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Before we delve in, it’s essential to recognize how outdoor wear has ebbed and flowed through recent decades of streetwear, from Nike’s launch of the ACG line in the ’80s, 90’s rappers rocking Vasque boots and The North Face puffers, to Drake and Virgil (RIP) performing in videos and on-stage and in Arc’teryx hardshell jackets. In a world where every movement and fashion trend earns a hashtag and a title, gorpcore was ripe for the picking.
We followed gorpcore’s rise, on the heels of canonized celeb style photos and an organic growth of outdoor recreation among younger generations (with a sizable credit due in part to COVID getting them outside). And, as New York City-based outdoor enthusiasts ourselves here at Field Mag, the number one publication for lovers of good design and the great outdoors, we figured why not take the time to sum up our interpretation of the ongoing movement. What follows is just that: A guide to Gorpcore, from folks who actually know wtf is up.
Editor's note: long-time outdoorsy folks know that ski bums, dirtbags, and adventuring vagabonds of all walks of life deserve some credit as pioneers here, having paired key pieces of their active kits with around town aprés looks without any intention of making a fashion statement. Readers of Field Mag’s gear coverage will certainly be familiar with our call-outs on backpacks, hiking boots, running shoes, and various pieces of outdoor gear and accessories for their functional and sartorial versatility in and out of the backcountry. Good gear is good gear, so why keep it stowed away until the next outing?
What Is Gorpcore?
Etymology time; the gorpcore trend receives the root of its name from the original go-to trail snack GORP: good ol’ raisins and peanuts. For us, the trail mix acronym harkens back to a time of 60/40 cotton-poly parkas and stout, Italian-made leather hiking boots. A time when Bob Gore’s developments in waterproof textiles were just being introduced to the world.
The contemporary aesthetic of gorpcore involves a little bit of the retro but leans heavily on advanced tech like waterproof zippers and high-performance ingredient textiles like Gore-Tex, Pertex, and X-PAC. Depending on the brand in focus, the style can closely border on techwear, leaning into cold monochromes and overt, sometimes futuristic, sleekness.
The colder, dark theme tends to come with more fashion-focused newcomers like ROA, while legacy brands like Mountain Hardwear still release pieces with fully-saturated solids that provide bold visibility against the somber tones of the natural world.
To help set the stage, we’ve picked out a quick must-have kit of essential pieces to mix some gorpcore into your rotating ensembles
- Hardshell rain jackets: easily the most significant piece one can don to signal that they’re going gorp, especially if there’s little chance of precipitation
- Fleece jackets: your pick of a thin, technical mid layer for high-exertion to the deep pile zip-ups for teddy-bear-like comfort
- Hiking pants: light and durable, often with a couple extra utility pockets and a built-in, belt-free waist adjustment
- Trail running or approach style shoes: lighter and more rockable than a pair of full-blown mountain boots with plenty of grip underfoot
How to Style Gorpcore
While you can theoretically parade around in head-to-toe Gore-Tex lined synthetic garb, we suggest avoiding such an approach in order to avoid looking like an overdoing it tryhard. Though top-tier gorpcore piece like the stormproof Arc’teryx Alpha SV shell may be intended to pair with similar bottoms, we’re much more likely to throw it over an old flannel shirt with some broken in denim and fresh-ish New Balance 990v6’s. For us, good gorpcore style is all about interplay of bold colors with neutral tones, hard faced synthetics with soft naturals–aim for contrast in place of full-blown outdoor tech wear.
The Evolution of Gorpcore
Whereas the roots of Gorpcore consisted of straight-off-the-trail pieces, we’re seeing contemporary staple brands (from our essential list below) take some risks that acknowledge an increased awareness of the end user’s desire for more lifestyle use in addition to more sustainable material choices replacing soon-to-be-outlawed PFAS materials.
Take for instance a Patagonia down jacket that replaces de rigueur nylon face fabric with 100% cotton to both dial down the technical aesthetic and skip the need for using recycled nylon. Still, the need for synthetics remains at the core of Gore-Tex-driven realm of waterproof outerwear. In early 2024, we’ve been introduced to sustainable improvements through rolling updates to Arc’teryx’s flagship Alpha SV and Beta LT shells that update necessary synthetics with 100% recycled and bio-based components, respectively.
While we still see that brands with activity-based innovation in their native backgrounds of rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing and beyond lead the charge, it’s been hard to ignore the influence of smaller scale operations: indie startups lines like Hikerkind, acutely tuned-in vintage dealers like Vintage Sponsor, and an near-endless list of obsessive Instagram archivists and mood boards that fill out feeds with everything from 90’s catalog scans to photos of uniquely shaped trees in exotic locales.
8 Essential Gorpcore Brands to Know
To help navigate the sea of Gorpcore, we’ve compiled a list of the essential outdoor brands key to the gorpcore aesthetic. Though many high fashion names have latched onto aspects of the trend, working in zip-off cargo pants and notes of hiking gear influence into their lines, we’ll do our best to steer you away from the gorpcore fashion week runway. We'll also forgo some (but not all) of the obvious staples like The North Face Nupste puffer jackets, deep-pile Mountain Hardwear fleeces, and the blacked out Hoka Bondi in favor of a selection of brands that more evenly define the trend.
Look to the feet of any diehard gorpcore fit devotee and you’ll very likely spot a pair of sporty Salomon sneakers touching grass. From the brand’s Sportstyle line—the hero of which is of course, the XT-6—the brand releases colorways and models that sell out at hypebeast-like speeds, with less-limited SKUs being sold in select shops that fall well beyond the realm of more regular outdoor gear retailers like REI or Backcountry.
A Gore-Tex hardshell rain jacket from the cherished dead bird brand stands as one of the most significant signifiers of a gorpcore style enthusiast. It took only a handful of sightings of artists like Virgil, Drake, and Frank Ocean wearing the brand in paparazzi photos to launch the brand into a new stratosphere where exact colorways of the documented toques and Beta AR Jackets sell out faster than you can say, “super rich kids.”
Beyond the rain jackets that bead off water with impunity, the brand’s line includes an extensive catalog of systemically named outerwear and layering pieces teeming with urban minimalist and alpine backcountry practicality. Leaning into their budding popularity in off-mountain environments, Arc regularly collaborates with labels like Jill Sanders and Beams, while also releasing a line of made-for-streetwear pieces under their System_A label. And for the real IYKYK heads, Arc's milspec LEAF line is the real grail, if you can find a retailer.
Once purely a brand known for its Italian-made, all-terrain-influenced shoes and boots expanded into a line of ready-to-wear apparel that employs a degree of mountain and tech-heavy athletic-wear into its influence. In its footwear line, you’ll find more heavyweight options like the ankle-height, heeled Vibram sole Andreas boot to the more lightly-soled Fedaia clog, whose heel “strap” comes with a dose of sci-fi style to its natural suede uppers.
Where other gorpcore footwear brands come to the table with alpine-influenced design, Merrell pulls up with their own unique flavor that melds normcore dad with farmer’s market NPR tote bags. Nonbelievers may find some of their silhouettes downright ugly, but breakout models like the Hydro Moc slides and Moab boots have earned the brand valuable clout outside the devoted audience they’ve cultivated since 1981. Look to their 1TRL line for extra-gorped takes mainline models, like the funked up Hydro Moc AT Cage 1TRL.
Just because the normcore and fleece vest chads brought Patagonia into their own worlds doesn’t mean Yvon Chouinard’s creation deserves any less praise. The impact of the brand on gorpcore is easily seen with key items like the Synchilla Snap-T Pullover, deep-pile Retro-X Fleece Jacket, and drawstring Baggies Shorts popping up in looks season after season–all three of which have been in the brand’s catalog for decades.
What started in 1982 as American climber Mike Graham’s goal of designing a pant specifically for rock climbing continues today as a Japanese-designed streetwear brand worn in New York subways and stocked on the digital racks of gorp-certified retailers like Brooklyn’s Hatchet Outdoor Supply. Gramicci’s line today consists of much more than the gusseted, baggy pants it started with, expanding into retro-flavored graphic tees and playful accessories.
Round these parts, the Snow Peak titanium spork is standard issue camp kit. Hard goods have been a primary focus of the brand since its founding in 1958, but a line of apparel designed with the same clean-line artistry and functionality entered its offerings less than ten years ago. Key pieces that return season after season include indigo dyed apparel and the fire-resistant Takibi apparel.
Unlike the majority of the brands we’ve plugged this far, Japanese label and wander didn't get their start decades way back when as a general outdoor apparel brand. Though very much rooted in themes of gorpcore, you’ll find the clean lines and sophisticated use of high-tech fibers in and wander’s pieces to ride the line of techwear. Expect prices substantially higher than readily accessible brands like The North Face and Patagonia; if you think $445 for a windbreaker is unreasonable (regardless of the Schoeller 3XDRY fabric), then and wander is probably not the brand for you.
Gorpcore Brands to Keep an Eye On
We’re not trying to name every name under the sun that touches gorpcore, but these brands of varying sizes and national origins deserve your attention for their well-executed style and utility.
- Houdini: Stockholm-based Swedish apparel brand with serious sustainability chops and minimalist yet hyper functional apparel and outerwear for men, women, and kids
- Klättermusen: alpine and casualwear with a techy edge also from Sweden. Excellent packs.
- Manastash: humble beginnings as a hemp clothing brand from Washington state, now it’s a Japanese-designed outdoor lifestyle apparel brand.
- Montbell: understated and just technical enough for everyday wear; they’re like the Japanese L.L. Bean.
- CAYL: Korean gorpcore whose name stands for “Climb As You Love”. For example: the FW23 CAYL x New Balance collab is top tier.
- Norda: a footwear brand with trail running in their DNA that’s making an impact well off-trail.
- 18 East: NYC-based brand offering low tech menswear inspired by skateboarding and Mother Nature known for limited-run releases featuring hand embroidered details and and unique dyeing techniques.
- Hikerkind: Brooklyn, NY-based women's outdoor apparel designed by two former capital F fashion stylists turned thru-hikers.
- Earth/Studies: Technical but casual apparel and accessories made largely of deadstock fabrics in the USA, founded by Rob Darmour who previously designed for Nike and Adidas.
Indie Gorpcore Retailers to Shop
With the trend in full-swing, one can swing by a higher-end department store and put together a gorp-ish look; even online retailers of haute streetwear fashion stock virtual racks of outdoorsy garb for a further-curated retail e-commerce experience. Still, these mom and pop retailers deserve a special mention for devoting their entire shop concepts to outdoor lifestyle fashion and accessories.