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Evolution of Mountain Clothing

June 19, 2016
By Naomi Witherick

Hiking, climbing and horseback riding in the Canadian Rockies in 1900 looked very different from today. Bulky apparel has evolved and become more practical. Here, we compare historic styles to modern adventure-savvy wear.

Ernst Feuz & Georgia Engelhard on Mt. Victoria, Banff National Park, 1931. Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum.

Ernst Feuz & Georgia Engelhard on Mt. Victoria, Banff National Park, 1931. Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum.

Hiking – Then
Mountain forays 125 years ago established steadfast ideas of what tourists and their Swiss Guides should wear on the trails. Wool was all the rage. Mountaineers appreciated its ability to insulate even when wet.

“Men will be most comfortable in a medium weight knickerbocker suit with closely woven tweed,” stated the 1923 brochure What to Wear in the Canadian Pacific Rockies. Women were expected to wear dresses, though some discarded decorum and opted for loose-fit pants. Oiled canvas parkas offered protection from rain and wooden walking poles aided balance on steep slopes.

Hiking – Now
Wool is still a reliable choice, but it has evolved to be more stylish and practical (and it smells fresher!). Try an Ibex crew or zip Merino wool baselayer top from Totem Jasper.

Columbia OutDry Extreme Rain Jacket

Columbia OutDry Extreme Jacket

Breathable synthetic materials include The North Face’s FlashDry temperature regulating fabric; find it in the Reactor Hoodie. Columbia’s OutDry Extreme is the first breathable fabric with an outside waterproof layer for extra rain protection; see these jackets at On-Line Sport Jasper. Patagonia Banff carries Quandary Pants with UPF 40 fabric that provides superior sun screening.

Oboz Bridger Boots

Oboz Bridger Boots

Hiking boots like the Oboz Bridger from Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise have waterproof membranes too, and a mid-cut height ideal for day hikes. Leki trekking poles from Edge Control Jasper keep you stable.

Climbing – Then
While climbing in 1900, men wore wool shirts and waistcoats; women wore blouses. Gear was so heavy it often took many packers to haul it up the mountain.

“The accomplishments of the early mountaineers are remarkable, given the coarse wool clothing, hemp ropes, steel head ice axes and hob-nailed boots that could weigh two kilograms a pair,” says Anne Ewen, curator of art and heritage at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Climbing – Now
Nowadays, climbing is about non-restrictive clothing. Go lightweight with Helly Hansen’s VTR Tech quick-dry t-shirt with mesh back. Add a waterproof and breathable Odin Moon Light jacket with ventilation features.

 

Helly Hansen’s VTR Tech T-shirt

Helly Hansen’s VTR Tech T-shirt

Stretchy Arc’teryx Psiphon SL pants from Gravity Gear in Jasper are ergonomically built to complement motion. At Canmore’s Valhalla Pure get light but durable gear like La Sportiva Miura shoes, Petzl Adjama harnesses and Patagonia’s nylon Ascentionist pack.

La Sportiva Climbing Shoes

La Sportiva Climbing Shoes

Horseback Riding – Then
“Horseback riders at the turn of the 20th Century were influenced by American western styles,” says Robert Montgomery, sales agent at Banff’s Trail Rider Store. “Though designed for plains cowboys, these garments were also practical for mountain terrain.”

Pants were made from hemp, brimmed fur felt hats shielded eyes and leather chaps prevented cuts from shrubs. Higher heels were added to American Civil War style boots; extra stitching added structure and durability.

Horseback Riding – Now
Western culture has kept the old cowboy image alive. Hemp may have been replaced by more fashion-orientated denim, but many horse riders still favour styles of yesteryear.

Stetson Cowboy Hat

Stetson Cowboy Hat

Get the look at Canmore’s Wild Goose Trading, which carries shirts like Woolrich Buffalo flannel and Pemberton wool. Find Mavi Zach and AG Beau jeans at Mountain Air in Jasper. Finish with Boulet cowboy boots, Outback oilskin outerwear and a classic Stetson hat with a cattleman crease from The Trail Rider or Lammle’s in Banff.

Woolrich Plaid Shirt

Woolrich Plaid Shirt

See more Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and Jasper shops.

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

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