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.

Backpacking in Big Bend, wearing my Duckworth wool baselayer

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.

Allen Edmonds Acheson

As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, my feet are different sizes (8E on the left and 9.5D on the right), the result of corrective action during childhood to correct a club foot.

As a consequence, loafers have long been out of reach. Any pair that fits the right foot will be too voluminous for the left.

In my middle age, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the resources, if not to pursue bespoke shoes, at least to contract made to order versions from various makers. Allen Edmonds, Oak Street Bootmakers and Rancourt have all graciously made me a pair of shoes, with the proper fit for each foot, assessing only a modest surcharge–far less than the cost of procuring two pair at retail.

Alas, Alden. They flat out refuse to play ball. With a cavalier brusqueness that is galling, they decline the opportunity to help customers in situations similar to mine get the right shoe for each foot. The only option is to purchase two pair (at double the cost), running the cost of a pair of non-bepspoke loafers up to $1,000, too dear a sum for yours truly.

Normally, I would let this slide. But Alden’s tassel loafer, American made that it is, has long been considered the ur-tassel.

So I have sulked and I have sulked.

Until this past December, when an elegant solution manifested itself.

While in New Orleans, between bouts of drinking to lamentable excess, I ventured into the Allen Edmonds store. There, I encountered a version of the tassel loafer I had not seen before: the Acheson. I knew of the Grayson, Allen Edmonds’ previous iteration of the tassel loafer. This newer version was a notch above, with a lower vamp that gave it a rakish, louche quality.

In fact, it was every bit the aesthetic equal of Alden’s version. With a sale to tempt me, I ordered a pair in dark olive suede and only had to pay a modest $40 surcharge to have the factory make them for me. About four weeks later, they appeared on my doorstep.

I’ve already deployed them twice–sockless, of course, given the virtual absence of winter weather in these precincts. And they are a true joy to wear, with a perfect fit and impeccable styling, filling one of the few remaining voids in my wardrobe.

Manready Mercantile/Richer Poorer Socks

Those of you who are regular visitors to this little corner of cyberspace know of my affection for Houston’s Manready Mercantile.

Travis and company are as fine a collection of individuals as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I never fail to walk out of Manready with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step, rejuvenated by the solace that their are such wonderful places and such wonderful people in the world.

This past Saturday was no exception.

I visited Manready to pick up a bottle of one of the Bravado hot sauces. Bravado is a Houston maker of various idiosyncratic sauces; one of their products was recently added to the hot sauce lineup on First We Feast’s Hot Ones YouTube show.

Browsing around, a pair of socks caught my eye. Their color scheme and pattern were eerily reminiscent of the L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater. That classic navy and white combination always elicits a Pavlovian response in me, reminding me of the treasured Bean sweater I received as a Christmas gift in 1981.

I quickly discovered that the socks are a collaboration between Manready and Richer Poorer. The toes are emblazoned with Manready’s motto: “Work hard. Live well.”

Manready is primarily a retailer of American made goods, although Travis got his start making candles, which remain part of Manready’s product line to this day. But, through collaborations with the likes of American Trench, Brooklyn Circus, Ebbets Field Flannels, Knickerbocker Manufacturing and Richer Poorer, Manready has dipped its toe into the process of bringing interesting new goods to market.

Naturally, I picked up a pair of the socks. The next day, they received their first wearing. And such a joy it was to put them on. They’re made principally of a sturdy cotton and, being navy, they’re  a perfect addition to many varieties of outfit.

Claire Drennan

From time to time, I do a search on Instagram, looking for things that are made in certain U.S. states and cities. One such search, #madeinhouston, yielded some promising results.

I came across a series of scarves and toboggans, made in Houston by an enterprise known as Claire Drennan.

I remember being instantly captivated by her offerings. This was the stuff of pure whimsy, beautifully colored and textured knitwear that seemed as if it would be a perfect addition to a classic wardrobe.

I soon learned that Claire Drennan is the brainchild of one Claire Drennan Jarvis. She spent much of her 20s in South America, where she developed an affection for “the thick, hand spun sheep’s wool from the south and the luxurious and delicate alpaca yarns from the north.”

“I didn’t know how to knit or sew very well at the time,” Claire says, “so I worked with a friend’s mother to create beautiful custom sweaters for my own closet. Back in the states, I took knitting 101 at the Rhode Island School Design and fell in love with the Japanese punch card knitting machines that were produced in the 1970’s. I’ve been honing my skills ever since, learning their tremendous capabilities and innovating around their limitations.”

Her enterprise has only been a going concern since late last year.

She places an emphasis on slow, sustainable fashion, with a process that produces zero waste. “Slow fashion is a tough business model to crack,” she says. “People don’t realize that only a small percentage of the price of an item they buy at retail is allotted for materials and labor. Each piece I make has many hours or research and development, where both design and production are considered.”

In her own words: “The challenge is to make smart, elegant designs that can be produced efficiently and consistently.”

I purchased one of Claire’s scarves at the Launch pop-up in Houston. Sadly, Claire wasn’t there at the time.

Claire’s wares at the Launch popup

The scarf, made of a luxurious double knit merino wool, takes, under optimal conditions, about four hours to produce. A small glitch can add to that total.

“The beauty of this particular design is that the front and back are different, with stripes on ones side and circles on the other,” Claire says. “Not only this, but the center of the scarf is the inverse of the same design! This effect is achieved through the use of a very old computer that uses no electricity and reads punch cards. A knitting machine is like a 3-D printer, making layer after layer. Each row of knitting represents an instance when I manually moved the knitting carriage across a bed of latch-hook needles, changing colors as needed to create the desired effect.”

Claire’s first collection, called “carrots,” has an interesting aesthetic genesis, inspired by a children’s book her family used to read. “The book features animals snuggled in their homes against a snowy landscape,” she says. “I was inspired by the soft, warm color palette and the idea of little bubbles of warmth.”

I can’t say enough good things about this scarf. It is exceptional in every way.

Battenwear Camp Shirt

Battenwear’s New York made camp shirt hearkens back to a time when even outdoor pursuits were undertaken with a certain panache. It looks like something you might have found in an L.L. Bean catalogue during the company’s heyday.

Made of a soft cotton flannel, the shirt features two front breast pockets with a smaller pocket on the bottom left. But something else entirely–a pair of raglan sleeves–sets it apart. Typically, raglan sleeves are found on overcoats, so their appearance on a shirt is both unexpected and refreshingly iconoclastic.

But, for yours truly, raglan sleeves also have a practical dimension. One of my shoulders slopes a little more than the other, making it impossible to get a perfect fit in off the rack shirts. Sometimes the difference is minimal; raglan sleeves, set at the neckline, avoid those slight differences in fit at the shoulder seam.

I acquired my shirt on something of a whim. As you may recall, I was in the market for a parka, and Battenwear’s Travel Shell Parka fit the bill perfectly. I purchased one before visiting Battenwear’s Bivouac retail store, and I really hadn’t planned on buying anything during my visit.

But when the Battenwear folks showed me the shirt and I tried it on, I was hooked. It is an exceptional shirt in every way–with an aforementioned design that is so well thought out. It reminds me why American made goods are some of the most innovative (while remaining true to the precepts of classic dress) on the market today.

Fine and Dandy Shop

The American musician Scott Miller once wrote, “I’m not above cliches tonight.” So, dear readers, forgive this small incursion into the realm of the hackneyed and shopworn.

Sifting through the wares in New York’s Fine and Dandy Shop, I was like a kid in a candy store.

There is not a single thing for sale in the Fine and Dandy Shop that would not appeal to the well-dressed man. The shop has a commitment to the kind of old fashioned, independent haberdashery you see all too infrequently in these times of rampant, multinational consolidation.

Fine and Dandy traces its origins back to 2008, when it emerged as an online vendor; as it grew, it  organized popups around the New York area. By 2013, the enterprise had taken brick-and-mortar roots.

I had the opportunity, during my visit to New York last November, to visit the Fine and Dandy Shop.

First, a small word of warning. The shop is not particularly easy to get to. It’s located on West 49th Street, in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the few areas in Manhattan underserved by the otherwise excellent subway system. I came up from Chelsea (after a visit to the Dia Foundation), intending to take the M11 bus up 10th Avenue. But the traffic was so thick that I got off the bus and hoofed it to the shop on foot. I beat the bus.

It’s worth the effort.

A paean to dandyism as high art, the Fine and Dandy Shop is, despite its modest dimensions, densely stocked with men’s furnishings of just about every stripe: suspenders, ties, socks, pocket squares, sock garters, cuff links, scarves and spats. Just about everything in the shop is American made, and most of that in New York City.

I purchased an ascot, a pair of suspenders, a pocket square and, rectifying a (literary omission), a copy Take Ivy. The ascot, pocket square and suspenders are all made in New York.

The ascot is fairly light, making it ideal for spring and summer wear, although I’ve already employed it in the unseasonably warm Southeast Texas winter.

The pocket square is a beautiful, muted plaid wool challis with blue edging.

A pink and cream cotton, the suspenders are will have to wait until spring and lighter colored suiting.

Rooster Cottonit Tie

Back in the heyday of the Ivy Style, the squared off knit tie was one of the essentials. It was formal enough to pass muster at events that called for a jacket and tie yet sufficiently causal to convey an easy-going, jaunty manner.

The early 1980s, with the renewed fascination for all things Prep, were a veritable renaissance for the squared off knit tie; I owned a few. And the ur-label was Rooster; at the peak of the tie’s renewed popularity, production of the ties was a 24/7 undertaking.

Since then, the Rooster style square knit tie has made occasional reappearances on the necks of stylish men. But sadly, there is no longer a maker of such ties in the United States. Even Brooks Brothers, which maintains an otherwise ironclad commitment to neckwear made in the USA, outsources its knit tie production.

This is why the vintage Rooster versions (made in the USA) are so prized by Ivy partisans.

A few days ago, I was sifting through the wares at a thrift store up in Houston, and I lucked into one of these, a navy Rooster Cottonit. A little internet sleuthing reveals that the trademark for the Cotonit name was issued to Rooster in 1979.

Filson Toboggan

We’ve written before on the venerable toboggan (aka the woolie cap), extolling its virtues for outdoor winter pursuits.

A few months ago, while roasting in the Southeast Texas summer, I ordered a Filson toboggan, an act of not insubstantial imagination. My current cold weather hiking cap is from SmartWool, and it’s more skullcap than toboggan, with scarcely enough fabric real estate to cover my ears. The Filson cap rectifies that deficiency.

During my trip to New York City last November, the cap received its first wearing, during a hike of Inwood Hill Park and a walk of the entire length of Manhanttan. I’m pleased to report that it performed its task with aplomb, keeping my noggin warm in the morning chill.

Filson maintains a fairly strong commitment to American manufacturing. This cap is among those items that continue to be made on these shores.

Battenwear Travel Shell Parka

This many years into adulthood, I have few holes in my wardrobe. Sufficient disposable income combined with a general parsimony in other areas of my life mean that most of my clothing needs have been satisfied, my wants fulfilled.

The one that remained was a good casual jacket for fall and winter–one that could offer at least a modest protection from the elements.

I considered a few options. The Dunoon Parka from Pierrepont Hicks caught my eye. But it wasn’t available in my size. Seattle’s Crescent Down Works seemed to have a few parkas, but those I could find online appeared also to be sold out.

In my searches, I third option emerged: the Travel Shell Parka from Battenwear. I can’t quite remember where I first heard about Battenwear. But I’m certainly glad I did.

Battenwear has been around since 2011. After a stint designing for Woolrich Woolen Mills, Shinya Hasegawa and his wife Carrie set out on their own to begin producing sportswear–classic pieces that are defined as much by function as they are by aesthetic.

Battenwear’s Shinya and Carrie Hasegawa

The first item in Battenwear’s collection was the Travel Shell Parka, and it remains the backbone of Battenwear’s collection.

It is, of course, manufactured in the United States, just a few blocks from Battenwear’s Garment District Headquarters, as are nearly all of Battenwear’s products.

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Battenwear during my visit to New York last month. Its brick and mortar shop is charmingly called the Bivouac Shop, a nod to the kind of outdoor activity that inspires much of the company’s product line.

I had originally planned to purchase one of the Travel Shell Parkas while I was there, but I was concerned that the size and color I wanted would be gone by the time I arrived. So I pulled the trigger in advance of my vacation.

Let me not mince words. It’s difficult to talk about this jacket without resorting to superlatives; if an everyday, midweight parka is on your wish list, I strongly recommend that you give this one serious consideration. Every detail (and there are many) has been exceptionally well thought out. Pockets abound, perfect for the urban explorer. And the construction appears rock solid. I can easily see this jacket lasting me well into my dotage.

One website characterized the jacket as “gear that’s as well-suited for the Appalachian Trail as it is for the streets of SoHo.”

As an avid outdoorsman, however, I have to take exception with that characterization. With its 60/40 cotton and nylon fabric, this is not the jacket you want on a serious hike. First, it’s a little too heavy for those of us immersed in the ultralight ethos. Second, its cotton composition makes it ill-suited for inclement weather in the backcountry. When wet, cotton simply does not insulate, which is why backpackers rely upon wool, polyester and nylon for warmth in rainy conditions.

This, however, is not to diminish the jacket’s charms. It’s only to suggest that the jacket is more ideally suited as an outer layer for  casual urban and country pursuits.

Over time, the Battenwear product line has expanded, and a number of items would have a welcome home in a traditional wardrobe. While at the Bivouac Shop, I purchased a navy flannel shirt with raglan sleeves; we’ll talk more about that particular item in a future post.

Criquet Shirts D-ring Belt

I’m not usually a fan of clothing emblazoned with corporate logos. But when the logo is this classic and distinctive and the company is one I willingly champion, how can I say no?

Many of you may remember my fondness for Criquet Shirts‘ American made polos and chamois shirts. I recently had the privilege of stopping by Criquet’s clubhouse after a conference in Austin. While there, I picked up one of their polos in burgundy and a D-ring belt with a recurring version of the company’s grassy C logo.

With the weather today creeping up into the low 70s, it was a perfect opportunity to give the belt its first wearing.