Our Go-To Fastpacking Gear: "Go Suit"①
Over the last two posts we've introduced the 10 major pieces of our trusted fastpacking kit. This time we'll continue to showcase more items, but instead of talking about gear that's in the bag - we'll highlight the clothing we are actually wearing on the trail. I like to call this the "go suit", a term I borrowed from legendary long-distance hiker Andrew Skurka. Specifically, this write-up will list, from head to toe, the items and accessories particular to the upper body.
HAT - MontBell Zeo-Line Cool Mesh Cycle Cap (17 grams)
If you've hiked with me, heck if you've seen me in the last 5 years, you've seen this hat. When I began traveling and trekking regularly I was always on the lookout for the perfect travel items - things that weighed little, packed well, and handled abuse. A hat was an absolutely essential item for me to trap sweat from trickling down into my eyes and to protect my head from sunburn. For years I thought I had found the perfect travel hat solution - MontBell's Reversible Bird Bill Cap. I took mine to Europe, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Oceania and everywhere in between, and wore it from the cities to the trails. It was great, but I tend to overheat easily on the trail and that hat just wasn't breathable enough to comfortably keep on in heat.
This one is. As the name suggests, it is made from a tightly formed mesh, that allows air to pass through. It also dries extremely quickly, comes in S, M and L, stretches to form-fit your head, is so light you won't even remember you have it on, and will not cause you to overheat. And at ¥1,600 it is priced reasonably. It has a short semi-rigid bill which doesn't protect the face from the sun as well as well as a longer, traditional sized bill would - but personally I have always felt somewhat irritated when my field of vision has been impaired by a hat or visor. It is mesh, but it also adequately protects from the sun - as my head is shaved and I have never suffered a sunburn while wearing this hat. It can also be used as an intermediate layer between your head and a helmet.
This is my go-to hiking hat year-round. Even on winter snow hikes I may start off with a fleece beanie, but when I begin to warm up from moving I'll switch to this hat for better temperature control. In the heat of summer, whenever I pass a water source, natural or man-made, I'll dunk it in, put it on and keep moving - knowing that it will soon dry anyway. Incidentally, MontBell makes a version of this hat called the Zeo-Line Inner Mesh Cool Cap with a flap of mesh that extends down the back of the neck to protect from sunburn.
SUNGLASSES - goodr OG Running Sunglasses (21 grams)
These are a pretty new edition to my menagerie of gear, but I've seen enough to confidently recommend them. I experimented over the years with multiple pairs of sunglasses, always looking to save a few grams and a few dollars. I used a pair of super lightweight Swans (about 15g) for several years which were ok, but they seemed so fragile I was always worried about crushing them when I wasn't wearing them. And they weren't polarized. And kind of ugly.
Then I started hearing about goodr on running podcasts and reading about them in online running forums and groups. They looked good, supposedly stayed tight against the face when running and seemed to be everyone's top recommendation - and they were outrageously cheap. Could this be real? My interest was piqued, but I didn't think I'd be able to find this product from the U.S. here in Japan, and even if I did - I wasn't confident they'd fit my notoriously hard-to-find-sunglasses-for face, until I stumbled on them at my local outdoor shop and tried them on.
I was instantly a fan. First, they retail for $25 in the States, and I think I paid ¥3,400 here in Japan. But you pick them up and put them on and they feel like solid, well-crafted sunglasses that should cost a lot more. They make an enormous variety of color variations, both in the lenses and the frame, so it would be hard to find a pair that didn't strike your fancy. They are made specifically for running and biking and are billed as no slip, no bounce. I can attest to that fact as I have used them for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running and they have stayed put remarkably well. They're also polarized, which just means they reduce glare - but that makes things look better: things appear sharp and clear and colors pop and contrast beautifully. You'll start to prefer the way things look with your sunglasses on. And they protect you 100% from UV.
(OPTIONAL) DRY LAYER - FineTrack Skin Mesh Tank Top (38g)
I don't always have this on for every foray into the mountains, but I do find myself wearing it with more and more frequency. The Japanese outdoor brand FineTrack smartly and uniquely labels and sells their products based on a complete in-house layering system. Every item they sell is clearly emblazoned with a color-coded mark signaling which layer the item is designed to be used as, from L1 to L5. The "skin mesh" series is what Layer 1 (L1) is comprised of. However, FineTrack doesn't think of it as a base layer in the traditional sense - instead, it is marketed as a "dry layer." The stated benefits on incorporating a dry layer into your layering scheme are:
1. To prevent the "chill effect" from excessive sweat
2. To prevent your clothing from becoming smelly & sticky from sweat
3. To maintain body stable body temperature whether wet or dry
4. To reduce the need to carry extra changes of clothing
Without going on and on about the finer details of how they claim this is all possible with a barely-there mesh inner, the simple explanation is that the most important layer for maintaining comfort year-round is the layer directly against your skin, and the main function of that layer is to keep sweat off your skin by transferring it to a garment and keeping it there. That's the idea behind moisture-wicking t-shirts, but when they soak up enough sweat and get "wetted out", they end up clinging to the body once again putting the sweat back into contact with the skin. In this state, adding more warm layers on top will do very little to alleviate the feeling of being cold. And when you start to feel cold, whether you realize it or not, your body begins to allocate extra energy (calories) away from the reserves available to power your arms and legs up and down the mountain and shifts them to hep maintain a stable core temperature.
This "skin mesh" is crafted to quickly pull the sweat away from the body. Once there, air flowing through the open gaps between the woven mesh ensure it dries before fully wetting out, and before it causes chills, unpleasant smells and stickiness. Even when it is wet, it doesn't cling to the body, so you won't feel cold. As a result, if your clothes are dry and don't smell, it won't be necessary to bring extra sets to change into. That's the idea anyway.
It may be a placebo effect, but I'd have to say I think I can see a benefit. Most specifically where I have noticed a difference is when I make a hard climb to a summit and want to sit down and have a break. The first thing I usually do is take off my pack, but when the wind hits your sweaty back you can instantly feel a chill. That chill is less pronounced now. The second thing I usually do is add a layer if I am planning on stopping for a while, to ensure I don't get too cold. Now, I find I can get away without throwing on another layer. I am not a sworn believer yet, so I listed this as optional, but it seems promising.
T-SHIRT - SALOMON XA TEE (94g)
I spent a lot of money the last few years upgrading all of my gear, and I didn't initially put much thought into buying new t-shirts on top of everything else. After all, I had plenty of freebie marathon and trail run race T-shirts that were quick-dry and would do the job. And so I stuck with what was already in my closet for a long time, but I was pretty indifferent about how they performed. The biggest thing I noticed is that everything, except wool, would smell within a few hours. I love wool t-shirts, but they are expensive and tend to wear quickly in areas in contact with straps or buckles, especially as I moved up to lighter weight wool in an attempt to stay cool since I was moving faster and working harder.
The generic "athletic" shirts I was wearing looked nice and worked well enough around town, but they weren't designed with someone wearing a backpack in mind. I had an issue with them riding up my back, and without the t-shirt creating a buffer between my skin and my backpack, on several occasions I developed an uncomfortable rash from the rubbing. I needed a sports-specific shirt that was cut longer in the body. Something that had incorporated ventilation and anti-bacterial properties would have been helpful too. But I still didn't want to spend a lot of money.
Salomon is one of the premier running companies (road and trail) in all the world. Their products are designed and tested with the input of world-class athletes, I figured they had to know how to make a decent T-shirt, and I was right. This shirt is not the lightest one out there, but it strikes a fantastic balance between weight, price and function. It feels good on the skin, dries fast, has micropores for ventilation, reflective details, is cut long enough to avoid backpack rash, has a nice stretch to it and comes in a variety of bold colors to make you feel like a badass when you're wearing it. It is definitely a slim, athletic fit so it may not be right for everyone. And it is treated with Polygeine for odor resistance, which for now at least, is working wonders for me. I've worn mine several consecutive days on hot, sweaty efforts and never even flinched when giving it a sniff before putting it back on. It comes in a long-sleeve version as well if that is more your thing. These days I prefer to go with short sleeves, for reasons that I will explain when talking about the next item.
ARM SLEEVES - MontBell Zeo-Line Mesh Cycle Arm Covers (32g)
Arm sleeves are highly underrated. I almost always have them in my pack these days, for single-day and multi-day hikes, trail runs, bike rides, every active pursuit really. My reasons are pretty straightforward: to get the benefit of the sun protection and warmth that a long-sleeve t-shirt affords, without having to carry one. These arm sleeves weigh approximately 1/4 of what a separate LS tee would, and are far more versatile; namely, you can take them on and off without stopping and removing your pack, and they are small enough to stuff into your shorts or backpack pocket. Besides being lightweight and easy to store, they don't smell, dry quickly, fit well just plain work. And even in summer, they are surprisingly cool. If you never have, give arm sleeves a try!
GLOVES - FineTrack Everbreath Trail Gloves (32 grams)
Fastpacking often involves long days that start before the sun rises and end long after it has set. Even in mid-summer, pre-dawn and post-dusk temperatures in the mountains can be quite chilly, and gloves are a necessary item to have with you. They can also be a way to shield your hands from the sun if you've forgotten or run out of sunscreen, and prove useful when using trekking poles for an extended period of time. I am somewhat of a glove junkie and over the years have amassed a massive collection of them, each with some specific use or temperature-range niche in mind.
One of the hardest problems for me to solve though had always been finding the right glove for summer trekking. I wanted something that would be warm enough, but not too hot, something durable that could handle a few chains or ladders or the occasional emergency grab to a branch or rock to prevent a fall, something touchscreen compatible, something that could offer some waterproofness but still dry relatively quickly if wet. And most importantly something small and lightweight. Finally about a year ago, I found the Everbreath Trail Gloves. They weren't cheap, but I was willing to spend the money if they would solve my summer glove problem, and so far, they have done just that.
WATCH - Garmin Forerunner 935 (49 grams)
The 935 is my second Garmin watch, both of which I bought when training for marathons. When first getting into running I didn't want to spend too much, but wanted basic GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring and ended up with the Forerunner 235. It was more than capable, and I stuck with it through my entire first marathon training cycle and used it to great success on race day at the Fuji-san International Marathon. It performed swimmingly, but as I started dreaming of more ambitious times for marathon number two, I convinced myself that upgrading to a watch that could measure more advanced data could help me train smarter and go faster.
The overall design, battery life (24 hours in GPS mode / 2 weeks in normal watch mode), general ease of use and excellent Garmin Connect companion app and website had me hooked on the Garmin ecosystem. I looked into both the 935 and Fēnix 5, Garmin's two top offerings at the time. Both offered very similar specs, but the 935 weighed almost half what the Fēnix weighed, and since my main use would be running, I went with the lighter watch and managed to find a great deal on a lightly used one on an auction site. It has been fantastic. Because of its 24-hour heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking functions I almost never take it off. It is a supremely capable running watch, but what I hadn't though of at the time is how useful it would prove to be while hiking. Let me explain why.
One of the most important things to carry with you on the trail is a phone. It's your lifeline to the outside world if things go wrong (and if you have a signal). Prior to purchasing my Garmin 935, I was relying exclusively on my smartphone to record GPS, and often to navigate, etc... As we're all too well aware, smartphone batteries are notoriously short-lived and running GPS and map apps constantly in the background while on the trail only exacerbates the speed at which the life-force drains from your precious handheld. Not to mention to even be able to see the screen on a sunny day you have to max out the brightness, which again lessens battery life. That meant I needed to carry a portable USB power bank to recharge my phone at least once per day on the trail. When on the trail for several days, I had to haul a heavy 10,000~13,000mAh battery to meet those demands.
However, the Garmin 935 has basic navigational functions that have significantly lessened my reliance on the smartphone when on the move. These are limited since the 935 doesn't support the ability to download/install maps. If you want that feature, which would be a significant upgrade, you'll need to invest a few more dollars and pick up the Forerunner 945, which is admittedly much more capable but came out shortly after I bought my 935. Isn't that always the case.
Yet even without the maps, you can download the GPX data from a course you'd like to run from Strava or elsewhere and using the Garmin app send it to your watch. Garmin Connect even features a route builder so you can create your own course. Once you choose an activity type (trail run, hike, etc...) you can go to "navigation" in the menu and select the course you imported and choose "do course" or "do course in reverse". When you have done that, your watch screen is populated with multiple data fields specific to the course you are about to run, including the elevation profile of the course (and your realtime position along that elevation profile), an arrow signaling your current location and the direction you are facing laid on top of a line that shows your course. You can pan and zoom the map and more or less navigate solely using this feature... and common sense. You are given information on the distance remaining, ETA, and much more fun and sometimes useful tidbits.
In my experience I have managed to squeeze about 20 hours of non-stop GPS recording on the trail from my fully charged watched. This will get you quite far when fastpacking, and when you do need to recharge, the battery powers back up quite quickly. If I am going to stop for a meal or rest or any other reason, I'll take that opportunity to plug my watch into the USB battery to top it off. It typically charges at a rate of about 1% per minute. That would equate to a 30-minute top-off translating to about 6 more hours of juice on the trail. You can charge while recording GPS during an activity, BUT the charging port is under the watch face next to the heart rate monitor and you cannot wear the watch and charge it at the same time.
We'll be following up this list with a lower body version in the next several days, so if you found this useful, be sure to check back. Happy trails!