This is the best damn season—and not just because my skiing-obsessed self can already smell the first snowfall on the horizon. Autumn is really where smart gear shines, and where bad gear can really fail you (especially if you end up soaking wet on top of some mountain). These picks are some of the coolest stuff that’s come across my radar for the variable conditions that define this season, with the hope that may will offer an easy transition into winter.
Chaval Brasil, CC BY-NC-ND
1. Thursday Captain Boot, $199; 2. Cotopaxi Libre Sweater, $99; 3. Ibex Wool Denim, $300; 4. Darn Tough Haselton Hiker Micro Crew, $20; 5. Kitsbow Woman’s SS Jacket, $269; 6. Mountain Hardwear 32 Degree Insulated Hooded Jacket, $130; 7. Kuhl Alessadra Tunic Sweater, $99.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Thursday Captain Boot
New York-based Thursday Boot Company uses the kind of materials to make products that will fill your closet with the earthy, intoxicating scent of high-end leather. And the hand-crafted boots also deliver on quality, with a full glove leather internal lining, flat wax laces, and a cork-bed midsole. Esquire loves the wing tip models, but the Captain looks a bit more subdued, sophisticated, and slim-profiled, with a minimal cap-toe design and a height that'll help navigate a water-soaked side street. Be sure to size down a half or full size; they fit more akin to dress shoes than athletic footwear. Thursday will also introduce women designs later this season—stay tuned!
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Cotopaxi Libre Sweater
Recently launched on Kickstarter—and already surpassing its goal—the Libre sweater uses llama fiber sourced from Bolivia to create a sweater that's soft and insulating, with raglan sleeves and a midweight knit on the front panel and arms. The design is decidedly retro, but the new new fabric won't carry body odors and should last a dozen seasons; a colleague has been wearing it almost daily while climbing in Chamonix, so it'll definitely hold up to your usual daily/monthly/yearly abuse.
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Ibex Wool Denim
The headline for this jean is its fabric, a mixture of high-quality merino (60%) with cotton denim that Ibex sourced from a Japanese mill. Then they passed it off to Noble Denim—one of the country's premier denim-makers—to hand-craft these limited-edition jeans. And the fabric is great, soft to the touch like a flannel shirt, with the comfort and style of denim and all the performance characteristics of merino wool. But wear a pair and you'll notice the little details just as much. The copper rivets; the Amish-branded Wickett & Craig leather patch; the mid-rise, modern classic fit; the integration of plaid fabric at the fly—all of it designed to weather wonderfully with age. Just be sure to size up. While Ibex says the pants fit "true to size" they also recommend you go at least two sizes up, and that it should fit tight until they stretch out.
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Vermont-based Darn Tough may call these hiking socks, but they're also killer travel socks, a smart blend of merino, nylon, and Spandex that offer hours of uninterrupted comfort. The charcoal colorway (pictured) also captures a bit of that old school ski sweater aesthetic. Even though they're dubbed all-weather, the thickness is a bit much for summer. For fall? Perfection. Women, go for the Aztec Micro, a lighter-cushioned lower-calf model with the same mix of high-performance fabrics. Perhaps best of all, Darn Tough will replace any pair that fails for any reason, no questions asked.
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Kitsbow Woman's SS Jacket
This jacket might have been designed for cyclists, but even a cursory glance at its sleek, flattering profile may raise eyebrows on the most bike-averse. Made of Polartec Power Shield soft shell fabric, it stretches and breathes well while still protecting you from the elements thanks to a DWR finish. Inside, fleece keeps you warm, and a cache of zippered pockets (at the hands, one at the center back panel) offers plenty of storage options. And when things really start to heat up on the uphill, their signature ventilation lets you dump heat, all the way from the hem to the arms.
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Mountain Hardwear 32 Degree Insulated Hooded Jacket
This jacket was designed as a mid-layer—and it'll perform admirably as such, especially during the cold days of winter. But the 32 Degree also lives nicely in the variable climate of fall, with its crisp morning, brisk autumn winds, and cold nights. The body-mapped insulation resting at the chest and upper arms uses Thermal.Q Elite, which mimics the rigid stem structure of goose down. Stretch fleece lives everywhere else—including the hood. Reflective elements sit at the seam, and the hand pockets have zips.
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Kuhl Alessadra Tunic Sweater
This stylish dress utilizes a variety of fabrics—cotton, merino wool, nylon, acrylic, and alpaca—to create something with understated, stylish sophistication that feels soft against the skin and can shrug off cool weather. The scoop neck and raglan sleeves reinforce the simple aesthetic, especially when paired with tights or slim pants and that new pair of boots you've been eyeing.