Our Go-To Fastpacking Gear: "Go Suit"②
If you've been following along with our series on fastpacking gear, you'll know that so far we've gone through 10 pieces of kit and 7 items of upper body clothing and accessories. This time we'll list our recommendations for trusted lower body clothing and accessories to consider for your next trail adventure.
SHORTS - PATAGONIA STRIDER PRO SHORTS 7" (111g)
I've gone through quite a few different pairs of running-specific shorts and have found the Strider Pros to be my clear favorite of the bunch - with a small caveat. As is increasingly common with dedicated running shorts on the market these days, these feature a built-in liner offering "chafe-free comfort." Well, after a brutal 50-mile mountain race in steady, heavy rain and a pair of hideous, raw and grossly swollen rubbing-induced rashes on either side of my inner thighs from the ill-conceived brief-style liner - I can confidently say that in my experience there was nothing remotely chafe-free or comfortable about the terrible attached inner.
I was ready to burn these demonic shorts in revenge for the horrible pain and suffering they caused me, but then thought, "maybe I should just cut out the liner?" I did, and it made all the difference - and now instead of being a pile of ash in a landfill somewhere, my strider pros are at the top of my rotation. These days the only reason I don't wear them is if their still dirty from the last adventure. I'll explain why.
What I like
I'm not a short shorts guy. Maybe it's modesty, maybe it's a strategic choice to conceal my quads at the start line of a race and keep my competitors guessing, maybe I've been influenced by the incomparable Courtney Dauwalter, or maybe it's a simple, practical way to reduce the amount of skin exposed to the sun and thus susceptible to sunburn. It's probably a bit of all of the above. Patagonia makes a 5" version, but I found the 7" to be perfect for what I was looking for. Even at the longer length, there is a well-crafted slit on the outside portion of the bottom of each leg to ensure they don't snag on your knee.
Without the liner, they are supremely comfortable, super lightweight and airy - meaning they are cool to wear even in peak summer temperatures and on long efforts. There is a drawstring embedded in the soft, elastic waistband to fine-tune the fit, but the main draw is the well-designed pockets. There's a nice zipper pocket at the back of the shorts that's large enough for a phone, wallet, several gels, maybe even a small soft-flask. In addition, there are two deep stretch pockets on the hips, on either side of the zipper pocket that are also capable of carrying all of the above, albeit without the safety of a zipper.
But with that said, I routinely keep my smartphone (iPhone XR) in one of the side pockets for easy access to the camera and map app. Even while running it doesn't bounce enough to bother me, and the most ingenious design element is that the phone not only slides down into the pocket and gets secured by the elastic band at the upper edge of the pocket's lower portion, but also that you can tuck the top of the phone under the elastic band on the pocket's upper portion to further secure it in place. It's hard to explain, but essentially it's as if their is a cap on the pocket that will prevent items from bouncing upward and out. Ingenious really.
What could be better
As I said, the liner. Apparently previous versions of this short featured a boxer-brief style liner that was very well-received and seemingly quite effective at preventing chafing since there were no sewn seams in the crotch area. Who knows why Patagonia would alienate its fan base and replace a universally loved and lauded liner with a brief-style version that has been overwhelmingly panned, but honestly - just snip it off and wear your favorite boxers or briefs like you ordinarily would. In all fairness, the liner never bothered me that much until I did a long race in wet conditions, so maybe you should try it out before neutering it.
LEG COVERS - MontBell Zeo-Line Mesh Cycle Leg Covers (85g)
These are the lower-body version of the arm sleeves I introduced in the previous blog post. I love and recommend them for all the same reasons: sun protection, a tiny bit of added warmth without the weight of carrying a full pair of pants, ease of taking on and off and unbeatable packability. These days I've moved away from wearing long pants on the trail on almost all occasions, and will go with my beloved Strider Pro shorts on my body and throw these leg sleeves in my pack for when I might need them. I generally wear the leg sleeves for a short time on cool mornings and evenings, and possibly later in the day to ward off sun exposure. They aren't too hot, wick moisture and dry fast. They're held in place by a rubberized elastic band that tightly grips your legs below the crotch. It is important to buy the right size to avoid them being uncomfortably tight, or annoyingly loose, which would cause them to slide down your leg.
When fastpacking or racing, eliminating unnecessary stops or shortening the time you stop for is the easiest thing you can do to squeeze the most distance out of your day, or cut the most time off your finish. If you're stopping to switch from pants to shorts or shorts to pants you need to: (1)stop, (2) take off your pack, (3) open up your pack, (4) find what you're hoping to change into, (4) take off your shoes, (5) change, (6) put your shoes back on, (7) place the item you changed out of back into your pack and (8) put the pack back on.
Now I'll let you in on a pro-tip I pioneered to further maximize the potential of these or other similar leg sleeves. I've worn gaiters when hiking or running on trails for the last several years as a barrier to prevent rocks and dirt from entering into my shoes and causing blisters or discomfort. Pairing trail gaiters with leg covers is a total rethink that enables you to perform the most efficient, quickest transitions. How? The solution is simple: you always wear the leg sleeves, so that it is completely unnecessary to take off your pack and remove your shoes. When you don't want to use them, you simply roll them down and stuff them into the gaiter so that they bunch up around your ankle, but under the top of the gaiter. When you want to use them, stop for a brief second, reach down and pull them out from the gaiters. Storing them around your ankles inside of the gaiter isn't hot, heavy or cumbersome in any way. You'll hardly know they are there, and you'll have the ultimate flexibility to speedily and easily pull them up or down to control your body temperature and/or protect from the sun.
GAITERS - Dirty Girl Trail Gaiters (35g)
I honestly felt a bit awkward when I finally placed my order for "Dirty Girl Gaiters" several years back. I pride myself on being a male with perfectly acceptable hygiene practices, so the naming clashed a bit against my self image and grooming habits. But I had read enough reviews to realize that these weren't only for women and that they actually work to keep your feet clean by preventing dirt from getting in your shoes. I was also hesitant to make gaiters a standard part of my kit, in part to rebel against the terrible unwarranted overuse of the heavy, bulky full-length Gore-Tex versions popular amongst hikers on the trails of Japan - in all seasons and conditions. But I got over my hang-ups, ordered a pair and have been using them ever since.
They're simple, lightweight and have held up to all kinds of abuse and machine washes after every outing. One look at their website and you'll either be thrilled with or put-off by the seemingly endless variety of flashy colors, patterns and designs they are available in. Personally I felt most were a bit too tacky for my liking, but was able to order a solid black pair. They attach to your trail runners with a simple hook that goes under the shoelace at the front of your shoe, and a piece of velcro on your heel. This means you have to attach a small strip of velcro to the back of each pair of shoes you want to use the gaiters with. Enough velcro (a 16-inch strip) is included with your order, which is said to be enough for 4 pairs of shoes.
While this is an American company available online and in-store throughout the U.S., you can also buy them online in Japan from hikersdepot.jp, an excellent source for UL hiking gear for Japan-based trail junkies.
COMPRESSION CALF SLEEVES - C3Fit / Goldwin Inspiration Calf Sleeves (32g)
There are a lot of differing opinions on the effectiveness of compression tights, and I am not sure I have come to a definitive answer myself. But they seem to make a positive difference for me. I tried pairing full compression tights with shorts, but found that they were just too hot for my liking for summer outings. Calf sleeves were a next logical choice since the calves are the smallest group of muscles in the leg, and therefore the most likely to be maxed out from a hard day on the trail. Calf sleeves are small, lightweight and relatively cheap - and can also serve to... yep, protect your legs from the sun, which is always more direct and intense at altitude. Plus, if going with shorts it's easy to get scrapes and cuts on your lower legs from low-lying shrubs, errant rocks, etc... and these help to mitigate those occurrences.
SOCKS - C3Fit Paper Fiber Five Finger Socks (35g)
C3Fit isn't the only company with a product like this on the market, but in full transparency it is the only one I have tried. And by a "product like this" I don't mean toe socks, I mean toe socks that are made with traditional Japanese paper fibers. As it applies to socks, this seems to be a game-changing technology. Japanese paper has been used to trap and reduce moisture and bacteria in Japanese homes during the hot, humid summers. The fiber itself is incredibly durable, and have put hundreds and hundreds of kilometers on mine without even the hint of any holes or abrasion. But where they really shine is how they perform when your shoes and feet get wet. The unique texture of the woven paper fibers doesn't stick to your skin, even when wet. This means that the odds of the sock rubbing against your skin and causing a blister is five times less than with other socks.
I don't know how to quantify their performance, but I can wholeheartedly vouch for them. I used to have reoccurring issues with blisters, and that ended completely when I switched to these socks. The most remarkable thing is that even when my feet are completely wet, they don't feel as if they are. I used to avoid puddles and mud because of that awful sticky sock feeling and the likelihood of wet feet leading to blisters, but I playfully aim for them now. Combine these socks with a well-drained mesh upper and you can cross rivers, splash through puddles and keep going without wasting any mental energy cringing at that icky wet-foot feeling. That's priceless, even if they are a bit of a pain to put on.