Gear Review: Multi-Use Shirts - Icebreaker Superfine 200 Top, First Ascent Cloud Layer 1/4 Zip, Columbia Leadout Shirt

Just because you can't be in the backcountry everyday doesn't mean you can't dress for it.

With the Great Recession continuing to put a serious dent in everyone’s wallets, it’s tough to justify purchasing gear that you might only use a couple of times per quarter. Fortunately, backpacking attire has long had a habit of making its way into popular culture (witness the transition of knickers for women from backcountry function to department store style in the 20s); here are a few pieces that look just as good on the town as they do in the woods.

For Ski-town Cool First Ascent Cloud Layer 1/4 Zip

11 oz. (Men’s M), Men’s S-XXL, Women’s XS-XL, $50, firstascent.com

The Cloud Layer’s simple, clean style let me walk straight off of track, slopes, or trail and into the bar without feeling like a dirtbag. Out in the field, this top nails everything I want in a mid-layer. The brushed microfleece is buttery smooth, it insulates well for its weight, and it has a 1/4-length zip that allows for easy venting when things heat up. The cut makes room for a t-shirt or performance baselayer underneath, but it’s still trim enough to go under a shell without bunching up. This was the only insulation layer I took on multiple summer trips to the Sierra, and it was all I needed to stay warm during late-night stargazing sessions. When a Benjamin can buy one for you and your significant other, it’s a pretty decent value considering its year-round use. Bonus: The hole on the inside of the welded chest pocket allowed for earphone cords, and the super comfy microfleece made for a great camp pillow.


Read on for the Columbia Leadout Shirt


For the Boardroom Houdini Columbia Leadout Shirt

6 oz. (Men’s M), Men’s S-XXL, $60, columbia.com

You know the feeling: it’s getting into the afternoon on Friday, and every second you wait is another minute you’ll be sitting in weekend traffic instead of on the trail. Sporting the Leadout shirt will make your corporate escape significantly easier. The button-down, collared, professional appearance camouflages a sophisticated piece of wilderness apparel that can handle more than just PowerPoint and Excel. I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about performance when I read the 62/38 cotton/poly blend, but during unseasonably warm autumn hiking in the Eastern Sierra’s Palisades, I kept just as sweat-free as with any of the backcountry shirts I normally wear.

Credit Columbia’s Omni Dry technology, which pulls moisture off the skin and then spreads it around the fabric for faster evaporation. The fabric is thin, so although I didn’t have any concerns about durability, you’ll definitely want another layer if you’re headed somewhere with cooler climes. The fit is also a bit fuller than most of the shirts I prefer for backpacking, but some of my friends preferred the extra room. Should you don the Leadout for climbing or other activities that can get inverted, there’s also a zippered security pocket for small valuables. Full disclosure: some of my women friends commented that plaid is for lumberjacks and antediluvian octogenarians (I just call it manly), but I still got a few compliments around the office.



Read on for the Icebreaker Superfine 200


For Everyday StyleIcebreaker Superfine 200 L/S Top

New Zealand Collection, 8 oz. (Men’s M) , Men’s S-XXL, $90, icebreaker.com

This quickly became my favorite go-to top for autumn activities. Whether it was running to the store for last-minute dinner ingredients, dayhiking through fall colors, or heading to the pumpkin patch for Halloween preparations, this long-sleeve crewneck shirt fit in with the in-crowd. Additionally, the leaf print graphic added just enough class so that it didn’t appear I had dressed myself in the dark. Its myriad urban uses mirror its multi-faceted applicability in the outdoors.

The superfine merino wool wicked away sweat while hiking in everything from 60 to 85°F temps, and the soft fabric felt pleasant even under a heavy pack. This top rocks for travel too. The wool’s natural non-stink properties allowed me to wear it to lunch in Denver, just one day after wearing it all over eastern Rocky Mountain National Park. One note: I’d recommend washing before first use, as this completely eliminated the small amount of itchiness I felt straight out of the box.


Return to the First Ascent Cloud Layer 1/4 Zip