Friday, September 1, 2017

What to Invest On - for Mountain Climbing Beginners

Right outwear ensures comfort, safety and good performance!  My team in Dulang-Dulang Bukidnon.

Long time ago, like +20 years back – finding the perfect and affordable outwear is like finding treasure in the middle of a hidden, dense jungle.  Well not exactly – but it was like an adventure in itself!

And it’s a lot more challenging if you’re looking for something that can be used for colder weather or high, snowy and windy altitude.
The practice back then is to hunt for surplus or factory ‘rejects’ – mostly in Cartimar or Cash & Carry areas, and SM’s Surplus Shop.   

I’ve bought a number of semi-functional but affordable items back then – enabling me to pursue my tropical mountaineering adventures, and even helped me survived the likes of Nepal Himalayan trek, Kilimanjaro climb (Africa) and K2 basecamp trek in Pakistan!

The last 10 years witnessed the big change in the outwear sourcing landscape - outdoor stores sprouted here and there, some selling top-of-the-line brands previously not accessible in the country.  It’s no longer a question of finding what you need – it’s getting the money to buy them!
Being in commercial areas most of the time – I’ve observed that even lifestyle brands started their own line of outdoor wear and sportswear, to get a piece of the pie of the growing active lifestyle market.  

And one such brand and store happens to offer a trove of treasures for the picky taste of hiking enthusiasts and beginners – UNIQLO!  To the newbies who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of proper outwear – here’s a quick guide on what items to prioritize and features that you should consider.

And before I start, let me summarize how I will describe this brand in 2 words – FUNCTIONAL and AFFORDABLE-  the 2 best attributes for the thrifty starters!

1.      Trekking shirts.  Back in the days, we hike and roam with old cotton shirts – soaked, cold and numb during rainy and windy days.  Today, it’s a no-brainer to anyone doing sports to invest on non-cotton fabric and choose polyester-based instead - to benefit from its quick drying feature, lightness and movement comfort.  My recent visit in this brand store revealed an obviously cheaper version.  Top-of-the line sports brand will be at least twice the price.  Even other lifestyle wear brands offering poly-shirts are slightly pricier.  How can you go wrong with 100% polyester, right?  The trick is finding the right size and fit for your intended activity (gym, running, hiking, ball sports, others) and thickness or weight of the fabric.  Very light fabric tends to dry quicker but will reveal your body contours; while thicker ones will feel warmer and uncomfortable in excessively sweaty activities (think uphill run on a hot summer day).

100% polyester active wear.  Perfect for hiking.

2.   Insulation jackets.  I saw a few options – one was the Dry Stretch full zip with hoodie, it’s a mix of poly and cotton and seems to imitate the comfort of a poly-fleece jacket.  But cheaper. 

If you happen to travel a lot especially to cold weather countries, or camp a lot in cold-at-night mountains (think Pulag or Apo) – why not invest in a down jacket.  Uniqlo surprisingly offer very affordable Ultra Light Down jacket – light enough to be packed into a small ball but functional enough to help you survive the cold windy night.  The surprise? Uniqlo’s ULD is three to four times cheaper when compared to top-of-the-line brands.  And with a price tag of 2990, it is still cheaper than the so-called affordable brands in big shops (think REI or streets of Hong Kong) which ranges from 100 to 150$.  But since it’s ultra light – you don’t expect to use this in extremely cold and high altitude.  
Recalling the past - I got my first on-sale down jacket in the streets of Hong Kong and even then, I found the price slightly prohibitive.  Imagine the luck and convenience of today’s shoppers!
Ultra Light Down.  Goose down is a natural filament that has one of the best heat retention performance.

3.     Insulation layer. The trick with fighting cold is layering so mixing down jacket with other clothing will help you adjust to the changing temperature conditions.  I realize the Uniqlo designed its ULD (ultra light down) to be either worn as an outer layer, or inner.  The key is getting the right size for your intended fashion style. 
There’s this other surprise item when I checked out the store – MERINO WOOL, 2nd layer pull-overs.  Enthusiasts may not know that material-wise, merino wool is warmer than polyester, acrylic or regular wool.  It has been a struggle in the past to find a decent piece but now it’s not only available but affordable.   
There’s also a “Heattech” base layer long-shirt which is perfect for both alpine and tropical hiking or climbing.  It’s a mix of rayon, polyester, acrylic and spandex – meaning:  heat retaining, quick-drying, moisture wicking (i.e. it pulls out the moisture away from your skin), odor control, and comfort-stretch.  I find it cheap with all this features (I mean 790php is just like a regular trekking polyester shirt). 

Dry Stretch Jacket mimics the comfort of a fleece jacket.

Merino wool garments used to be hard to find and are expensive. It's the climbers' secret to staying warm. 

4.    Pairs of good socks.  I incidentally found this “heattech” socks – a blend of poly, rayon, nylon, acrylic, spandex.  While it’s not advertised as a sports socks – I do recommend this for hiking or climbing especially for cold weather hikes.  The half-socks that I bought are thin enough to be used as regular hiking socks, but techy enough to give you the niceties of hi-tech socks – quick drying, moisture-wicking, warm, with odor control and good comfort-stretch.  In the early days, we used cotton socks – easily soaked in rainy days or river-crossings, and cotton being abrasive when wet – is a sure ticket to blister or chafing!  

Light, comfortable Heattech socks.

5.   Hiking shorts or pants.  I have many favorites here, mostly with good features such as quick-drying, good lockable pockets, adjustable waist belt or string, stretch for comfort and ease in uphill or steep climb movement.   The one I saw in the store is a ‘dry’ poly stretch pants.  Perfect for cold-weather or windy hikes, and stretchable enough for vertical climbs.  (But will be very warm in a hot summer day hike).

There are other basic items that a beginner should invest on, and just to complete this list:

6.  A good backpack.  Size and comfort is the primary consideration.  As long as the fit and comfort are good, you know how to balance the weight inside, and you know how to ‘waterproof’ the contents – it should not be tricky to pick your right brand.  
7.    Shell or waterproof jacket.  Repellent or water-resistant jackets like what I saw in Uniqlo will be good for light rain and wind.  A better windproof and higher resistant version of Uniqlo called Blocktech parka will be good for moderate rains or strong winds. But if you need something that can withstand the usual torrential rains in our mountains – a good, fully waterproof AND breathable version should be considered.  Breathable and waterproof fabric are expensive and cheap version is hard to find.  Budget conscious can start with vinyl-based rain coats or poncho – it’s waterproof but prolonged use will cause condensation inside giving you a bit of discomfort and wetness.

For light rain, with added insulation for windy and cold weather.

8.   A good pair of shoes or boots.  The good news is that – the growing popularity of hiking and trail running drove retailers to introduce so many good brands.  It’s again a question of how much you’re willing to spend.  To be practical – you can use your old trainers if you’re just doing a simple hike.  Invest on something better if you’re doing something more serious.

So there.  But don’t be too excited.  Buying everything before the first trip is not advisable.  Check your shelf and see what can be used or repurposed.  Start with the most critical based on your personal needs – do you have low tolerance to cold weather?  Do you frequently experience foot blister? Do you feel discomfort when hiking using your old shirts?  Risk and inconvenience could be your starting point in determining what to acquire or buy the next time you visit your favorite store…

Good luck, have fun – and see you in the mountains! 

Clockwise: Uniqlo’s Ultra-Light Down jacket;  Dry Stretch jacket;  Turtle neck Heattech base layer; Polyester stretch pants; Heattech half socks; Dry comfort pants.

Sponsored post.  All opinions are my own. 

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