The Gear Junkie: Outdoor Clothing Coming of Age II

The merino wool Qu T shirt from Ibex is cool enough to wear year round, and adds extra warmth when needed.
Part II in a two-part series on function versus form in the apparel industry. Click here for Part I.

Last week 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.

Nau Weekender shorts 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.

Horney Toad Corvair shorts 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 Insight sweater 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.

Contourwear Convertible Skirt 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.

Click here for Part I of The Gear Junkie's outdoor clothing review.

Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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