the nature of the material makes it biodegradable, warm and inexpensive. From a user standpoint, the material remains warm even while wet and has excellent breathability.

Another key benefit to the material is its ability to repel odor. Because of the way that the wool fibers interact with foul smelling bacteria, fewer smells stick to the fabric and create the longer appearance of cleanliness. Our editor at large Justin Glow is said to have worn his Icebreaker baselayer for two weeks straight without any foul odor setting in.

All of these traits are great for athletic gear, so it was only a matter of time until a savvy designer adapted the technology to fleece. Two of the industry leaders, Icebreaker and Ibex have released the first waves of technical wool fleeces, a series of eco-friendly clothing that’s supposed to be just as warm as traditional gear and with a lower ecological impact.

Needless to say, eco-virtue and trendy design can be trumped by performance and fit in real life, so Gadling Labs checked out on an Icebreaker 320 performance fleece on a test run this fall.

The pile in this lightweight fleece isn’t what one would expect in a traditional, oil based material. There is a subtle coarseness about it, a realness to the fabric that’s intrinsic to the merino wool. While not as thick and fuzzy as a traditional fleece, its feel against your skin is still warm and gripping, yet low profile enough such that it can be worn around the house without difficulty.

Icebreaker’s designs tend to lean more towards a slimmer, athletic cut, which works particularly well for slender or lean people. At 6’3″ and 145 pounds, the large 320 fits our editor Grant Martin’s frame well, as opposed to a medium North Face fleece which would still be to roomy around the torso. Part of that cut is also a function of the material, as a small amount of stretch and grapple is also afforded by the wool.

Besides fitting exceptionally well, the 320 is moderately warm, waterproof and windproof. Merino wool naturally tends to wick away water and if thick enough, can insulate from the wind. If either are encountered in excess, however, you can count on feeling them through the fleece. For something water and windproof, the synthetic materials still have the lead.

On the road and in practice, however, the Icebreaker 320 has performed impressively at Gadling Labs. There is enough give in the material to permit full movement, yet it’s cut well enough to not feel cumbersome and baggy. The 320 is warm enough for late fall, it’s eco friendly and most importantly of all, it looks pretty damn good to boot. With those qualities, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

[sheep flickr photo via David & Chi Basson]