Hikercore: a way of dressing that emphasises utilitarian garments that impart comfort, waterproofing and windproofing, such as those one would wear on a long walk. Influenced by environmentalist outdoor companies like Patagonia, Japanese hiker culture when worn as streetwear, and ideas of the wilderness linked to romanticism.
Introduction to hikercore
When was the last time you went for a walk? Or a hike? (Is there a difference?) Streetwear is at the heart of contemporary fashion: design houses like Louis Vuitton are helmed by the biggest names in streetwear, and sportswear companies like Nike and Adidas are more influential than ever before. Given that, in many parts of the world it rains a lot out on the streets (hello, Britain!), it may not surprise you that hiking clothes have seen somewhat of a resurgence as fashionable items in and of themselves. This has been dubbed hikercore, or gorpcore (the latter being an American reference lost on me, initially – what about granolacore, or mueslicore?!). Publications like GQ have pointed out the resurgent popularity of fleeces and outdoor-focused, waterproof and/or down-filled coats, as worn by figures like Drake and A$AP Rocky. A-COLD-WALL* have made their name based on melding streetwear and gear inspired by long walks, hill walking, outdoor military training or mountaineering. Hikercore makes a virtue out of wind and rain, the tackling of the elements; someone embracing hikercore, by definition, cannot be a “fashion victim” because it is grounded in the practical and mundane (thus the progression from ‘normcore’), as much as it is about adventure.
Minimalism and hikercore seem to be highly compatible, not least because Patagonia, founded by the environmentalist Yvon Chouinard, have actively encouraged their customers to consider not buying their products, offering generous repair and warranty programmes, and official means of buying second hand gear. ‘Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom,’ according to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus… so what about the freedom to go outside and not get drenched, as well as from unnecessary temptation? Consumer spending has, in countries like the US and UK, become the primary means of boosting economic activity, a process which Patagonia have tried to undermine through their business practices. One of the first works of minimalist literature I read was Stuffocation by James Wallman (review linked). Wallman’s book, simply, argues that the experience-driven economy will soon become the centre-focus over the acquisitive, accumulative culture of the latter-half of the twentieth- and early-twenty-first centuries. Walking, hiking and mountaineering are experiences that rouse enthusiasts to challenge themselves to explore and adapt, but also to protect and steward the landscapes they enjoy. The idea of a national park would have been music to the ears of figures like the writer Dorothy Wordsworth, who was an enthusiastic walker of the fells in the Lake District. I highly recommend this BBC podcast, featuring my friend Dr. Jo Taylor, who outlines the ways that the (now archaic) “feminine” hiking costumes of independently-minded women, who wore bonnets, skirts and cloaks, shaped the fell walking experience.
There is, potentially, an irrevocable romanticism to hikercore, with its implied exploration of the pastoral and “wild”. Walking greatly influenced romantic poets like William Wordsworth, who rose to poet laureate in 1843. The romantic ideal of the wilderness is problematic and contestable; a romantic attachment to the landscape can be positive and environmentalist in one moment, and parochial and exclusionary in another – the country becomes “our” country with a culture and people that are revered as timeless:
The second phase of Romanticism, comprising the period from about 1805 to the 1830s, was marked by a quickening of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, as attested by the collection and imitation of native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works. The revived historical appreciation was translated into imaginative writing by Sir Walter Scott, who is often considered to have invented the historical novel. At about this same time English Romantic poetry had reached its zenith in the works of John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In the USA, the links between transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau, European romanticism, and contemporary conservationism were mapped by Roderick Nash in his book Wilderness and the American Mind (1967), published at just the right time to influence and draw on environmentalism as we understand it today. The romantics revered the experience and perception that beautiful landscapes gave them, a radical venue for the appreciation of nature as a space of chaos, wildness and imagination. Nature and the experience of the landscape was timeless and primordial in an Enlightenment culture of human-imposed order, rationality and industrialisation; contemporary environmentalism must look outwards as much as inwards because the work of the romantics has shaped the emotional side of hiking and exploring. It is in this context that we put on our gore-tex and ergonomically engineered gear which make up the elements of hikercore.
About hikercore and techwear
Firmly in the twenty-first century, techwear has been growing in prominence in recent years, spurred mainly by the tech-ninja aesthetic inspired by designers like Errolson Hugh. Techwear is a strange niche within fashion because the concept of clothing with waterproofing and utility built into it is a fairly obvious innovation. Techwear is “edgy” because it tends to reference the literature, film and television of cyberpunk and anime; Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016) even featured a jacket specially designed by Hugh, crafted in game and in real life to ensure a level of plausibility and genuine utility. This led the leading techwear YouTuber This Is Antwon to ask: Can Videogames Influence Techwear?
But techwear is not really limited to cutting edge, ACRONYM-inspired gear. There is even a name within techwear for a style that is deliberately unassuming and “normal” looking: the grey man. Companies like Arc’Teryx, with their Arc’Teryx Veilance sub-brand, boss the high-end price point of this particular niche. Fast- or high street fashion brands like Uniqlo, with their Ultra Light Down and Blocktech lines also produce unassuming items that fit the lifestyle of city-dwellers.
And then there is hikercore, which utilises technologies that were, when introduced, cutting edge. In only a few decades an item like a polar fleece has passed from being revolutionary to ordinary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly as a style stemming from the exploration of countryside and ‘wildernesses’, hikercore has an eco-conscious core. Patagonia, the popularisers of fleece with their Synchilla Snap-T product and their *Traceable down/shell jackets are perfect examples. This isn’t a stretch: Yvon Chouinard, the company’s founder, was a climber and environmentalist before he was a world renowned business figure. He’s been one of the most prominent critics of Donald Trump; his firm used Black Friday in 2011 to promote anti-consumerist behaviour
Probably the biggest influences on the main strands of hikercore fashion can be summarised in two quick, easy to remember references:
- Outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, and:
- The Japanese importation of such brands which inspired the 1990s scene dubbed ‘Outdoor Mix’.
Japanese street culture is a fashion rabbit hole, where layering that sounds implausible or clumsy appears incredible through great camera work and, often, high quality garments. It’s no mistake that The North Face have a Japanese-focussed collection, their Purple Label, designed in collaboration with Japanese brand nanamica. TNF Purple Label is now available outside of Japan (as of 2019), a development that signals the influence of the online promotion of brands like Purple Label and the desire to imitate the look which (in itself) drew on high-tech brands like Patagonia. A good example is the Instagram page of The Apartment Tokyo, which heavily promotes the products like TNF’s, worn with streetwear heavyweights like Nike’s Jordan brand.
It is important to note that while hikercore certainly lends itself to outdoor activities, this is one area of fashion (like all techwear or other niches) where there is an element of cos-play. In-fact, some of the more out-there accessorising ideas I suggest below lean heavily into this. In a fashion scene where tactical vests worn by soldiers and gunmen can become popular, why not carabiners, ropes and water bottles?
Key sub-culture: The Yama Girls of Japan
While researching this article I was fairly confident I had a handle on hikercore: polar fleece layers, Gore-Tex shell jackets, waterproof footwear etc. The yama (mountain) girls of Japan are proof that hikercore can be worn in a cute style. No militaristic cargo/combat trousers here; comfy shorts, colourful or patterned skirts and leggings dominate. The yama girls, an evolution of the older, mori girl culture (forest girls) prove that some elements of hikercore are key:
- Flexibility and versatility. Comfort is king.
- A shell or down jacket, some key accessories like a hat or a bag, can bring hikercore values to almost any outfit.
Gender fluidity has been an important part of Japanese street fashion for fifty years – Rei Kawakubo’s deconstructive Commes Des Garçons label’s name translates, after-all, as ‘[dress] like boys’.
Other influences on hikercore, which are self-explanatory, include:
- Old school mountaineers and explorers: see Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
- Winter sportswear like ski-jackets.
- Counter-culture figures / early environmentalists like Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia.
A few key hikercore brands
- Adidas Terrex
- and wander
- Anything with Gore-Tex – including the sneaker scene
- Arc’Teryx, Arc’Teryx Veilance
- Berghaus (UK)
- Birkenstock (*for the archival vibe)
- descente allterrain
- Hiking shoe brands including: Salomon, Merrell, Keen, Teva.
- Finisterre (UK)
- Nigel Cabourn [+ Nigel Cabourn x Peak Performance]
- Nike ACG
- Peak Performance [+ Nigel Cabourn x Peak Performance]
- REI Co-Op (USA)
- Teva (*For a more technical take on the Birkenstock idea).
- The North Face (including Purple Label)
- White Mountaineering
Outfit examples of hikercore
The main outfit examples consist of:
- Historical ‘inspo’.
- The heritage, ‘mountaineer’ or explorer style.
- Hiker-esque techwear.
Historical hikercore / archive outfits
Mountaineers and Explorers (Vintage hikercore style)
- Nigel Cabourn
This is a look that emphasises heritage, with fabrics like waxed cotton (see Barbour, and Fjällräven’s G-1000 fabric), down-filled parkas, and Arctic fur lined jackets (!ethical debate klaxon!). Chunky roll-necks in thick-knits provide links to vintage maritime fashion.
Think of this as the more rugged, outdoor version of the nineteenth-early twentieth century British innovations associated with the Mackintosh rubberised coat or the Burberry gabardine trench. Key inspiration, certainly, comes from the historical gallery above.
- Heritage, outdoor companies like Berghaus, Colombia, Fjällräven, The North Face, Patagonia, etc.
- Athletic companies’ efforts, e.g. Adidas Terrex, Nike ACG.
- Modern brands: (e.g.) and wander, A-COLD-WALL*, Arc’Teryx Veilance, descente allterain, Uniqlo.
This is a category that very much includes both the clean lines of contemporary techwear and the expertise of outdoor gear producers. It is a bit of a hack of a category, because you could probably make the case for companies like TNF and Patagonia being separate from the modern brands. They are certainly easier to research, and you could also make the case for hobbyist gear which very serious, geeky outdoor enthusiasts would consider essential.
I also feel that brands like Outlier and Arc’Teryx Veilance from the techwear sphere, but which are considered key to the “grey man” aesthetic. Such high-spec items are made to be unassuming and non-flashy, could fit here as well. After-all, does it matter if you aren’t wearing an obviously waterproof-treated trousers when there is no need for it, or when you do not want the aesthetic that carries (as in the and wander image above)? Uniqlo’s dry-ex trousers fit the bill here too as a low budget option, which I highly recommend from heavily wearing and using them in 2018.
This is adequately explained above and in the links. Magazines like Go Out represent this area (incidentally – the world of Japanese fashion ‘zines is pretty amazing).
Hikercore item examples
A baseball cap or beanie would work well, but I would like to highlight a bucket or sun hat style here. A trapper hat would fit well with the archival, vintage look, although we are getting into the realms of hunting gear as an influence there.
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Berghaus are a British outdoor company, epitomising the normality that hikercore can be grounded in. They have a good reputation in the UK, and probably deserve a better reach. The two-tone style of jackets, as in this example, is also a very handy way of adding greater range of colours and breaking up the blockiness of a hikercore outfit.
The key here is that the outerwear should be a shell, down, or have some form of water- and/or windproof design. Gilets (down vests) are less bulky option.
A great design feature to look for is the jacket being packable (but not necessarily an item that is MEANT to be packed and carried for emergencies, like a “cagoule in a bag”).
For me, I wear a Patagonia Torrentshell (without insulation), which I would recommend.
Increasingly problematic given the evidence surrounding microplastics, high quality fleeces are foundational to the style and culture of modern hiking, as seen by this vintage catalogue by Patagonia:
Retro details include contrasting fabrics and tones, or (for a more out-there look) bold patterns. A particularly retro look would be a fleece vest/gilet.
Layers: T-shirts, shirting
- Dry fabric t-shirts, such as Patagonia capilene or Uniqlo airism.
- Organic cotton t-shirts, for an eco-friendlier option than water-intensive mass market cotton.
- Classic shirts like flannel shirts work well as layering pieces.
- Roll-necks like Uniqlo Heat-Tech pull double duty.
- Fairisle patterned knits provide a very British/Scandinavian look.
Outlier NYC: Outlier OG Climbers. Their description of the fabric fits this category well: “Our core OG Cloth: breathable, comfortable and durable, the most versatile fabric around. The self-cleaning NanoSphere treatment means that coffee, wine and dirt roll off with ease, keeping you looking fresh and clean in the trickiest of situations. The Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabric looks elegant, yet repels water. But when it does saturate, it will dry in minutes (generally around 15-20). The doubleweave structure means it’s tough and durable on the exterior, yet soft and comfortable inside. The four-way stretch doubles-down on that comfort and means these pants move freely through any situation.”A side-note, hikercore does not tend to incorporate denim, something which I enjoy as I get older.
I would personally recommend Adidas Terrex GTX shoes, which can be had at discounted prices. They are by no means indestructible, but they have been beaten up through plenty of wear and tear.
This is also an opportunity to choose whether you want a traditional hiking shoe, a hiker-esque trainer, or an in-between option like the Terrex GTX.
- Gaiters / Snoods for neck and face protection against the elements.
- Items like carabiners, Swiss Army knife style tools. I could see a very committed hikercore look incorporating ropes or incredibly utilitarian gear, but this would either be for utility or full-on cosplay…
Thanks for hiking with me.
Further hikercore reading
Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1967 [5th edition, 2014]).
Die, Workwear!, ‘Looking Like a Japanese Hiker’, available at: https://dieworkwear.com/post/165881465609/looking-like-a-japanese-hiker
Lookbook, shared on Reddit’s Malefashionadvice:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo (1888), translation by Walter Kaufmann,
Those who can breath the air of my writings know that it is an air of the heights, a strong air. One must be made for it. Otherwise there is no small danger that one may catch cold in it. The ice is near, the solitude tremendous—but how calmly all things lie in the light! How freely one breathes! How much one feels beneathoneself!
Philosophy, as I have so far understood and lived it, means living voluntarily among ice and high mountains—seeking out everything strange and questionable in existence, everything so far placed under a ban by morality. Long experience, acquired in the course of such wanderings in what is forbidden, taught me to regard the causes that so far have prompted moralizing and idealizing in a very different light from what may seem desirable: the hidden history of the philosophers, the psychology of the great names, came to light for me.