I review a lot of feathery-light outdoor kit in my job. It’s great for moving fast but isn’t super durable. To find out what’s on the other end of the spectrum, I called a list of people—from ski patrollers to firefighters to and trail builders—who thrash their gear on a regular basis. Here are their most durable picks.
CLC Work Gear Riveted Easy-Swivel Cap Knee Pads ($29)
Justin Bobb, a ski patroller at Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico, spends a lot of time kneeling while tending to skiers on the hill, so he always wears knee pads, which help with insulation. He also wears them in case he hits a rock—Bobb has seen several skiers shatter their kneecaps. “It definitely helps with a psychological sense of well-being,” he says. Several outdoor companies—including Black Diamond and Arc’teryx—make knee pads, but Bobb bought his at a hardware store eight years ago and says they’ve worked just fine for skiing in winter and caving in summer.
Minus33 Zion Men’s Lightweight Wool Boxer ($33)
Nathan Lewis, a former wildland firefighter with the Pleasant Valley Hotshots and Prineville Hotshots out of Oregon, went commando during his first six seasons. But one day, he was cutting a burning snag that heated the zipper of his pants and…I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, Lewis wore underwear from then on. His pair of choice were from Minus33. He liked the cut, they provided one more barrier against the heat, and they’re made from merino wool that won’t melt when it gets hot, unlike synthetic boxers, which are a big no-no on fire lines.
Dickies Original 874 Work Pants ($30)
Charlie Ebbers, currently a fellow at Outside, spends his summers as a maintenance worker on the trail crew in Glacier National Park. He’s constantly clearing jungle-like brush and working through variable weather that can swing from clear and hot to snowing in a few hours. To protect his legs, Ebbers relies on Dickies Original 874 Work Pants. He’s gone through only four pairs in seven seasons, unlike some competing brands that wear out in months. Ebbers also likes this style because they’re 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton, so they dry faster when things get wet. The pants are not exceptionally warm, which is a good thing in summer. When the weather turns cold, Ebbers wears a base layer underneath.
Loki Mountain Hoodie Extreme ($150)
Cole Humphrey is a forester and wildlife technician for the Michigan California Timber Company in Yreka, California. He’s worked out in the forest in the same Loki Mountain Hoodie (now called the Mountain Hoodie Extreme) for the past eight years. “It’s a relatively good rain jacket, good windbreaker, and I love the built-in mittens and the face shield. When I’m driving around on a four-wheeler, it gets really windy, and it’s nice to hide in there,” Humphrey says. He melted two holes into the shoulder of the synthetic jacket while maintaining a burn pile this fall, but he’s still used it all winter. “It’s just good, durable, workwear,” he says.
Danner Mountain Light II Boots ($380)
Walt Wagner owns Tactical Application Vehicles, a New Mexico–based shop that builds high-performance overland vehicles. He also teaches off-road driving and vehicle-recovery classes to overland drivers. While instructing (which he does everywhere from North Carolina to Arkansas to Utah), Wagner’s usually wearing these Danner boots. They have a thick, one-piece leather upper that won’t tear as he’s climbing over rocks or through thorny trees and bushes. He also likes the aggressive Vibram sole that makes short work of kitty-litter rocks and slippery mud. When things get cold, Wagner likes being able to loosen the boots all the way to the toe so he can slip on a thick wool sock.