TRAIL TESTED

Favorite Hiking Apparel and Footwear for 2020

This was an uncertain year for testing new trail gear. Here in Oregon, we dealt with pandemic lockdowns, social justice riots, and raging wildfires. In between all that, we tried to hit the trail when and where we could, and sample some of the latest trail gear where we could get it. Here’s our rundown of some of our favorite hiking apparel and footwear from this year that you should consider adding to your own gear closet. 

Outdoor Research Chain Reaction Tops

When it came to keeping cool, dry and comfortable on trail this summer—no matter how warm the day, or strenuous the route—we loved OR’s Chain Reaction tops. The gals on our team especially liked the Chain Reaction TankConstructed of super-breathable, fast-drying, moisture-wicking polyester/spandex material, this lightweight top offered a relaxed fit for freedom of movement, while still being sporty and stylish with its high neck and racer back. Its ActiveFresh treatment was effective for putting in long days on hot stretches, without getting funky, so it was ready to go the next day … and the next. The guys on our team were just as impressed with the Chain Reaction Polo. This one was nice for putting in long days on trail, then going for an outdoor bite or drink without need for a change. $42–$59

Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Round Trip Hoody

In recent years, it seems that the mosquito season in Oregon has gone from bad to hellish. This past summer however, we braved the trails a little earlier to give Royal Robbins’ Bug Barrier apparel a try. One of our favorite pieces was the Bug Barrier Round Trip Hoody. This soft, longsleeve top is made of quick-drying, moisture-wicking Tencel fabric, and is treated with permethrin-based Insect Shield for repelling the biting buggers. We found its light weight and relaxed fit to be cool and breathable in warmer weather, and a nice extra layer for chilly evenings. Most importantly, it kept us safe from the pests so we could enjoy our time outdoors. Available in both men’s and women’s styles, the gals on our team liked it not only for its comfort and effectiveness, but also for its cute style and trail-to-town appeal. $95

Outdoor Research Trail Mix Smart Fleece

Dudes, who says soft and comfortable clothing is only for the ladies? With OR’s Trail Mix Snap Pullover, we just wanted to kick back in camp and snuggle ourselves. (Is that weird?) Described as “smart fleece,” this cozy insulation layer is constructed of thermo-regulating ActiveTemp polyester that provides exceptional warmth, while remaining light and breathable to avoid overheating. The pullover features a pass-thru hand pocket for keeping the digits toasty, and a snap-front collar for when it gets really chilly. There’s also a hoodie version that features a zip front, cinchable hood and hand pockets. We found the sizing to be a little on the slim side, so if you want a little breathing room, consider sizing up. And don’t worry ladies, there’s a Trail Mix hoodie and pullover for you, too! $89–$99

prAna Stretch Zion Shorts 

These may be our favorite hiking shorts—ever! Constructed of lightweight, stretchy, abrasion-resistant nylon/spandex material, prAna’s Stretch Zion Shorts provide full freedom of movement for staying cool and nimble while hiking, backpacking, scrambling or climbing. They feature front and back pockets, and a handy, dual-entry cargo pocket for phone, map or whatever essential you want in close reach. Plus, they have a ventilated gusset to prevent overheating your tenders. Oh, and they’re water-repellent, too. And they just look great—both on and off the trail—so no need to change when heading to your favorite watering hole after a great day outdoors. Sizing is pretty standard, with an adjustable waistband for precise fitting, and they’re available in 10-inch and 12-inch inseam lengths. $69

prAna Sky Canyon Jogger

For staying cool and comfy on trail, our lady testers loved these lightweight activewear pants. Constructed of prAna’s high-performance Stretch Zion fabric, the Sky Canyon Jogger features a slim and stylish design, with cropped ankles and knit cuffs. The stretchy nylon/spandex fabric provides exceptional flexibility and freedom of movement, whether maneuvering over rough terrain, taking on challenging pitches, or pulling off your best firefly pose at a summit viewpoint. For carrying convenience, they sport six pockets—two front, two rear and two side-zip cargo—for stashing all your personal essentials. The large rear pockets can easily accommodate larger smartphones, without risk of them falling out. Plus, they’re abrasion-resistant, quick-drying, and have a DWR finish. $89

Royal Robbins Active Traveler Pants

Because we hate being harassed by biting buggers—and because they were just so darn comfortable to hike in—we’re sharing another Royal Robbins Bug Barrier selection: Active Traveler Pants! These lightweight, breathable nylon/spandex pants wear true-to-size, and have a nice, comfortable fit. Their slim design and tapered legs provide a streamlined appearance, while still offering plenty of stretch for ease of movement. In addition to their Insect Shield treatment for keeping mosquitoes, ticks and no-see-ums away, they also have cinchable cuffs to keep any stray buggers from sneaking in underneath—a big benefit in tick country! They also feature six pockets, including a zip cargo pocket, and hidden back pocket that’s ideal for passports, cash and other important essentials. $100

Sierra Designs Tepona Wind Jacket 

Several years ago, one of our favorite pieces of layering apparel was Sierra Designs’ Cloud System. It included a warm puffy jacket, an ultralight rain shell, and an ultralight wind shell. It was designed to be interchangeable to be optimal in any backcountry weather situation. Sadly, we loved this rig so much we wore it out. But now we’re stoked to see that the wind shell element has been reincarnated as the new Tepona Wind Jacket. Constructed of 15D ripstop nylon, and weighing in at a mere 3.5 ounces, the Tepona is light and compact enough to be crammed into any pocket, then thrown on quickly over any shirt, fleece or sweater when the breeze picks up. Its longer length, elastic cuffs and adjustable hood help in keeping the wind from creeping in. Available in men’s and women’s styles. $90  

Mountain Hardwear – Exposure/2 PacLite Plus Jacket

Anytime we’re hiking in Oregon—or anywhere, for that matter—we’ll always have rain gear in our packs. This summer, we packed along Mountain Hardwear’s ridiculously lightweight (2.25 oz!) Exposure/2 Plus Jacket. Constructed of 2.5-layer Gore-Tex PACLITE Plus material (even lighter than previous PACLITE material), this seam-sealed rain shell admirably kept the wet on the outside, and kept us comfy and dry on the inside. It features an adjustable hood, two mesh hand pockets, and a small chest pocket. For stashing, it packs easily into either of its hand pockets. The Exposure/2’s fit is pretty relaxed, which allows for easy breathing, and plenty of room for layering up underneath when needed. The Exposure/2 is available in men’s and women’s sizes. $300

Mountain Hardwear Super/DS Stretchdown Hooded Jacket 

The Super/DS Stretchdown Hooded Jacket was a late addition to our trail wear closet this year, coming just in time for the cooler fall weather. This one was love at first wear. The Super/DS is constructed of a silky, nylon-blend material, with a sleek, stylish design and an attractive matte finish. Its warmth comes from responsibly-sourced, 700-fill Q.Shield goose down that’s woven into stitch-free baffles. The unique, stretchy shell has a trim fit, but expands nicely to accommodate layering up underneath without feeling constricted. In addition to the two hand pockets, the Super/DS features a small, zippered chest pocket (with headphone cord port), and a large internal stash pocket. It’s not the lightest or most compact down jacket we’ve worn, but is certainly one of the best looking and most comfortable. $275     

Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX 

We haven’t worn Merrell trail shoes in a long time, but when we got a pair of the new MQM Flex 2 GTX, we were quite pleased with our reacquaintance with this brand. The MQM Flex 2 was an out-of-the box comfy shoe that demonstrated great trail traction, with impressive support and admirable water repellency. From the top down, these hiker/runners feature a thermoplastic mesh upper for keeping feet light and breathable, and polyurethane toe caps for protecting the piggies from rocks and roots. Under the hood, they sport a Kinetic Fit insole for cradling the feet, a FLEXConnect EVA midsole for support, and Air Cushion heels for stability and shock absorption. All this combined—in addition to their Quantum Grip outsole—provided for impressive and agile maneuverability over varied terrain. $110 

Scarpa Maverick Mid GTX

We’ve had mixed results with Scarpa hiking boots over the years, often finding them too narrow for our feet. But with the Maverick Mid GTX, we may have finally found a Scarpa we can put some serious miles on. Out of the box, they went on easily, and we appreciated the roomy, reinforced toe box. At first hike, they felt a little clompy. But as we added up the miles, we felt them start to conform to our feet for smooth and comfy cruising. The Gore-Tex-lined mesh and leather upper allowed plenty of breathability for keeping things cool and dry. Where the Maverick Mids really shined was over rockier terrain. The combo of their light weight and exceptional traction—supported by an EVA midsole and HDR outsole—let us glide confidently and effortlessly over the rough stuff. Men’s and women’s available. $169    

Vasque Breeze AT GTX 

We’ve covered a lot of trail miles in Vasque’s Breeze hiking boots over the last few years, and have been quite pleased with them. This summer, we racked up some miles in Vasque’s newest Breeze AT GTX. This is the burlier big brother of earlier Breeze models. The Breeze AT sports a rugged Gore-Tex-lined leather upper, rigid toe and heel guards, and a high, padded ankle. Integrated mesh panels kept our feet ventilated when the days warmed up, or the miles went long, and the flexible ankle provided plenty of support over loose and uneven ground. They were quite stiff out of the gate, but after a few days they broke in nicely and we enjoyed our time tromping around Mt. Hood’s Timberline Trail in these. Sizing for the Breeze AT feels different than previous models, so try before you buy. $190   

Eli "Lounger" Boschetto

Eli "Lounger" Boschetto

Eli is the founder of PCT: Oregon, and the author of three Mountaineers Books guides: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon, Day Hiking: Mount Hood, and Urban Trails: Portland. He is also a brand ambassador for SPOT and National Geographic Maps, and is on the advisory council for the Oregon Trails Coalition. Eli lives in Portland, Oregon.

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These reviews are based on the field results of PCT: Oregon’s gear testing team. Reviews are subjective, and are based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, temperature, weather, elevation, and trail/camp conditions, as well as personal comfort and body function. Individual results may vary.
This post contains affiliate links. All purchases made through these links help support the costs and operations of PCT: Oregon. PCT: Oregon and its gear review staff are not associated with the featured gear brand(s). For more information on PCT: Oregon’s gear selections, reviews and affiliates, click here.
Main photo: Gear tester Mitzi setting up camp in the Outdoor Research Chain Reaction Tank and prAna Sky Canyon Jogger.

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