This winter my wife and I tested workout apparel from multiple companies, sweating and straining in shirts, shorts and tops to ready ourselves for a few key adventures this spring.
To start, I tested two pieces from Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver company that began as a surf brand and is now known for yoga wear. The company (www.lululemon.com) has a nice aesthetic and unique touches in its line, including svelte pockets for keys and iPods, metal grommets to route headphone wires, and stretchy, breathable fabrics.
Lululemon Pants However, the two products I tried each had a fatal flaw. Lululemon's On the Move Jacket, $99, was similarly a nice product with one major issue. The stretchy workout jacket--which has touches like hidden pockets for your keys and underarm vents--employs a fabric unfriendly to the male face. Specifically, the collar can snag whiskers. My beard stuck like Velcro whenever I turned to look left or right. Ouch.
Item No. 2, the Endeavour Pants, $89, look like semi-formal dress khakis. But these trousers were made to be an alternative during workouts to sweatpants. They are comfy and stretch adequately for all kinds of exertion. The flaw is minor, though annoying: The main snap popped open on occasion while I was doing chin-ups or abdominal exercises. A button would make all the difference.
My wife, Tara, had better luck. She tested a sports bra and workout underwear, respectively from Gracie's Gear and Smarty Pants, two small companies with original concepts.
Gracie's Gear A pouch on the front of the bra is Gracie's Gear Inc.'s (www.graciesgearandtraining.com) claim to fame. This three-compartment pocket was made to carry your iPod, cell phone, energy gels and car keys.
It is stitched on the outside of the bra fabric to keep objects from chafing the skin. There's a small zipper and a hole to feed an MP3 player cord.
My wife tried the Long Tank, a $32 model made of polyester and Spandex. She said it was supportive and comfortable. Small items in the pouch pocket went unnoticed while running, yet were always accessible.
Smarty Pants Smarty Pants' (www.smartypantsunderwear.com) underwear are like bike shorts--tight and form fitting, though made with an ultra-thin polyester/Lycra fabric and flat stitching to prevent chafing. For looks, this design eliminates the see-through-the-shorts "panty lines" effect some women hate.
The $22 underwear fit lower on the waist and have a 5-inch inseam to reach the middle of the thigh. Tara had few complaints. She said the fit was fine and the underpants were unnoticeable--as they should be--during a workout.
Core Concepts Last, I ran and hiked outdoors in a top called the Have Some from Core Concepts (www.corelayers.com). This $48 long sleeve feels like a workaday shirt, with a not-too-tight fit. But the polyester piece, which incorporates Polartec fabric treatment, breathes well and works for exercise.
It has no tag and flat-stitched seams. Vent panels under the arm and on the upper back add some heat relief, though they seem more built for looks than anything else. Core Concepts adds an anti-microbial finish to keep the shirt smelling fresh no matter how hard you work.
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.