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What do your grandfather, Pearl Jam, and Paul Bunyan have in common? One word: flannel. Here at Backpacker, we’re usually all about high performance gear (see, well, EVERY issue of the magazine, and look for our Fall/Winter Gear Guide hitting stands in a couple of weeks), but that said, almost every one of us has a flannel shirt in the closet.
Map Editor Kris Wagner and Assistant Online Editor Ted Alvarez break theirs out for chopping wood. Associate Editor Shannon Davis has one that used to belong to his grandfather. And Executive Editor Dennis Lewon has one that his wife hand-made for him.
I grew up in Upstate New York where we have the second-most overcast skies in the country and more annual rainfall than Seattle. It was cold, damp, and dreary–so flannel, being as warm as it is, was a way of life. Also– I admit it– I grew up in the grunge era.
So, with a new Pearl Jam album hitting iPods and CD players everywhere this past Sunday, I thought it was about time to give a quick shout-out to the latest shirt in my quiver, Patagonia’s Buckshot Flannel shirt ($75, patagonia.com).
But the Buckshot isn’t exactly your grandpa’s flannel. Patagonia upgraded a traditional concept by weaving 70% organic cotton with 30% polyester. The result is a lighter fabric that loses none of flannel’s classic burly utility. (That’s a good thing, because my old-school flannel shirt weighed a good nine pounds.)
As such, I’ve dubbed the Buckshot my “Flannel Shirt 2.0.” Other advantages include a better moisture wicking factor and, because it’s made of organic cotton, which is “never grown with synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or defoliants,” I sleep better at night.
I need to call this like it is, though: This is not a high performance, I’m-summiting-that-peak-wait-let-me-get-my-ice-axe kind of shirt. This is the shirt you wear on cool, crisp fall dayhikes beneath a raincoat in wet weather, or walking the Scottish coast. Flannel 2.0 might not be expedition grade, but it’s a good all-purpose midlayer that both rounds out your wardrobe and can take a serious beating. It’s also ideal for kicking around in camp.
Now, having worn flannel shirts for the better part of 20 years, I thought it was time to dig a little deeper into the history. Here are three Fun Facts (quiz your friends!):
1. The flannel shirt as we know it is credited to Howard Carhartt (yes, that Carhartt of Carhartt jeans and work wear). He apparently researched the construction of the shirt by talking to railroad workers and engineers, and built it as sturdy as possible for their needs.
2. We can trace flannel fabric back to Wales, where it was likely first woven in the 16th century.
3. Clothing for the British Sport of Cricket was originally made of white flannel.
There you have it—nothing crazy, nothing high tech; just a good shirt to have in your repertoire. Flannel is back, baby.