With the fall season knocking on our doorstep, it’s time to start thinking about cooler temperatures. Before the snow starts to fall, there’s still plenty of opportunity to get out and up in the High Country, but don’t forget those extra layers. This week, High Gear is taking a look at three things to help account for all conditions.
Patagonia Down Sweater Vest
There was a time when I thought down vests were only good for Marty McFly Halloween costumes and to look like you just got off a ski slope. Then as a ski instructor, I was issued a full synthetic down jacket. After most of that season skiing with only the synthetic down layer and a rain shell, I’ve been sold on down and synthetic down ever since. With fall on its way, nothing adds warmth faster or packs easier than a down vest. Whether it’s heading to high altitude for a crisp fall hike, or walking down the street to grab an evening pint, Patagonia’s 800-fill down sweater vest borders on a must-have for any mountain town resident. Throw it on under a rain shell or over a long-sleeved tee and you’re good to go. While the Patagonia down sweater vest weighs in at a lightweight 9.2 ounces, the company also offers an ultra-lite 5.7 ounce version for the weight-conscious backpacker. The ultra-lite, however, comes at a substantially higher cost.
The eco-conscious consumer can take pride in the vest’s 100 percent recycled polyester shell and lining. Patagonia says it uses recycled soda bottles and other materials in the ripstop fabric. The vests are also treated with DWR (durable water repellant) finish to help shield against the elements.
Retail: $169; Ultra-lite: $249
Women’s Yuma Convertible Pants by Mountain Hardware
It took me quite a while to find a pair of convertible pants that fit well and were functional for the activities that I pursue here in the mountains. Most brands zip off into shorts (short shorts), which look pretty ridiculous on my bow-legged, wide-hipped frame. The Yuma pants fit well around my hips and are made of nylon blended with elastine, which allows some stretch in the fit and give when hiking. They also zip off right below the knee (17-inch inseam), which means the tops of your knees are still protected from the mountain sun when sitting.
These are my go-to pants for rafting, as they are lightweight, water repellent and quick drying and have an ultraviolet protection factor of 50. When the clouds come out or the rain picks up, I zip on the bottom sections and my legs stay warm and dry. The Yumas are also great for backpacking, as they sit lower on my hips so my pack doesn’t rub. They stretch enough for high steps on steep ascents or squatting down to tie my boots. The two front pockets are wide and deep, and the side cargo zip pockets are much more convenient than rear pockets for keys or other things you wouldn’t want to sit on.
The micro-chamois liner around the waist is super comfortable, but I would avoid putting these pants in the dryer, as high heat causes the liner to separate and bunch.
Microgrid Hoodie by Melanzana
During the late summer and fall in the mountains, I constantly struggle with which layers to wear for the changing temperatures. A long-sleeved T-shirt often isn’t quite warm enough, but a full-blown fleece is too heavy and leaves me sweating when I start moving around too much. Fortunately, Melanzana makes a lightweight fleece that’s perfect for weird and changing weather conditions.
Melanzana has a shop of a dozen employees in Leadville who create and hand sew all of their products, and it shows in the attention to detail in the design of this piece. The hoodie fits pretty true to size, but I chose a size up because I like my top layers to fit a little more loosely. The microgrid fleece is extremely soft; even after wearing and washing it multiple times, it looks and feels new (I let it air dry; it dries quickly). It also stood up to 20 minutes of steady drizzle when I was walking the dog, keeping my under layers dry. The sleeves are a good length, coming down just past my wrists, and the front pouch pocket goes all the way across the garment so you can shove your hands in up to your elbows, if you want.
The best thing about this hoodie is the hood. It sort of bunches around your neck and lays flat rather than falling across your back, which means none of that choking, too-tight-around-the-neck feeling. It also has a drawstring to cinch around your face, covering your forehead and chin to keep the wind out. The microgrid hoodie comes in women’s and men’s versions and a multitude of two-toned colors, based on what’s in stock at Melanzana at the time. Be forewarned: If you are looking for a certain color combination, you may have to check back to the website or retail store multiple times to get exactly what you want, but it’s worth the wait for this versatile piece.