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Outdoors Clothing Coming of Age, part II

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The Gear Junkie—Outdoors Clothing Coming of Age, part II

Yesterday I mused on function versus form in the apparel industry, where beauty in design often comes at the cost of versatility, performance or comfort. My argument—that a niche of young, energetic outdoors-industry companies are the only ones getting clothing right—might bump up weird with an editor at Glamour or Vogue. But I’m sticking to my guns, and here are a handful of additional apparel products I feel make my point:

Ibex Outdoor Clothing LLC (www.ibexwear.com) touts its merino wool Qu T shirt as a “rediscovery of something you thought you knew all about.” They’re talking about the humble T-shirt, that next-to-the-skin American icon that generally costs $10 or so. Well, Ibex’s goes at $85.

But the “rediscovery” the company claims I found to be true: This T fits perfectly; it’s breathable and sweat-wicking; it’s warm when needed, though cool enough to wear all year ‘round. Travel bonus: The Qu T will go for days between washings, as wool is naturally antibacterial and much less stink-prone than cotton.

I covered a Nau (www.nau.com) piece last week. But the company’s $74 Twill Weekender Short merits mention, too. These knee-covering, nearly-knickers, shorts are made with a mix of organic cotton and spandex, providing good looks, some stretch, a soft hand, and some eco benefits to boot. Belt loops straddle the spine in back and all seams veer away from bony points for comfort under a backpack.

The $60 Horney Toad Corvair shorts (www.hornytoad.com) are basic, nice shorts with triple-stitched seams sealed with a heavy-duty thread for durability. They are made of a cotton/nylon blended fabric that is lightweight, low bulk and wrinkle free. They dry fairly quickly, too.

For pants, Topo Ranch’s $110 Cattleman Trousers (www.toporanch.com) are an “updated, lightweight version of what our cowboy forefathers wore to manage their herds.” That’s what the company says. I find them to be perfect casual trousers with a couple performance niceties: The 8.5-ounce-weight canvas is tough, plus there’s leather sewn on the ankle cuff to protect from boot wear and tear.

Merrell Apparel (www.merrell.com) has several stylish and technical pieces. Its $110 Men’s Insight sweater, for example, has a vintage look that hides the performance of high-end merino wool, which promotes wicking as well as warmth. The company’s line of outerwear, which debuts this winter, includes advancements like ultra-sonically welded seams, laser-cut fabrics, satin-lined sleeves and flexible Vibram rubber trims.

For women, companies like Contourwear (www.contourwear.com) make versatile and functional—and good-looking—clothing. Contourwear touts “sporty, high-performance and stylish apparel,” and the test pieces I saw lived up to the claims. The $79 Convertible Skirt has a zip-off swath to convert the piece from a knee-length to a nearly-mini in a snap. For travel, there’s a hidden hip pocket sized to fit a passport.

The $85 Contourwear Tech Pants also zip off (to become shorts), plus they are quick-drying and stretchy enough for comfortable hiking.

Both Contourwear pieces are made of breathable, wrinkle-resistant nylon with UPF 30+ sun protection. They have unique touches like locking metal zippers on the pockets, stain-resistant treatments, and stretchy, durable fabric. Overall, Contourwear pulls off a stylish, low-profile look while not sacrificing its undertone of technical, travel- and outdoors-friendly features. This, I would argue, is just the way clothing should be.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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