This week, my sponsor Altra Zero Drop shoes launched a brand new clothing line. Footwear companies having their own running clothes follows the footsteps (excuse the pun), of other running companies like Nike, Adidas, etc., but–just as with Altra’s footwear–the new Altra apparel line has a big twist: it’s designed for ultra runners and outdoorsfolk obsessed with being as light, minimalist, and as on-the-go as possible.
In Fall 2015, I reported back from Outdoor Retailer with an piece of clothing that I thought was a true innovation–the 3.3 oz Stash Jack hooded windshirt that you can put on without removing your backpack.
I remember on my first thru-hike of the AT wishing that such a piece of gear existed. I heard from some other thru-hikers that Ray Jardine proposed such a design, but was never able to find any evidence of that. Altra’s design improves on my fantasy-windshirt though–you wear it in a pouch around your waist and then can pull the backless windshirt onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. Whether you’re ultramaronther, speed hiker, or just hiking through a climate that changes really quickly like the Colorado Rockies or the Sierras, it seems like the Stash Jack can solve an old backpacking problem. Best yet, the pricing is better than the popular with thru-hikers Patagonoia Houdini.
2.4 oz quick dry t-shirts
I’m impressed by the thought that has gone into designing the super light weight, super quick drying new Altra Performance Tee shirts. First, the zoned mesh fabric breathes really well and keeps you cool even when you’re, say, traversing the exposed Wasatch range in 90 degree weather.
Second, I haven’t found a hiking shirt with a good sleeve design since Patagonia discontinued the cap-shoulder sleeve. I prefer to hike in tank tops because I like the air flowing to my armpits–but I know especially as I get older, I need to have sun protection on my shoulders. The mesh sleeves on the Performance T’s breathes very well and are cut so my armpit can still get flow. Thank you!!!
Third, the fabric dries really quickly–like potentially faster that Patagonia Capilene quickly. This is helpful for if you get caught in a rain storm, or have been sweating in the heat and have to stop hiking (because a wet shirt will maintain evaporative cooling against your skin making you feel colder than just the outside temps). It’s also useful for when you want to wash your shirt on trail.
Fourth–the shirt has welded seams and hems meaning that the chances of weird rubbing or chaffing going on are seriously reduced. Many hikers found that they get chaffing around the area of their pack straps and salt and dirt rub against the seam to create a really painful shoulder. The welded seams could potentially fix this. My only concern is the durability of welded construction vs. sewn hems over the course of a long hike, since I haven’t seen many clothing companies do this. I didn’t notice problems when I wore the tank top on the 200 mile Seattle urban thru, though.
Lastly, these Altra shirts–unlike MANY other outdoor t-shirts for women–manage to fit well, look good, and aren’t dumpy. Call me vain, but I feel like I hike stronger when I look better. I really like the pink and green, but found the neon yellow to collect trail dirt quickly. That being said, I’m still glad that I had a neon yellow shirt for when I hiked the Wasatch Range–there were some roadwalking sections where being visible was really important (and I imagine if you’re a road-runner, you appreciate it, too).
The Performance Tank has the same awesome advantages of zoned mesh, super fast drying, and breathability as the Performance Tee. But–it has three sweet advantages over other performance tank tops out there. 1) Length—FINALLY–a tank top that won’t ride up with my pack on. I have a long torso and with this tank, I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll lose heat from an exposed hiker belly. When it’s super cold and I’m wearing it as a baselayer, I can tuck it in and it doesn’t pop out of my pants or skirt.
2) Weight—As an avowed ultralight backpacker, I thought I would NEVER say this–but if a shirt only weighs 1.95 oz, I can actually afford to carry an EXTRA SHIRT. When I backpack, I don’t even carry extra sleep clothes/town clothes because it weighs too much. I’m essentially a gross, dirty, mess. But, this shirt weighs as much as a pair of socks. That’s light enough that I would actually think about it.
3) Tummy hider–I usually start my thru-hikes heavier than I wish I was, as friends have pointed out about my starting terminus photos. The design on this tank is not form fitting around the midsection, which means that my hiker belly doesn’t show *quite* as much.
Altra also released performance bottoms including racing shorts and a performance skirt. I haven’t tried them yet (my butt wouldn’t fit into sample size) so can’t testify to their features–but they do weigh 3.6 and 2.6 oz, respectively!
As far as sizing goes, I’m 5 feet 7.5 inch and 145 pounds and fit the medium top and have been told by other ambassadors with similar dimensions that the medium is the way to go for bottoms, too.
The pricing errs definitely reflects an audience targeted at runners–that is, folks who have full time jobs who can afford to buy the best, lightest gear for their races that will make them run faster and perform better. We thru-hikers tend to not always have that kind of financial luxury and t-shirts and tank-tops are one spot where we can afford to skimp a little. But if you care about keeping every ounce in your pack as light as possible and can afford it, the only other apparel company I can think of making tops this light is Montbell.