In Praise of the Thrift Store Fleece
By Anna Tupakka
A decade ago in a thrift store I bought a green fleece for the agreeable price of ten dollars. She had little sign of having been worn. Her tags were still crisp. She sported no stains or tears.
She was near to perfect, except for the dreadful seaweed green the designers of this well-known gear company chose. I overlooked this one glaring flaw because she was cheap. This thrift store fleece would, ten years on, become one of the most useful pieces of gear I own.
Buying gear for backpacking can get expensive, especially when starting out. For most items, price should not be the deciding factor, as there are more important factors to be considered. Backpacking boots need to fit well. A backpack capable of carrying heavy loads needs to fit comfortably. A tent needs to balance weight and durability, and these two factors don’t come cheap. (Editor’s note: we’ll list a few resources for saving money on gear at the end of the piece!)
Clothing is one area in outdoor gear where money can be saved. Clothing need not cost much or look pretty. It’s good to have a few pieces that can be abused, to be used to stop the bleeding, for instance. That’s difficult to do with a $300 jacket.
I overlooked this [dreadful seaweed green] because she was cheap. The thrift store fleece would, ten years on, become one of the most useful pieces of gear I own.
My new-to-me green fleece quickly became my go-to jacket. She’s joined me on almost every outdoor adventure, from two-week long backpacking trips to two two-month long paddling expeditions.
She’s weathered well the abuse I have inflicted upon her, enduring years of firewood chopping and stacking, shielding me from campfire sparks. She has been my towel after impromptu skinny dips in alpine lakes. A pillow. A picnic blanket. Her sleeves have been used to wipe away blood spilled by yucca plants. A puffy jacket, with down or synthetic insulation, makes a terrible towel and is not quite as mighty as a fleece around a fire.
Undoubtedly, my polyester fleece jacket is heavier and bulkier than my puffy jacket. She long ago pilled, losing her original fuzzy and cozy look. My fleece is not quite as warm as my puffy, but her low cost helps me forgive these few faults.
And because I paid so little for her I do not cry when I spill coffee on her or snag her on a spruce branch. In all the times I have forgotten her behind in a coffee shop no one has walked away with her. Her charms are hard to see beyond plain ugliness.
The fit might not be ideal, the color disagreeable but money saved means more money for adventure.
I am just as susceptible as everyone else to new gear. I am easily dazzled by gear made lighter, warmer, prettier. I have a full gear closet, proof of my weakness, new technologies and new fabrics enticing me.
There is a reason, however, that the fleece jacket, a simple two pocket, full zipper hoody, has been a mainstay in outdoor wear for decades. It is a shame when we no longer see the practicality in the simplicity of a fleece for every day use. Shoppers need to be flexible with their thrift store finds. The fit might not be ideal, the color disagreeable, but money saved means more money for adventure.
NOTE: In addition to shopping for outdoor clothing at thrift stores and seeking alternatives to fast fashion, there are also gear-specific retailers that recognize the benefits of re-using outdoor clothing and other gear. Not only do you get a good deal, choosing to buy used garments and gear helps lessen the production of new stuff, which is good for the environment. Check out:
- REI Used Goods
- Patagonia Worn Wear
- MEC Gear Swap
- Gear Trade (buy and sell)
- Or seek out local outdoor gear exchanges and collectives wherever you live!
Anna Tupakka is an avid backpacker based in Whitehorse, Yukon. Her stories have been published in Up Here magazine, North of Ordinary, and What’s Up, Yukon. See more of Anna’s work on her website, alifeofsauntering.com and on Instagram @alifeofsauntering.