Gorpcore and its Cultural Influences

Named after hiker’s favorite trail snack “Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts,” gorpcore includes a strong hiking aesthetic that is built and layered for a more urban lifestyle. This aesthetic does not come from high fashion or the runway but instead from the tops of mountains where utility, comfort and usability come paramount. The brands that constitute this aesthetic have all been well known hiking and outdoors companies for generations like Patagonia, The North Face, Arc’Teryx, and Salomon. Although those are the main brands in question, there are regional favorites such as REI from Seattle, a local classic in the Northwest of America where I am from, and others like And Wander or Snow Peak from Japan. Until recently, fashion hasn’t been the main focus of these companies. The North Face recently partnered up with Gucci, and Arc’Teryx with Beams official and Palace. Before all that however, the sole focus of these companies was to makes clothes for the ultra-adventurer. By that I mean that the materials used such as soles from Vibram, or waterproof layers from Gore-Tex are commonplace in the aesthetic. These materials help to push the boundaries of outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, camping, skiing or snowboarding. The colors you might find in these clothes are a variable because many of the more traditional pieces by mountaineering companies tend to be very brightly colored, but as the urban adventurer comes into the marketing picture for many of these companies, earth tones and darker colors start to be implemented. North Face Purple Label, Prada spring/summer 2017, Ralph Lauren and Snow Peak use a more toned-down palates to appeal to a much more fashion forward audience. Although this isn’t always fact, the fashion industry preferers to style the outfits towards a certain perceived aesthetic of the culture that they draw from which leads to layering that isn’t the most practical; a pair of approach sneakers designed by Palace might look great but may not perform as well as more traditional hiking shoes. The gorpcore aesthetic includes both of these more traditional brands and fits with the fashion industry’s standards of cuts of fabrics and layering.      

The fashion industry’s intrusion into the outdoors industry and the creation of “gorpcore” was inevitable and I do not think that they have ruined or changed how being an adventurer is interpreted. Going to national parks, mountaineering, rock climbing, van life and winter sports is without a doubt a non-inclusive industry. The percentage of people of color and minorities that have accessibility to go adventure in the wilderness is extremely low. No matter the inclusivity efforts and price points of some companies like REI and Columbia, and organizations like the Sierra Club, there is an inherit privilege with the outdoors. Before the Civil Rights Act in the United States, lynching and other hate crimes were commonplace in outdoor spaces and minorities simply weren’t allowed into “white” spaces namely national parks. I bring this up because when reading about gorpcore as well as the histories of hiking clothing this important fact is often left out. In fact, it is often mentioned that the accessibility of this style of clothing is high because it is easy to get many pieces that fit easily. If you live in a place like Bellingham Washington where hiking is second nature to most people, then yes, but that still doesn’t take away from the long history of discrimination in parks and outdoor spaces.

Outdoor recreation as we know it today started in the 1960’s with activities like long distance running, climbing and hiking. People have been doing these for a very long time, but after the war, Britain figured out that they could train young men in tasks like this to harden them for battle and for higher endurance missions. A Man named Joshua Miner brought this same school of thought to the United States in the form of Outward Bound. Outward Bound hosted courses for mountain climbing, swimming in unbearable waters, backpacking and long-distance running. Students and young people in America in the 60’s were very fond of back to nature experiences that accompanied the era of freedom marches and activism. These programs lead students to summit Everest for the first time and expand on wilderness education like never seen before. Similarly, the baby boom proceeded to rise the percentage attending college meaning that outdoors clubs around the country were very popular. By the 70’s, recreation programs across the country were in full stride and wealthy enough to host long expeditions even as college students. This massive increase in outdoors activities made new niches for businesses to be created to sell products to these young adventurers and for organizations to preserve the nature that these youth love so much but are actively destroying purely out of increased activity in the parks and recreation areas. The outdoors industry now accounts for roughly two percent of the nation’s GDP which is roughly 880 billion dollars of consumer spending.

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