There was a time when functionality and fashion were mutually exclusive. If you wanted to wear the latest cutting-edge clothes, you had to resign yourself to being uncomfortable. That all changed when the so-called gorpcore trend first took off. Now, the line that separates uber-practical, performance-based apparel and high-end fashion is thinner than mountain air, and you’re just as likely to see functional, outdoorsy pieces on the Fashion Week front row as you are at a Lake District campsite.
It’s good news from a practical perspective. By incorporating a few key function-meets-fashion items into your rotation you can increase comfort and elevate your style game in one fell swoop. But what are these wonder garments? And how can you weave them into your wardrobe without going full Bear Grylls cosplay?
There are a number of standout pieces that balance style and practicality seamlessly. From comfortable cargo pants to trendy trail runners, here are eight that fit the bill.
Fleece jackets have long been popular mid and outer layers in the world of outdoor pursuits. They trap body heat exceptionally well while also being stretchy, comfortable and reasonably lightweight. From a style standpoint, they look great too. Deep-pile fleece has a unique and heavy texture to it that can bring another dimension to autumn and winter outfits.
Patagonia is probably the best known name in the game. The brand’s Deep Pile and Synchilla fleeces have been outdoorsy icons for many decades, and they’re still alive today in various forms, like the Retro-X fleece, which is an updated take on the original Deep Pile fleeces of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Having a few extra pockets is always handy, regardless of whether you’re an intrepid outdoorsman or busy urban dweller. Cargo pants can provide you with exactly that, all while giving your bottom half an extra dose of visual detail.
The trick to pulling them off without looking like a birdwatcher is all in the styling. Avoid leaning too far into earthy colours and instead go for contrast. Check out Engineered Garments for quirky takes on classic military and outdoorsy cargo silhouettes or Brunello Cucinelli for a premium Italian-made twist.
Trail running shoes are designed for backcountry athletes who prefer tearing up woodland singletrack to pounding pavements. Brands like Salomon, Hoka One One and New Balance have been catering to this crowd for decades, but in recent years their designs have been co-opted by the fashion pack.
Trail runners rode the wave of the ugly sneaker trend that dominated the tail end of the 2010s, offering an antidote to the whitewashed leather minimalism that had been ubiquitous for the best part of the decade.
The shoe that best encapsulates the trend is probably Salomon’s XT-6, which is sporty yet stylish and has been reworked by everyone from And Wander to Palace.
Both technical hiking boots and traditional leather hikers can slot right into your everyday wardrobe provided they’re styled right. The latter are arguably easier to pull off as they’ll go with more, but technical hikers made from performance materials can still look good when worn alongside other outdoorsy pieces like cargos and technical outerwear.
For classic hiking boots, check out brands like Danner and Paraboot, and for performance hikers, look to the likes of ROA, La Sportiva and Diemme.
Shell jackets are designed to deflect wind and rain. They’re typically made from a waterproof fabric like Gore-Tex and have long been essential items for outdoor enthusiasts and athletes who use them either as standalone outer layers or as part of a layering system in cold weather.
More recently, they’ve been hijacked by the fashion crowd. Waterproof jackets from brands like Arc’teryx have become hot-ticket items that you’re now just as likely to encounter while browsing Ssense or Mr Porter as you are while walking past the window of your local outdoors shop.
These tough twill trousers have been enjoying renewed interest of late, but not from their intended audience. They’re designed for life in the workshop or on the job site, but their comfortable cut, versatility and utilitarian looks have made them popular among fashion-savvy shoppers as well as tradespeople.
Typically cut straight and fairly loose, with multiple pockets to the legs and sometimes a hammer loop, some styles, such as Carhartt’s iconic Double Knee Pants, go as far as to have reinforced panels in high-wear areas.
The puffer jacket is one of the most practical pieces of outerwear there is, and it just so happens to look great too. From a performance perspective, it packs down small and offers unparalleled warmth for its weight. This has made it a popular choice for outdoor pursuits as it can be stuffed into a backpack without taking up much room.
Check out The North Face’s iconic Nuptse jacket for one of the best in the business.
The gilet is another layering piece that’s strength lies in its versatility. It can be thrown over a T-shirt or shirt in cool weather to keep the core warm and underarms ventilated, or it can be worn together with more substantial outerwear as another barrier against extreme cold.
It’s also surprisingly versatile in terms of how it can be styled. It works well as part of heavily layered winter outfits, and provided you opt for one in a relatively subtle colour, it’ll go with just about anything.
Stretchy, comfortable and lightweight, hiking pants are designed to offer maximum range of motion for striding up hills, but they make a great alternative to sweatpants or cargos too.
They usually come in plain, neutral colours that are easy to style and they go great with everyday staples like sneakers, T-shirts and hoodies.