Friday, March 16, 2012

The action kilt

When browsing through photos from the Iditarod Trail Invitational, my friend stopped at a snapshot of Beat and Anne at the finish in McGrath. "What's he wearing? Is that a skirt?"

"It's not a skirt!" I said with mock offense. "It's an action kilt!"

It's totally a skirt. This ingenious piece of gear insulates body parts that don't make their own heat while preventing sweat from the ones that do. Insulated skirts took off in the women's outdoor gear market a few years ago after women discovered they were the ideal way to keep their tushes toasty while avoiding the thigh chaffing and sweating that often accompany insulated pants. Plus, you can just wrap these skirts around your waist whenever a chill hits, no shoe removal required. In addition, they're pretty cute — especially the models offered by Skhoop.

I acquired a Sierra Designs Gnar down skirt a few months ago, then wore it on our New Years trekking trip in Alaska. When I raved about its abilities to ward off "cold butt syndrome," Beat noticed other potential benefits. Beat, like many guys, often has trouble keeping his man parts warm in cold temperatures. He has tried many things, from windproof tights to sewing a piece of neoprene to the front of his briefs, and still cold air manages to find its way in. Our friend Anne let him borrow one of her skirts during a day hike, and Beat was sold. He decided he needed one for the ITI.

Beat sewed his own skirt from scratch. Weirdly, insulated skirts are only sold in women's sizes, and tend to be tight in areas that Beat didn't want it to be tight, and not as protective of the areas he wanted to protect. He designed a skirt that was high in the back, loose in the front (he doesn't like having his torso constricted), with waterproof zippers for movement and venting, strategically placed on the sides to keep the front secure. He used a Gortex-like waterproof material for the shell with Primaloft insulation. Beat has become quite the seamstress with his $79 sewing machine, and the skirt — ahem, action kilt – came out really well. Not only did it survive 350 miles of the Iditarod Trail, but it survived with style.

I think there could be a commercial market for men's action kilts if men could only get over their hangups about the whole skirt thing. I guess it's just a matter of what's more important to men — asserting their masculinity, or protecting it. But I can already imagine the ad campaign: "Action Kilt — Warm enough for a woman, but made for a man."