There are few joys in life more profound, in my estimation, than putting on a backpack, lacing up some hiking shoes and hitting the trail. Nature refines us. It serves as a palliative from the sometimes onerous demands of modern life. It rights our moral compass. And resurrects in us something primal and ancient.
Backpacking has long been one of my passions. And while I strive for a minimalist approach to the enterprise, gear is still important. Good gear is the difference between comfort and suffering. Between frustration and an unburdened mind. And sometimes between safety and death.
A good baselayer is among the most important of all items for the backcounty. As its name suggests, it is the layer closest to the skin. Some versions are made of a wicking polyester. While they’re lightweight, they have a universal propensity to begin stinking after less than a day of hiking exertion.
Wool, on the other hand, has natural antimicrobial qualities; after a few days of wearing it, you won’t funk up the jungle. In its merino and rambouillet iterations, it’s also remarkably soft, making it perfect for multiday backpacking excursions.
I recently had occasion to purchase a baselayer from Duckworth, a Montana based company that manufactures a variety of products from the wool of rambouillet sheep. Duckworth’s enterprise is a remarkable exercise in vertical integration. In Duckworth’s own words: “We make our own goods from our own Helle Rambouillet merino, we don’t source them. This is increasingly important as wool now travels farther than ever before it meets your body.”
My initial impression of the shirt–worn during a backpacking trip in Big Bend National Park–is very positive. The shirt is snug without being skin tight. It has a quarter zip for ventilation when temperatures start to soar. And the wool is luxurious next to the skin.
Time will tell how well the shirt holds up, although it’s already survived one washing with no shrinkage.