For activewear, we put performance and durability first. We want our activewear to keep us comfortable, dry, and protected. Brands that offer repairs are also a plus, as even the best clothing will eventually fail. Repairs give your favorites a second chance at life and keeps them out of the landfill.
The first place people usually find technical clothing is for outdoors/active pursuits. Technical fabrics help keep your temperature regulated while being lighter, more durable, and/or faster drying (the list could go on) than traditional cotton clothing. What stops many from expanding their outdoors technical clothing into the rest of their lives is the look — much is lacking in the style department (whether it be too flashy, too noisy, or something else).
We’re here to dispel that myth. You certainly can find excellent technical (or technically inspired) clothing to make your every day life better.
You can find more details in our fabric guides, but you will find synthetics (polyester, nylon, etc.) and merino wool as two of the main base materials for great outdoors clothing. Both are wicking and can be woven to keep you comfortable in varying temperatures, however, merino wool has a natural odor resistance. You will find many additives (nylon blended with merino wool, various antimicrobial agents in polyester fabrics) and surface treatments (DWR — durable water resistance) as additional components of the fabric. While you can’t beat merino for odor resistance, synthetics tend to be more durable.
My overall theory on activewear is that it is going to get beat up, soaked with sweat, and exposed to sunscreen. For these reasons, I go with mainly synthetics over merino wool due to cost and durability, even though I am trading off odor control. Some of the synthetics are starting to integrate odor control compounds into their fabrics. I have yet to give them a try, but they certainly will be on my list of fabrics to look out for as I look for replacements.
T-shirt/Long sleeves — I currently have a mix of cheap synthetic (polyester) shirts from a variety of sources such as Target C9, Nike DriFit, and EMS Techwick. As needed, I have been replacing my shirts with the Pistol Lake Minimalist Performance Tee and Raglan.
Shorts — I currently have a few pairs of synthetic shorts: Mountain Hardwear Refueler X (shorter for workouts, etc.), a pair from EMS (my “cheap” pair), and Patagonia Stretch Wavefarer Walk Shorts (the nicest I wear for being active). Since the Mountain Hardwear shorts are no longer made, I will likely look to Patagonia Baggies for replacement.
Pants — I love my Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants. They are amazingly light for warm hiking weather and have great stretch.
Light jacket — I love my Outdoor Research Ferrosi Jacket. It has great stretch while still managing to be weather resistant and breathable at the same time. While being active, this jacket can keep me warm in the 40s.
Cold weather jacket — My L.L.Bean Ultralight Down Jacket is my current insulating layer. It even has Downtek down which is supposed to keep insulating power even when wet. Although I pair it with a waterproof shell when the weather is nasty, the fabric does a good job repelling a light drizzle or some snow. A non-down alternative could be the new Patagonia Micro Puff.
Rain jacket — I currently have a old Goretex rain jacket from Cabella’s that is still going strong. It’s nothing special, but it keeps me dry. I will likely look towards the Outdoor Research Helium HD when it eventually fails, although I might look around and see if I can find a rain jacket that would also work as a shell for my down.
Socks — Darn Tough is my choice here. I wear their merino blend hiking socks and athletic socks.
Hat — While not the most stylish, I love my Tilley Airflo hat for keeping the sun off my head and neck while hiking.
I strive to not have too much clothing which is dedicated to just this activity, and I greatly prefer to chose clothing which can stand up to anything. That said, I do end up with some specific clothing for activewear.
Shirts: I typically wear less expensive merino t-shirts like Smartwool. I also am a big fan of Nike’s DryFit gear when it is warmer out. With merino I can wear the shirt through a week of working out without washing it (no smell) but the Nike gets washed after every work out. I notice no real difference while wearing them.
Shorts: I own one pair of shorts, the Outlier New Way, and those are also my workout shorts. I’ve yet to have a need for anything else.
Pants: I wear my Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants in warmer weather, but might switch to my Outlier OG Climbers as the weather cools off. Either way, they are both pretty durable with insane stretch. Stretch is key for activewear.
Light jacket: I don’t really ever have a need for a light jacket. Instead I have some Outdoor Research 1/4 zip shirts I wear for a little more warmth. The fist one I have is the Echo which is fully synthetic and almost feels like you are wearing nothing it’s so light. I love that when you have a little bit of a chill. The second is the Sequence, which is a DriRelease fabric they have with about 20% merino. It’s a little heavier and really comfortable when you are active.
Cold Weather Jacket: I utilize no cold weather jacket, and instead layer with a 1/4 zip, and heavier weight undershirt from Beyond Clothing (Aether shirt) and if I need more a lightweight fleece 1/4 zip, all of that under my rain jacket typically.
Rain jacket: I use an older REI brand eVent jacket (similar to this one), it’s like Goretex, but with the added benefit of being much more inexpensive. It’s a solid jacket and has been through a lot with me. The key for it is that it has a hood with enough adjustments to keep me from getting tunnel vision.
Socks: Like Steve, I use Darn Tough. Almost all my socks are Darn Tough these days. I use an ankle sock with some compression for active use.
Hat: I have some hiking hats, like Outdoor Research’s Seattle Sombrero which I might wear if there’s consistent rain, but for the most part in warm weather I wear a GORUCK TAC Hat (no longer sold, here’s another option like it), and in cooler, or light rain, I’ll wear a Filson USFS Tin Cloth hat which has an oil finish on it to make it water repellent (I have both colors, way too cool not to have both colors).