My outdoor gear is really my favourite sort of clothing, when fashion gives way to function.
I’m fresh back from a holiday and photographic trip to Brittany and thought I’d do a quick blog about how our outdoor clothes performed.
We were rambling, out in the rain, wind, blustery weather – sometimes coldish at 2 degrees, sometimes warm at a ridiculous (for November) 17 degrees. On the Atlantic coast, you’re pretty exposed to gales, and it’s always windy, even on a fine day, so you need to dress snugly, and we were mainly on the beach and the coastal path, though also in town, so didn’t want to look too grungy.
Deciding what clothes to take in such a changeable environment is always a little tricky. We’re out all day and can’t pop back to the house, and I’m also never sure how easy it will be to get things dry in the gite, but after years of doing this, I’ve got my uniform pretty well sorted out – I take fewer clothes every year and this year only took a kit bag.
Undies were an Ahh bra and Sloggi full briefs, so you can just put on your clothes and forget about them. The great thing about the Sloggis is that they don’t budge – when you’re in multiple layers, you don’t want to be endless picking your knickers out of your butt crack. For socks, I wore the Woodlander from Corrymoor – a long, mid-weight merino sock. I took along my Explorers too but it wasn’t cold enough to wear them, though I did wear my spare pair of Companions (like the Woodlander but shorter) on one day. Aired overnight and alternated, you can keep two pairs of Corrymoors going almost indefinitely, as they’re naturally antibacterial.
The big change for me this year was my thermals. In the past I’ve relied on the Five Seasons ClimateControl thermals, either the Superwoman set or the Adini set. I now have eight of these, and wear them very often at home in winter, as our house is a bit chilly. One issue when travelling, however, is that they’re slow to dry, so washing and wearing is a tad difficult, especially if you’re staying somewhere that you can’t spin them. My normal method is to handwash, wring out, roll in a towel and stand on it to squeeze the water out, but it does still leave clothes wetter than you’d get in a washing machine and they take a couple of days to dry completely. Therefore you’d need at least three to get through a week.
This year, however, was my first winter holiday wearing merino underwear and base layers from Finisterre, and I have to say they were bloody fabulous. I wore the Zephyr vest under the Eddy tee, and I was as snug as a bug. No sweating, no overheating, no chill. On one day, I wore a Five Seasons top instead and lived to regret it, as I felt sweaty all day. The Five Seasons are great if you’re not exerting yourself, but if you’re sweating inside them, they don’t wick as well as the merino.
Using the merino also meant that I could take fewer clothes. I took two vests and alternated them, but they didn’t need washing all week, and I also alternated two tees, favouring the grey one. Washed out in the evening, they were almost dry by the next morning, even just left on a rack over the bath.
On my lower half, I stuck to Five Seasons longjohns, as my Zephyr merino leggings hadn’t arrived by the time we left. These worked just fine and I didn’t need the spare pair I took in case the first pair got wet.
On top of the thermals, I wore a Craghoppers half-zip microfleece, mainly a grey Fusion (no longer made) men’s fleece with a zip pocket on the front (incredibly handy for tissues, though it’s designed for an MP3 player). I also took along a women’s Miska microfleece in a lovely bright jade but quickly realised this bright colour is not the thing to wear when you’re pee’ing behind bushes on the coastal path. Therefore when we got home I quickly bought, on Ebay, a taupe-coloured Craghopper’s microfleece with a zip pocket on the sleeve, which will hopefully render me a bit less conspicuous. I will also always, from now on, wear fleeces with a zip pocket – they are incredibly handy.
The half-zip fleeces do leave you a bit exposed at the neckline, and I found a Heavenly fleece scarf from Lands’ End very useful when I wasn’t wearing a balaclava. A fleece scarf is a useful beast on holiday – not the most stylish of garments, but it keeps you warm even when wet, and is never itchy.
For trousers, I stuck to two pairs (the second pair ‘just in case’) of Crivit walking trousers from Lidl. These are great things – a tough, stretchy, slightly rubberised-feeling fabric, showerproof, elastic waist, and with extra leg pleats so you can bend your knees easily. One pair have zip-up pockets and also a zip pocket on the leg, so I mostly wore these – it’s crucial that when you sit down, you don’t lose your house keys…
I also took along my lovely Craghopper thermal Kiwi trousers with built-in fleece lining, but I cannot get on at all with these pants. They are totally the wrong cut for my shape, which is a huge shame – too tight at the front over my pot belly, way loose at the back, very uncomfortable for travelling in, though just about bearable for walking. I’m gutted. My DH lives in his Kiwis each and every day – with their brushed fabric and eight pockets, he finds them the perfect garment but they don’t suit me at all.
For shoes, I wore winter walking boots from Land’s End (now discontinued but other styles are available). These were fantastically comfortable, waterproof, supportive round the ankle, non-sweaty inside, with a cushioned footbed. Wish I’d bought two pairs… My only other outdoor footwear was my trusty Aigle neoprene-lined wellies, which are about 15 years old now and still going strong. Long may they last, because a new pair would be nearly 200 euros. I also took along Uggs for wearing indoors and some lighter weight trekking shoes, which I didn’t wear.
I took three coats but only really wore one – the Lands’ End Stadium Squall coat in black (top left). This is a longish coat in tough nylon, with loads of big pockets, which kept me dry even in Brittany’s occasional torrential rains. It’s perfect, as it says, for squally, blustery weather. It’s fleece-lined in the upper half and sleeves, then has quilted padding on the lower half (in a really cold wind, however, you can feel the difference – the lower half is not so snug), and it also has a decent fleece-lined hood. The handy two-way zip meant it didn’t get in the way on steep sections, and I liked that it was long enough to sit down in, whereas the DH had to take off his Squall Parka to avoid getting a wet bum.
I also took along (all from Lands’ End) a down gilet, fleece-lined waterproof gilet (discontinued), Squall Parka and Sunshower Parka, and wore all of them, but really didn’t need them – I could have managed with the Squall Stadium alone. Also, all these items are bright, screaming yellow, which I find useful for dog-walking, especially in low light, but I wish in retrospect that I’d bought them in darker colours, as I could always wear a high-vis vest.
A cheap fleece balaclava from Intersports, a corduroy bucket hat from Lands’ End and fleece-lined gloves from Lidl completed my usual daily ensemble, while to relax in, and for travelling home, I wore stretch fleece pants and a fleece polo from Lands’ End – stretchy, warm, lightweight, comfortable, and still smart enough to get away with as long as you keep the colours dark.
The DH, as usual, took too many clothes (far more than me) and those he did take were too warm, especially his Insulated Squall Parka, which has never yet encountered cold enough weather to be feasible. He ended up in fleece longjohns from Regatta, Kiwi trousers from Craghoppers, short-sleeve teeshirts from Lands’ End and fleeces from French brands Cap Marine and Lafuma, bought at our favourite shop, Comptoir de la Mer.
The Lafuma top is particularly gorgeous (a present from me) and is in thick marled grey fleece that looks like knit. He hasn’t had it off his back since he got it. Meanwhile, he bought me the dream cardigan that I have been searching for for two years – a charcoal merino Aran knit, knee length, with pockets and a hood. A fabulous garment, it’s by Irish firm Aran Crafts.