When I was 19 years old and first started working as a wilderness guide, I got to know a secret room in the back of the local outdoor store that was filled with severely discounted equipment that was only accessible to connoisseurs. I always ended up there on my days off – I enjoyed the feeling of being an insider, a feeling that I actually didn’t have in my management job (I was too young, too feminine, too not from there). I didn’t even shop, lingered, but the staff were kind enough to ignore me, which I appreciated.
In the secret room was a fleece that I tried on week after week. It was baby blue – not excusingly feminine, though I mostly wore men’s clothes at the time to be taken seriously – and it was the softest fleece I had ever touched, more like fog than cloth. It was exactly my size, but out of my budget, and every week I was afraid it would be gone. Eventually I saved my tip and bought it.
That was my favorite fleece for years. I carried it until it was full of holes. At that point, I was broken when I found out the model had been discontinued – until I learned that Mountain Hardwear had a whole range of batts made from the same material. I’ve tried several over the past decade and loved them all (they’ve gotten better too; the current fabric is a little less soft, I guess, but infinitely more durable than the original). When I saw the company launch matching PANTS this year, I immediately wrote to my editor asking for her blessing to review. That brings us to that hugely decadent gear review if you’re looking for clothing that’s more comfortable than a bathrobe, whether you’re backpacking the pandemic home route, working from home, revisiting The Crown, or all of the above.
Mountain Hardwear High Loft Pants ($ 150, XS-XL) and High Loft Sweaters ($ 75, XS-XL)
(Photo: Courtesy Mountain Hardwear)
Look: these pants are predictably fantastic. They pill a little on the inner waistband, but it’s pretty negligible, and the fleece itself is almost ridiculously plushy and warm. So far I’ve worn them under rain pants for mushing and as general cozy pants for the home, and for either purpose they’re the best I’ve tried, an instant layer of sheer goodness on your skin. And they still come second only to the matching sweater (although I would totally recommend both). But that’s Mountain Hardwear’s fault for setting the bar so high.
The sweater is my favorite piece of clothing in the world. It feels like you are carrying a bunch of sleeping pups, and the pups all dream of lambs. It’s equally soft on the inside and outside, it doesn’t get matted (which plush fabrics usually do), and it comes out of the washing machine and looks great. You can button up the (very soft) collar and put your hands in the (very soft) kangaroo pocket. I like the shape – loose but not too short or too long, with a cuff at the bottom and wrists, and a cut that helps camouflage the bralessness (if that’s your goal).
Mountain Hardwear has other fleeces in the high-loft line and I imagine they are very good although I haven’t tried them as it would require ingestion this off. The only downside is a limited size range: the largest size, XL, is a size 14-16 for women. However, I recommend changing the size for maximum comfort, which will make the area even smaller. If you are reading this, Mountain Hardwear, please expand the sizes of Her line of fuzzy clothes. I’ve been wearing them non-stop for a decade, and when they stop selling I’ll have to set up eBay Lifetime Notifications.
Buy pants buy sweaters
Kavu Cabin Toes Slipper Socks ($ 35. SL)
(Photo: Courtesy of Kavu)
These slipper socks have a hidden inner layer of super plush fleece, perfect for anyone with cool feet or people who, like me, always make their slippers gross when wearing them outside and need something else to lounge about. The socks are large, so if in doubt they can be smaller, although an elastic drawstring around the ankle holds them nicely even when they are loose. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend wearing them in boots. the gag would rub. My husband stole it from me almost immediately and carries it around the house every day, but I plan to steal it back to carry in my sleeping bag for snow camping.
Patagonia Recycled Cashmere Cardigan ($ 249, XS-XL)
(Photo: Courtesy Patagonia)
It seems negligent to talk about soft clothes without cashmere, which has a pretty extraordinary résumé: like wool, it insulates when wet, but is eight times warmer and much softer. Cashmere can be quite delicate (and expensive), which is why it probably wasn’t stripped out as an outdoor fabric. But if you are looking for something luxurious for gentle use, this cardigan is a great option. It is made from materials that would otherwise be wasted – cashmere waste that is sorted by color, shredded, and mixed with a small amount of wool for strength. I like how dainty the cardigan itself is, with an open knit that’s surprisingly warm and how light it is.
DIY Recycled Cashmere Leggings (about $ 10, each size)
(Photo: Blair Braverman)
If you are looking to use recycled cashmere on a smaller budget, here is a project I have done in various roles since I was a teenager. First you need an old cashmere sweater, basically any size, color, shape, whatever. It doesn’t matter whether it was felted or not (although felted fabric will get thicker and warmer). I have found a ton of used cashmere in the $ 5 to $ 10 range at thrift stores and online and I usually grab them to wear or use for other purposes. If you find a sweater that fits you well but you don’t like the way it looks, try wearing it as a base layer – it takes an extremely cozy season before you wear it thin. At this point you can start the upcycle.
The process is simple: cut out a rectangle (or two rectangles) and sew the sides into a tube, either by hand or with a machine. You don’t have to border the edges. If the cord is not very loose, the fabric will pucker but not fray. And that’s it! The softest gaiter ever in about ten minutes of work.
If you have extra fabric, you can use it for wrist warmers (sizes vary but if in doubt, sew tubing with 4 inch diameter openings), headbands (just measure your head), or even insoles (glue / sew a layer off) use cashmere on existing foam or felt inserts). Voila: You win the winter.
Main photo: Blair Braverman