An ultrarunners journey to discover her ideal layer
Do you know how to get a butterfly to land on you? Don’t try to get it to land on you. Simply do your thing humbly and with an open heart, and one may grace your presence. Appalachian Gear Company’s alpaca performance technical clothing is the brightest butterfly that has “landed on me” in the last 20 years. A mere two and a half years ago, we started our relationship on Instagram when I volunteered to test the handiwork of two dedicated textile engineers who claimed to have harnessed the lightweight thermoregulating super fiber known as alpaca fiber. Though I grew up with sheep’s wool, I had no idea about what the Incan Indians called “God’s fiber”.
At the time I became interested in Appalachian Gear Company’s alpaca tops, I had put in two years of high-volume run training, mostly self-supported trail running vertically to remote wilderness ridges, lakes, and most often peaks. I trained solo day in and day out despite any inclement weather. As a sales specialist in the running and outdoor industry, I had access to top-of-the-line brands and their proprietary fabrics, but I grew frustrated with the failure of the fabrics over long days on my feet moving up 1,000’s of feet with variable weather conditions. I’ve only ever been a really hard-working athlete, not an elite or famous one, but I was wearing the world’s best and they didn’t feel sufficient for my mountain training. As my feet left the trail, with 8,000 feet accumulated gain/loss behind me and 28 miles under my hydration belt, I often wondered if I just didn’t have my layers right. I had tried it all, and determined that there was a lot of good, but I wanted to find the great.
What happened on that mid-October, shoulder season, gear-testing day changed my way of being in the mountains forever. Instead of bringing four layers, including a lightweight merino baselayer, windstopper base layer, insulating synthetic midlayer, waterproof shell, and back-up water-repellant stash jacket, all I wore was the 100% alpaca t-shirt and 100% alpaca hoodie with the stash jacket stowed in my hydration vest. Snow and ice covered the lower trail, and I encountered all weather, including snow and rain, as I made my way 3,400 feet up through the Valley of Heaven to the Lake of the Angels in Olympic National Forest covered in material that is so light I felt like I was wearing a baby blanket made of clouds.
When I arrived at the lake, I was greeted by two hikers who had to route find up to the lake. The first thing they asked me was “Is that all you’re wearing?”. Can you imagine 105-pound long-limbed me only wearing capri tights, an alpaca hoodie, gloves, a trucker cap, crew socks and trail gaiters, and my 12L hydration vest in sub-freezing weather? My new friends looked ready to summit Everest that day. We gnoshed on some trail food together while I told them about how well the alpaca garments work WITH me, never feeling cold no matter how damp. I showed how moisture beads off of the feather-light alpaca fiber, how well-fitted the arms are, how the hood accommodates any manner of hat or helmet, and the unique seams.
As I ran through the shifting elements through subalpine and then alpine mountain regions back down to the trailhead, I had a smile that is usually reserved for when I summit volcanoes. I knew that day that I had a new wardrobe for life, and as I leapt over roots on the trail, I made a promise to myself to only wear what makes natural sense for my mountain movement. Alpaca is engineered by nature for incredible temperature ranges, and alpaca’s hollow fiber doesn’t wick as much as it facilitates evaporation of moisture. On that October shoulder season day, I discovered the clothing that matches my personal way of being with nature. It’s my hope that endurance athletes, especially mountain athletes, discover the power of 100% alpaca, which is only being made by world class engineers at Appalachian Gear Company.