Late Summer is best spent in the mountains. The melting of snow makes passes, well, passable, peaks emerge from the clouds, and the nights have warmed up just enough that you won’t freeze to the roll mat in your tent. You can escape the god-awful heat and stench of the tube, leave your colleagues behind, and instead breathe in fresh mountain air. It doesn’t come better than this.
We lined up the best of the SS2017 outdoor clothing and field tested it in the Himalayas of Ladakh, the Georgian Caucasus, and closer to home in the Lake District. What should you wear in the mountains? Our team of TNT reviewers had great fun choosing their picks!
Hot, cold, sun out, sun in, lost in a blizzard… In the mountains you don’t know from one moment to the next what the weather’s going to do. From a clothing point of you, the solution is layering. And that means starting at the very bottom with a base layer that’s breathable and dries fast. You don’t want to sweat too much, and when you do sweat (or get rained on) you don’t want to stay wet.
The Hydropore Athletic t-shirt is a slim fit, so there’s no problem in piling several more layers above it. But it’s also a good looking shirt and has high UV protection, so when things do warm up you can happily wear it alone.
A lot of the shirts we tested made you look like someone’s dad. Rohan has managed to get the perfect balance between functionality and style. The Worldview Shirt is cut to look like a smart collared shirt that you could wear out on a night out, and even beneath a blazer. But looks can be deceiving. The high tech fabric is light, crease resistant, and sun resistant. The Dynamic Moisture Control™ finish means it doesn’t get sticky, and silver is woven into the fabric as well so that if you do sweat it won’t start to smell. The hidden inside pocket is a well thought through feature for hiding your cash or passport. Roll the sleeves up for a more casual look.
Your mid layer is your insulation layer, but though it’s there for warmth, it does still have to be breathable. This wallet-friendly option from Mountain Warehouse has a half zip so it’s easy to get on and off. The fabric is quick drying, won’t bobble, and it is also lightweight.
If your budget will stretch a bit further, we also really rated the Jack Wolfskin Exolight Dynamic Jacket (RRP £60). It’s a fleece made for hiking and running, so it’s super flexible and manages moisture well.
We’ve previously tested jackets for warmth, but that’s not the priority here. You control your body temperature with the base and mid layers; your jacket (outer layer) is there to keep the wind and rain off.
The Northern Star is a good looking three-season jacket, a breathable soft shell which is up to the job even in high winds and light snow. There’s a hood for the rain (which is inevitable if you're climbing mountains in northern Europe), pit zips so you won’t overheat, and the STORMLOCK fabric is stretchy, moving with you as you climb. Pockets in the hips, chest, and sleeve ensure it’s easy to keep everything on hand.
If the sun’s out, legs come out, too. It’s like clockwork. Even if it’s still quite chilly. The Trek Shorts are a mixture of cotton and manmade fibres, lightweight yet durable. They’re designed specifically for warm weather hiking, on the grounds that if the temperature does plummet you’ll want to put trousers on anyway. In comfort and functionality, these shorts easily matched the performance of ones twice their price, so there’s no point paying more. They offer excellent value for money.
We were supposed to pick one favourite item in each category, but with the men’s trousers it was impossible to choose. And with good reason. Two pairs stood head and shoulders (or should that be hip and thigh?) above the rest.
Rohan’s Trailblazers design has been around for a few years now, but they keep on selling because they’re thoughtfully engineered, lightweight, and comfortable. There are some valuable new additions to this year’s version, including Insect Shield® treatment, so the biting bugs will stay away. It doesn’t matter how many times you wash them, the insect shield is actually bonded to the fabric so it remains effective for life. Other features include UV protection (UPF 40+), Dynamic Moisture Control™, and zips on the pockets so you won’t inadvertently sprinkle change down the mountainside.
We needed sunglasses on when we unpacked the Gravity Flex Pants. They’re fire engine red (though also available in grey) and yes, can you see them from the other side of the valley. If you want to be unforgettable, and spark a trend for gorgeous, garish colours amongst hikers, buy them. The technical specs are impressive, too. These trousers are water resistant, abrasion resistant, and they stretch. The fine mesh lining keeps them off your legs, making them breathable as well.
Long gone are the days of thick woolly hiking socks. Keela makes high performance hiking socks specific to the season: Series 100 is for warm weather; Series 300 is for winter. They’re made from a blend of wool and Coolmax fibres so the socks will wick away moisture. Cushioning in the toe and heel prevents rubbing, so you’re guaranteed to have happy feet, even at the end of the day.
Wearing the wrong boots, even for a couple of hours, can reduce a grown man to tears. There’s no such thing as the perfect hiking boot — everyone’s feet are different shapes — but the Impulse Pro goes to some lengths to provide everything you might need.
Firstly, the fabric is oiled nubuck leather. They look like old school mountain boots (in a good way), they’re sturdy, and they won’t let in water if you inadvertently tread in a stream. There’s an inbuilt brace system for stability, giving great support to your ankle joint, and the Vibram soil provides protection against both sharp rocks underfoot and vibration. We did a test session on Great Slab, a tilted sheet of rock which gets incredibly slippery when wet, and no other boots’ sole grip came close.
We tested six different sets of women’s base layers whilst hiking this summer, and for the most part decided they were surplus to requirement: the sun shone, the temperature was scorching, and in any case we were exerting ourselves (not that women ever sweat…). But in the Lake District, up a mountain, a gale blew briefly through, and reminded us why you should layer.
The Oasis is made from merino jersey fabric, so wonderfully soft and also breathable. It’s a very close fit, so there’s no issue with it looking bulky under another shirt, and the seams are purposely stitched flat so that they won’t chafe. The drop hem means you can tuck it in properly and the Oasis won’t ride up. If you do think you might get too warm with this base layer, there’s a short-sleeve version as well.
We originally tested the Tian Shirt for TNT on safari (see how it fared here), but at the last minute included it in our mountain review session, too. It was a wild card — it’s really designed for the tropics — but now and then even the mountains get hot.
This June, temperatures in the UK soared. And we were getting sunburned testing mountain clothing in the Lake District. The Tian Shan came into its own. It’s the shape of a smock, so it doesn’t cling to your body, and the Dynamic Moisture Control™ ensures you not left covered in sweaty patches. The fabric has UPF 40+ Sun Protection, and as the sleeves are long, covering delicate forearms, it further reduced the likelihood of sunburn. Best of all, this shirt actually looks good. Unlike most women’s outdoor wear, you can come straight down from the mountain, into a bar, and not feel out of place.
In the women’s mid layer category, we tested various fleeces and gilets. The Isocool Dynamic actually works well as a mid layer and as a jacket, though if it does rain you’ll need an outer layer. The IsoCool fabric is designed to wick away perspiration and keep you dry. It does this remarkably well. The fleece lining gives warmth when you need it, and it’s worth noting that the arm holes have been cut with room to spare, so you won’t feel constrained in your ‘pits.
We first tried the Prosport a couple of years back, and loved it. This year’s version is even better. It’s a really lightweight jacket but fully waterproof, windproof, and even offers condensation control! The hood rolls back into the collar and it’s fully adjustable so you could pull it up over a helmet if you need to. It’s a good length but packs down pretty small. The new colours for 2017, berry and midnight blue, look stylish enough that we’d also wear it about town.
If you hike a lot, you tend to have sturdy thighs. A lot of the outdoor clothing companies seem to have forgotten this: they cut their shorts for women with chicken legs. Columbia, on the other hand, has obviously bothered to look at the shape of real women who hike, bike, and climb. You can get the Silver Ridge in two different lengths, the fabric wicks, it’s UV-resistant, and the shorts even have proper sized pockets! Happy days.
Cooler days, and more rugged mountain hikes where you’re likely to scrape your legs, demand soft shell trousers. The fabric on the Activate XT is really stretchy, to the point you can even pull the splits if you want to. The rest of the time, the stretchable fabric just means you can get on with scrambling over rocks, jumping off boulders, and leaping over streams as you need to. The fabric is wind and water resistant, so you’ll stay dry if you sweat or it rains. The ankles on the trousers are adjustable, which is a nice touch if you’ve got bulky boots or want a slimmer fit to go over hiking shoes.
Happy feet means a happy hiker. The Smartwool sock is cushioned in just the right places to keep you comfortable all day long. The material is predominantly merino wool (so it’s soft and breathable), and an arch brace stops it slipping down. These socks are no great thing of beauty, but as they’re hidden beneath your boot, we couldn’t care less.
When you find the right pair of boots, you won’t let them go until they’re falling apart at the seams. We tried the Summit’s predecessor, the Peak IsoGrip, and fell in love. They’re light, offer good ankle support, and have plenty of grip on the rugged sole. This year’s offering, Summit, has all the same great features and comes with a 5,000 mile guarantee — which should be plenty for any mountain hike you’re likely to take on.
Though the focus of our mountain review sessions was clothing, two accessories came into their own and deserve a particular shout-out. In continually changing weather, you need your laters with you, but don’t necessarily want to be wearing them. The Jack Wolfskin Ham Rock 12 (RRP £50) day pack is just big enough to stuff in your jacket, mid later, and two bottles of water, and it’s large rear pocket works well for keeping maps flat if you don’t need them to be to hand. If you need something slightly larger, it also comes in a 16-litre version.
Last but certainly not least, a hat. When the sun beats down and there’s no shade on the pass, you need to protect your head or run the gauntlet of sunburn and heat exhaustion. The Jack Wolfskin Supplex Atacama Hat (RRP £25) has an all-round brim, a high UV protection factor, and it packs completely flat.