Are you like me? Always on the hunt for a miracle layer. I like natural fibers especially next to the skin. I want them to be as soft as a kitten. I want them to control my temperature better than my house’s thermostat. I want them to shift moisture from my body quicker than a fire hydrant. I want them to dry at warp speeds. Let’s talk alpaca.
Arms of Andes have knocked it out of the park with this short zip hoody
Being of a “certain age”, I have managed to try the whole gamut of fabrics. I cycle between natural and synthetic materials always coming back to natural ones. Even when I have the most advanced fleece available, there is often an old angora sweater in my backpack. They smell better, weigh less and pack down small. They also feel soft. Alpaca takes this to a whole new level.
So, drum roll, please. I have found my favorite base layer of all time. It is the Arms of the Andes Royal Alpaca Half Zip Hoody.
This is not my first experience with alpaca, but, I never thought I would find it used in such a sophisticated layer. Back in 1988, I traveled to Peru to climb some peaks in the Cordillera Blanca. We also toured around the country. If you have been there then you know it has diverse geography. The capital Lima is a coastal port town, the peaks we were eying are 20,000’. We were also heading into the jungle. Our climbing gear was heavy and we lined our backpacks with chicken wire to prevent theft. We thus skimped on everything, I even cut my rope in half. When we realized how cold it was we shopped around Huaraz. We visited climbing stores for gear left behind by previous expeditions. We also went to the market and found alpaca hats and gloves. The designs were rustic, everything was hand-knitted. I did not expect them to be so warm and it was no surprise that the gloves wore out. I am thankful they lasted our time in the mountains. I cherished the hats which survived for many years.
Let’s talk about sheep’s wool. Have you worn any of the new base layers? The technology incorporated is incredible. The weft of the fabric and the way they possess different zones. The weave is so tight the fabric feels flat. With the lanolin washed out, they do not even itch as they once did. Yet it does not matter how much science lies within these modern natural designs. They cannot match the breeding magic of ancient Peruvian farmers. Try eating avocado from Peru and tell me I am wrong.
It is worth looking at the Arms of Andes’ website.
Compare the alpaca wool with cashmere and angora. Alpaca is lighter, stronger, softer, and accommodates less moisture. This creates the best combination of properties for active clothing insulation. While online do a web search for alpaca and find out about the history of these animals. It is fascinating. Run these yarns through modern machinery and you have a compactly woven, soft fabric. And, it is strong like no other.
If this were all it would be an incredible story. But, it is only a fraction of what makes Arms of the Andes remarkable. The company’s owners are Peruvian siblings Melissa and Rensso Hinostroza. Born and raised in California they spent time in Peru with their family. They came to know and love the stories and culture of their native country. They witnessed true examples of sustainability, it inspired them. Having worked in countries such as Nepal, I understand this sentiment. It is a recognition that “new ways” do not hold all the answers. If we want to make a change in this world we have to cherry-pick from what has been and combine it with selected “new ways”. If we want to slow down climate change we have to be aware of the true cost and value of everything we do. This year, there was an overwhelming story from Outdoor Retailer. More companies than ever recognize their carbon footprint. They are trying to put changes in place in the way they do business. Arms of the Andes raises the bar to a new level.
They single-source fibers which are then hand-woven at the source. They treat farmers and weavers like family exceeding Fair Trade standards. They teach them to integrate machinery to create the cloth the company uses. They are also currently working on a line of natural dye. Again the knowledge is at hand to make it work and the experience of the locals ensures quality. I remember being mentored to build drystone walls by old farmers. Their fathers had taught them as children. It was part of their DNA. They assembled walls with consummate ease and grace. The walls were beautiful and strong. They fit the landscape like a glove and became part of the mountain they crisscrossed. Likewise, Peruvian farmers honor and value their livestock. They know the quality of fleece by picking it up. They can sort it by hand. They can ensure the best fibers. For Arms of the Andes, this means they only incorporate Royal Alpaca in their designs. Melissa believes about 1% of exported alpaca wool is Royal
Little details such as the thumb loops work with the fabric’s natural stretch to create a great fitting piece.
So am I raving about this layer? For sure. It is a fantastic piece of equipment. Backcountry skiing has never been so comfortable. I had a little experiment after a day of fluctuating temperatures. Not only did I wear it on the drive home, but I also kept it on all evening. With any other layer, this sends me into a tailspin. I feel clammy and cannot shake a feeling of cold. In alpaca, my body felt cozy all evening.
But there is so much more than its thermal properties of this layer. It also represents something that I am passionate about. It supports people in developing countries without changing their ways. It takes its inspiration from these old ways and it shows us in the west what is possible. It demonstrates how we can evolve into a new future, one where we consider the needs of the planet as well as our own. For me, this is the only way to provide a future for our great-grandchildren.
So, try one. I know you will love it as much as I do. And rest assured. Companies like Arms of Andes will be the standard-bearers of sustainable practice. By wearing their clothes and talking about them you will be helping to lead the charge.
Wil was born in North Wales and steeped in its rich maritime, mountain and river folklore. In response to the request to “get a real job” he became first a teacher then professor of adventure education.
He then emigrated to where the sun shines for 300 days and snowfalls for 100 (Colorado). During more than 25 years as an outdoor educator, he worked Scottish winter seasons, taught canoeing, climbing, kayaking, and skiing throughout the States, Europe, and Australia. He also regenerated the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Outdoor Education program. His biggest adventure (by far) is fatherhood. It has also been the inspiration for his website www.wherethefruitis.com.
Things he likes to do include (middle) aging gracefully, and skiing (telemark) aggressively. He is happiest outdoors with a good view, good company, good weather/snow and the residue of self-powered adventure; sweat, a manic grin, and wild eyes.