Friday, April 20, 2012

Down to Earth Diva: The Evolution of a Hiking Skirt

I haven’t done the math, but I’ve probably walked 4,000 miles in skirts. It started with my decision to hike in a skirt when I hiked the A.T. in 2003.
On the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010.

About two months ago catalogs selling clothing for active women started arriving. I suspect race directors for the Nashville Marathon sold my name. Athleta and Title 9 have become regular circulars in my post office box since then. I was flipping through them over lunch one day, scanning pages for skirts with just the right details – synthetic fabric, pockets, A-line, and without under-shorts. It turned into one of those moments when you step outside yourself and observe the absurdity for a moment. Here I am, with plenty of skirts for running, hiking, and playing in, yet seeking more.

While some might consider it an obsession, I consider it a quest for the perfect skirt (then again, I’m always on a quest for the perfect backpack, too). Regardless of the fixation that drives my compulsion to purchase and try out every skirt made of wicking material (and they’re even more common now that running skirts are on the rise (no pun intended, though they do tend to be shorter that what I’d like for hiking).

I’ll go ahead and admit here that I like to feel like I look nice even if I’m sweating. I don’t have to wear Prada on the trail, but some semblance of matching makes me feel, well, presentable – just like my momma taught. (oh, how many times did she chide me for looking like a ragga-muffin when I wore tore jeans and ratty tees in my younger years.)

Here’s a quick run down of the skirts I’ve hiked in, from the very first of my hiking skirts, to the latest and most preferred.

This grainy picture is one my mom took as I set off from Amicalola Falls to start my 2003 A.T. thru-hike. She captioned the photo. This skirt was not good for hiking. It’s a cotton blend and a wee short for backpacking without running tights under it. It worked fairly well otherwise, but by the time I reached Erwin I realized I needed another kind of fabric. I talked to POG at Miss. Janet’s house. She recommended a supplex material. I ordered some from Quest to be sent to my mom and gave her my vision for a wrap skirt, with Velcro closure at the waist. She would mail it to me at a future mail drop stop. (As for this skirt, I still wear it for running and dancing.)

Between the time I placed my sewing order with my mom and received that skirt I made it to Trail Days in Damascus. I coerced the fellas with Granite Gear to stitch me a skirt with fabric they had on hand. They used my original hiking skirt as the guide, used a water resistant fabric that’s really intended for packs, and had it made in under an hour. They even went the extra mile, adding a zippered pocket, and applying seam tape to the seams. The pocket served me well, but the seam tape was probably overkill. It’s a well made skirt that albeit short works well for winter hikes when I plan to wear tights under it.  The fabric feels bomb proof, too. 

On my A.T. Hike in 2003.
Starting the Art Loeb Trail in Feb. 2012.
I don’t remember which Virginia town I was in when I got my red hiking skirt from my mom, but I hiked in it the rest of the way to Maine. It had its own quirks. My mom had put the pocket on the inside of the skirt (think under-shirt travel wallet) which made it pretty useless for anything except putting my plastic bag wallet in it when I was walking in towns. The under layer of fabric of the wrap skirt would work its way between my legs, so I had to cinch the fabric from the bottom part of the skirt up under my hip belt so I wouldn’t get snagged on my skirt. It wasn’t pretty to have my skirt all cinched, but it served the purpose. The fabric dried quick in the really rainy hiking season of 2003 and it had all other benefits of hiking in a skirt. 

When I came back from my long hike I was convinced I needed to get into making hiking skirts that were worth a damned. The market in 2003 was primarily designed for men. A few innovative outdoor companies started making men’s kilts before they adapted them for women (however backward that is). I teamed up with my friend Joanna and we started, then faltered, in the creation of a line of hiking skirts. Here’s one of the prototypes. The waistline works (I learned that it’s called a yolk, like “yo, drop a yolk on that”), and it has ample pockets. This sample is made from a rain coat material. We never could find fabric color and weight we were happy with for production, and my dream for that project slowly slipped away. 

I have a couple skirts from Cloudveil (same style, different color) that I bought in 2005 or so at Frugal Backpacker in Asheville. They’re decent skirts, but they can look a little dumpy. Last time I wore one someone asked me if it was a rain skirt. I suspect she asked because it has a little sheen to it. The one good thing about wearing these skirts is that I don’t love them, so it feels okay to just get them dirty. My same friend, Joanna, screen printed a crop formation on one of my skirts which makes it feel a bit more interesting. 
Starting last summer's hike on the Lakeshore Trail in the Smokies.

My solo hike through the Grayson Highlands last fall.

I have a couple of other Mountain Hardwear skirts that I also bought at Frugal intending to hike in them. I wore them hiking once or twice. While they have plenty of pockets (a plus for hiking) the cut is too narrow such that it restricts my stride. They’ve been relegated to town-only skirts, or maybe boating, but there’s nothing redeemable about them when it comes to the trail.

Last, but certainly not least, is a skirt I discovered while I was hiking the PCT. It’s made by Royal Robbins and rocks! I think it’s called the Discovery skirt. I had reservations when buying it because it zips up the back and I worried I would be irritated where the zipper is between my back and my pack. My fears were unfounded. The skirt has ample pockets (one for my camera, one for a bandana, and one for a snack or hiking guide pages). The best part of this skirt is that it conveys from trail to town easily. It doesn’t have that typical outdoor fabric look; it has a flat finish with no sheen. It’s long enough to preserve modesty. It doesn’t restrict my stride, and it even has a ruffle (need I say more!)

Last summer's weekly hikes with my niece and nephew. I have this skirt in green and slate.
Hope to get one in orange this year.
 In the whole scheme of things, I’d probably like to have it a couple inches shorter, but it’s the absolute best hiking skirt I’ve found to date. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t keep looking.

No comments: