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, you won’t see any 100% merino on this list, even though I am trading off odor control.
T-shirt/Long sleeves — I have replaced all my cheap synthetic t-shirts with both the (discontinued) synthetic Y Athletics SilverAir Crew Neck and the new Y Athletics SilverAir Merino Crew Neck (also comes in long sleeve). If you are looking for something non-merino, the Pistol Lake Minimalist Performance Tee and Raglan are good options.
Shorts — I currently have a few pairs of synthetic shorts: Mountain Hardwear Refueler X (shorter for workouts, etc.), Patagonia Baggies Longs, Myles Apparel Momentum Short 2.0, a pair from EMS (my “cheap” pair), and Patagonia Stretch Wavefarer Walk Shorts (the nicest I wear for being active). Now that I see this list, I have way too many activewear shorts…probably time to pare them down. My top three for activewear are 1) Patagonia Baggies, 2) Myles, 3) Patagonia Wavefarer.
Pants — I love my Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants. They are amazingly light for warm hiking weather and have great stretch. I have had some issues with snagging of the fabric, and am currently taking a look at both the GORUCK Simple Pants and the Patagonia Quandary Pant.
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 (F).
Cold weather jacket — My L.L.Bean Ultralight Down Jacket is my current insulating layer. It 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.
Rain jacket — I wear the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket both as an ultralight rain jacket and a rain shell when layering in the colder weather. While it will eventually wet out in, it suits my needs. If you are going to be out in the rain all day, you might want to look for a true hardshell.
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 or the (discontinued) synthetic Y Athletics SilverAir Crew Neck. With merino I can wear the shirt through a week of working out without washing it (no smell) but the SilverAir gets washed every couplework outs. I notice no real difference while wearing them as far as performance, though my normal workout Smartwool shirt is starting to get small holes while the SilverAir looks new.
Shorts — I work out in my Oliver’s Capital Shorts, and I’ve found they offer great movement for a pair of workout shorts.
Pants — I wear my GORUCK Simple Pants for all my pants needs when working out. These are insanely light weight, and they seem really tough. The only downside is they lack the stretch of the Ferrosi, on the plus side, they dry faster.
Light jacket — I alternate between the GORUCK Simple Windbreaker (which is fantastic) and light shirts. I have some Outdoor Research 1/4 zip shirts I wear for a little more warmth. The first one I have is the Echo which is fully synthetic and almost feels like you are wearing nothing it’s so light. 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 — Here, I either layer from above, or wear my Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie which is a phenomenal active insulation layer.
Rain jacket — I use the Simple Windbreaker and embrace being wet.
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, 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).