With winter storming up the horizon, I needed a breathable fleece for my daily cycle commute and hikes along the South Downs. But surveying the women’s section of a well-known outdoor retailer, I had to keep my head from meeting the wall in a endless, driving gesture of frustration. The thing is, besides my need for a technical fleece that keeps me from sweating when exerting myself in colder climes, I also have one more essential requirement for all of my outdoor gear.
‘Do you have anything…less girly?’ I asked the salesman, waving at the fuchsia, lavender and teal zip-ups and pullovers adorning the racks. I sent a meaningful look in the direction of all the black, deep green and navy in the men’s section.
‘Not really. Sorry,’ he replied, somewhat sheepishly, scratching his head. ‘We’ve tried to talk to the companies but this is what they keep sending us.’
Now, some female adventurers might genuinely like pink and teal (tamping down my scepticism here). But let’s imagine that many of them are ambivalent about this unfortunate trend in women’s gear. Of all the fleeces on offer, I managed to stumble upon a high-performing one that didn’t, well, hurt my eyes or my ego.
Enter the Rab Nucleus Hoody, in the decidedly macho-sounding color ‘Blue Print’. Unlike the sturdier, more insulating fleeces I’ve been accustomed to, the half-zip Nucleus has been something of a wonder, keeping me warm when stationary and just right when on the move. On short, quick bike rides in less than warm conditions and with just a base layer beneath, the Nucleus’s perfect temperature control means you aren’t wasting time rolling up your sleeves or fanning yourself. But it’s equally cozy under a down vest while reffing a beach volleyball match on near-freezing evenings. It’s also got a hoodie that fits under your helmet (if you’re into that sort of thing) and a handy breast pocket for keys or your phone or a nutritious snack.
Using Coco Chanel’s adage, I tend to take a layer off before I go out, knowing I’ll be peeling it off and having to store it halfway through a climb. If, like me, you suffer from ‘unladylike-sweaty-itis’, the adaptability of this performance fleece will keep you smiling – even when the sun comes out. It holds up in light rain, proving semi-waterproof, but it’s not a rain layer – so I wouldn’t recommend testing it in a downpour (luckily, there’s more gear for that).
My only gripe (aside from not being able to buy another – I can’t bring myself to purchase anything that’s colour is described as ‘Raspberry’ or, ahem, ‘Nightshade’)? It’s minor really; as a woman with no discernible hips but sizeable shoulders, the fleece’s womanly build looks a bit funny on me – there’s a bit too much of a curve on the lower half of the pull-on to accommodate what I don’t have. And there’s the tendency to reach for hip pockets that aren’t there – Rab have explained their lack as being down to a ‘sleek clean design’. It’s not a deal-breaker but I still do it on occasion – old fleece habits die hard.