(Semi-)Practical Hiking Style for the Non-Serious Hiker
If you’re a tried-and-true city boy like me, a hike isn’t much more than a semi-leisurely walk in an area either slightly dustier or slightly more wooded than your usual haunts. Because I hike so infrequently and so casually, it’s hard to stomach a visit to a sensible outdoor retailer like REI or Eastern Mountain Sports. Even though these facilities are more than equipped to equip me properly, I always prefer to get something in line with my aesthetic sensibilities (i.e., cool) that I can wear on and off the trail.
While I know that polyester zip-off pants might be the best (and most comfortable) option for my next not-so-strenuous trek, I can’t quite stomach the idea of wearing them, let alone paying for them. That’s where today’s guide comes in, featuring options for the not-so-serious hikers in our midst, with a focus on pieces that you can break in and dust up on the trail, which will look great in your local hipster-curated “dive” bar.
Where better to start than with pants? And whence better to draw our pant inspiration than American militaria? The great thing about the so-called “hikes” that we’re taking, is that we can branch out a little from our usual garb. When you roll back into town in a baggier, more tactical fit (but, stylishly so), you can blame it on your environs and a strenuous day in the thin air of 500ft. altitude.
The obvious choice in our world of fashion would be the above Fatigue Pant, like the one at Independence Chicago from Earl’s Apparel, but if you’re like me, you undoubtedly already have something in that vein. Lightweight and roomy, the “baker pant” style above would certainly work, but you can get weirder with it too.
I wandered into my local army surplus store and discovered the above Propper BDU Trousers. A very affordable and a very not-made-in-US reproduction, the BDU trouser has all sorts of features that make it a no-brainer on the trail. A high waist, a 100% cotton ripstop, a button fly, and waist adjusters all add up to a piece that’s functional without looking like you actually hike on the regular. And with a lot more pockets and a slightly wider thigh than the classic fatigue pants, these require a good excuse to wear, i.e. hiking. The BDU trouser seems to be in vogue right now, and after a couple of hikes and machine washes, these far cheaper pairs look almost like something you could find at the Rose Bowl. (Higher-end versions are easy to find, take for example the Stevenson Overall Recon Trouser.)
Let’s say you want a little more going on technically than the last couple options. Well, you’re in luck. You know Fjallraven, the brand with the little fox? The one that makes all those tiny backpacks? They make great outdoors wear and to boot, their logo is recognizable enough to be a conversation starter. Sure, they make you look like a Scandinavian space explorer, but that’s kind of cool too—and with a layer of hike grime on you, you can definitely pull them off.
I think there’s a part of all of us that really wants to be a cowboy. But there’s another, bigger part of us that doesn’t want to make a fool of ourselves. First of all, live your truth. Second of all, when you’re out in nature, there’s a little less scrutiny on your headwear.
Your local, responsible hiking collectives will no doubt be donning practical atrocities such as this Tilley “Airflo” hat, but you won’t. You have too much self-respect! You take risks and follow your heart and your personal aesthetics – and besides when else can you wear a gorgeous wide-brimmed cowboy-esque hat than when you’re outdoors? “I get sunstroke,” you can say. Or, “I’m an outdoorsy vampire and I need the shade on my face or else my skin will boil.” Then people won’t tease you about it.
There’s really no shortage of options once you’ve settled on a cowboy hat. Justin Hats is a great value option (if you go to some specialized retailers, they can reshape the brim so it’s less Western. But, like, why?) Of course there’s Stetson, which even has a whole selection of specialized outdoors hats.
You just need something to keep the sun off your face that makes you feel good too, so you needn’t overthink the details.
We all know it’s not exactly cool to be prepared. When a bunch of Instagram models and their amateur musician boyfriends go for a camp sesh in Joshua Tree, you just know they don’t have a single damn thing figured out. And it’s sexy.
For those of us who desperately aspire to be cool, but aren’t dumb to leave the house without at least one layer, there’s the chamois shirt. It’s basically the perfect extra layer for any low-key outdoors situation. With its just-heavy-enough softness and big chest pockets, these shirts make a great addition to your very hip hiking ensemble. They come in just about every color under the sun and you can get vintage versions from great brands like Eddie Bauer and Field and Stream. Though not your best bet for rainy or extra chilly conditions, the chamois shirt is better for a mid-summer amble, because who are we kidding? We’re veeeery casual hikers. This is the perfect blend of “I don’t care” and “I like fashion, I need a layer.”
And for warmer weather, why not break in an even less practical shirt? Any chambray will do, though the one from Buzz Rickson is a standout. Sweat through a little bit of that extra indigo you’ve been meaning to fade while shading your arms and neck from the worst of the sun’s rays. This is more of a desert, dusty shirt for those warmer days, but with our cushy desk jobs, we don’t often get a chance to properly break things in, so take one of your favorite pieces along with you!
If there was any really important takeaway from Queer Eye—besides, you know, loving yourself—it would be that bandanas are cool AF. Unless you’re Antoni, this might feel a little too ambitious. That is, unless you’re out in nature away from prying eyes. If you can survive the initial onslaught of teasing from your hiking companions, they’ll eventually come around and you’ll feel amazing.
Beyond simply being a wester -inspired garnish for a simple outfit, the bandana is supremely useful in an outdoors setting. It keeps the sun off your neck and can filter out dust if you hold it over your mouth when the wind kicks up. It also makes it harder for the lawmen to get a good drawing of you for wanted posters… just saying.
There are plenty of affordable options, but those from Kapital are beyond compare. Though many are sold out, there is something so perfect about a Kapital bandana. Not only are the images printed on them just different enough, they often come in shades of colors you don’t typically see—muted charcoals, mango yellows—all of which stand out from the blue and reds you so often see.
Shoes: The Only Non-Negotiable
There is one thing that has to be pragmatic: your shoes. There’s no way you’re wearing your Red Wings on your hikes, unless you really get off on damaging your arches. Though there are plenty of cool hiking boots that use high-end leathers and use reproduction techniques in their manufacturing, there’s nothing better than good arch support and a break-in-free boot. Because, let’s face it – how often are you hiking, bro? How many weeks are you willing to commit to making your new boots as comfy as your favorite sneakers. If you’re me, zero. Why not just lace up and head outside, the less fuss the better.
While there are plenty of amazing hiking brands and even more non-hiking brands that make hiking-reminiscent pieces, it’s always best to take care of these purchases in person. Those stores we told you to avoid for your apparel? Well, this is their bread and butter. Staff at places like REI can assist you in finding the perfect shoe for your needs and beyond that, the perfect fit.
You may just be dipping our toe into the world of hiking and are being very particular about the majority of our kit, there are certain places you must stick to the script. This is one. Banged up toes and twisted ankles might make for great war stories when you’re back in the city, debriefing over some cold ones; but when you’re actually out there, why not make it easy on yourself?