Retro Gear: Old is New Again

While we celebrate 35 years of Explore, we take this as a sign that the outdoor industry is finally old enough to appreciate that, yes, technology marches on, but some designs are timeless. Here is the best retro gear of the year:

Credit: Patagonia

Wait long enough and everything comes back in style. The fashion world axiom is now infiltrating outdoor gear. From enamel mugs that hide cutting-edge vacuum insulation to patches on the elbows of the latest grid-backed fleece, new technology masquerading as old is now in. 

While we celebrate 35 years of explore, we take this as a sign that the outdoor industry is finally old enough to appreciate that, yes, technology marches on, but some designs are timeless. That doesn’t mean we will see long woollen dresses and hobnail boots making a comeback in mountaineering circles. But these retro-tech products landed us more compliments than anything else we’ve tested. So, embrace the old. Buy something new.

Westcomb Blaze Shirt ($350)

Old: Like the jacket your dad wore in those external-frame backpacking days, the Blaze is all pointy collar, snaps down the front and barely-there baffles.

New: It weighs only 255 grams, but stuffed with 900-fill Polish white goose down it packs heat enough for subzero mornings.

Timeless: We felt on-trend wearing this on a drizzly night in downtown Vancouver (the Pertex Quantum shell deflected the rain) while hanging with hipsters at our local brew pub, and barely noticed its weight and grapefruit-size on a backcountry trip.

Patagonia Women’s Recycled Down Jacket ($240)

Old: Just about every piece of this feel-good insulated jacket lived another life. All of the 600-fill down insulation, the polyester lining, the drawcord and most of the label is reused materials.

New: Individual elements in our gear are now worthy enough to warrant salvaging at the end of their life. Reducing your impact on the environment has never been cooler and more necessary. 

Timeless: The waves in the baffles, a subtle print and faux-sheepskin collar looks good on everyone. 

Smartwool Isto Sport Hoody ($150)

Old: The look of this hoody is all ‘70s, but it’s the piping on the sleeves and elbow patches that had us really reminiscing for old ski sweaters. 

New: Everything needs a hood these days and this sweater is no different. It’s also nicely form-fitting for a flattering, modern look. 

Timeless: Soft, comfortable warmth never loses its shine and the Isto boasts it all, thanks to the blend of merino wool, nylon and acrylic. The vintage feel will always be on-trend.

Merrell Solo Origins ($130)

Old: These look identical to my first hikers, bought in the early ‘90s: a mix of split-grain leather and mesh panels. And they’re about as comfortable as a sneaker and equally supportive.

New: Merrell subbed-in recycled content in the mesh in the upper, rubber in the sticky outsoles and EVA cushioning in the heel. Then, they added a wicking liner and an anti-microbial treatment, both lacking in my old beaters.

Timeless: The low-cut style is casual enough for everyday use. Lightweight, a chunky outsole and softer and tougher than they look, they fared well on smooth hiking trails. 

Mountainsmith Divide ($120)

Old: Mountainsmith tapped design drawings from the mid-‘90s for this zip-access top loader. An old logo and daisy-chain accent round out the classic daypack.

New: Hidden beyond the main 22-litre main pocket is a laptop sleeve, fleece-lined pocket and a removable waist belt. Two densities of foam on the shoulder straps, one for comfort and one for dispersing the load, help with the long haul.

Timeless: A great carry-on bag or hiking pack, there’s a waterbottle sleeve and a small exterior valuables pouch.

Vasque Sundowner GTX ($250)

Old: Vasque first sewed-and-glued a Sundowner in 1984. They look almost identical: nearly seamless full-grain leather and the same Vibram outsole. They even brought back the original boot-last that made them one of the most popular hiking boots of all time. 

New: The leather is now tanned in the U.S., backed by a Gore-Tex bootie and the midsole is polyurethane with a TPU insert for a modern combo of protection and cushioning.

Timeless: As you wear them, the handsome leather upper custom forms to your foot, continuously improving the fit. 

Helly Hansen Lerwick Rain Jacket ($140)

Old: There’s a good chance the crew of the Andrea Gail wore a jacket just like this one during The Perfect Storm. Water-impenetrable, it’s the winter uniform for rainforest dwellers.

New: Helly updated the classic with Helox+, a stretchy, soft-to-the-touch polyurethane that’s totally waterproof and windproof. To compensate for lack of breathability, they added hidden vents. The pockets are welded in place.

Timeless: When it’s cold and seriously wet out, do like the fishermen: ditch the Gore and stay dry.