Friday, July 26, 2013

Packing for a Summer Vacation in the Mountains

Greetings from Vail, Colorado! My husband and I slipped away for a little R+R this week. Have you been to Colorado? It's my first time and I’m absolutely awe-struck by the majestic mountains and the super-friendly people. I know I'm not in New York anymore! In fact, it almost feels like a different planet—and not just because of the altitude!

Whenever I travel to a new place, I wonder: What will the over 50 women be wearing there? How should I pack? A while back, a Flattering50 reader asked me to do a post on packing for a beach vacation. I've taken at least one beach vacation every year all my life, so that post was a snap. I've also taken a fair number of ski trips. But I've never taken a summer vacation in the mountains. So...this is the first post in a series on what I packed for our mountain vacation and what I saw other women wearing on their vacation. For this first installment, I'll focus on mountain style in the daytime.

For me, vacation packing always seems to come down to three questions:

  • Question # 1: What am I planning to do on the vacation?
  • Question # 2: What will I need to be comfortable in the climate there?
  • Question #3: What's the minimal amount of clothing I'll need for the vacation's length?

Early on, I realized that we were going to a place where the dress code was sporty and casual. In fact, I was feeling pretty relaxed about packing until my husband started formulating the answer to Question #1: What we planned to do on our vacation.

Obviously,  Vail is a magnet for the sports-minded. Many visitors--young and old--go there for the summer outdoor activities—biking, hiking, fly fishing, river rafting, para-gliding, zip lining and on and on. I play a little tennis and love to take long walks, but I would never call myself a sportswoman. In fact, I would have been happy to go to Vail and just enjoy the wide-open scenery, the fragrant mountain air, a bit of western American history and, of course, the shopping and restaurants. However, my husband had other ideas. He was looking forward to an active mountain vacation. Specifically, he wanted to do some mountain biking, hiking, swimming and possible rafting. Gulp.

Since I'm not an avid outdoors sportswoman, I really didn't have a lot of activewear options. And I didn't want to buy anything I was unlikely to use again for a long time. So...for our planned outdoor mountain activities, I packed...
  • 1 activewear outfit (top and bottom) for biking and possibly river rafting
  • 1 pair of parachute-like nylon shorts for hiking
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sneakers

For the activewear outfit, I reached for the Hydro Chic outfit I reviewed on Flattering50 back in March. While I saw a lot of women over 50 wearing spandex shorts and leggings for hiking, biking and so forth during our vacation, that's not a look that works for me. I'm not a fan of snug-fitting garments that show the shape (shapelessness?) of my bottom. If you saw my product review, you know the Hydro Chic bottom has a short skirt over capri-length shorts. It was the perfect sports outfit for my mountain sports because it's lightweight, rolls up tight for packing, and can be hand-washed and dried overnight for multiple activities.

On Day 1 of our vacation, my husband and I rented mountain bikes. We took the bikes on a gondola to the top of Vail mountain and then rode them down to the bottom. The trip down took two hours and we never let go of the brakes. Afterwards, our fingers felt glued together. We were told the condition is called “lobster claw hands.”

The bike ride was heavenly. We rode by fields of wildflowers, groves of birch trees and babbling mountain brooks. When we reached the bottom, we devoured fish tacos at a Vail restaurant.

Since there was no doubt I'd be getting wet at some point, I also packed a swimsuit. After lunch, my husband and I rode back to our condo. (Actually, the condo belongs to our friends; they lent it to us for the week.) We went swimming and sat in the hot tub. After a mountain bike trip, I don't know which I enjoyed more: devouring a big lunch without a care about calories or relaxing my old bones in the hot tub. I'll spare you (and me!) a photo of me in a swimsuit.  My go-to swimsuit style since turning 50: a Land's End halter tankini and skirt.

A couple of weeks before we flew to Vail, my husband came home and told me he'd gotten some great hiking recommendations. "But," he said, "everyone recommends wearing a good pair of hiking boots." My response to this pronouncement was quick and simple: "No way." I actually own a pair of hiking boots, but there was no way I was lug them to Colorado. If the hiking trail was too treacherous for sneakers, I would pass.

Packing vacation footwear is a dangerous exercise. Most of my over 50 girlfriends and I are used to wearing many different pairs of shoes in any given week. When it comes to packing for a vacation, shoes can be deadly, taking up much too much room in your luggage. Oh, yeah, there's one thing I forgot to mention: My husband asked me to try to pack only what I could carry on the plane. Double Gulp! I appreciate the convenience of "carry on only," and said I would try.

Since I was try to pack ultra-light, I pack only the pair of sneakers mentioned about and...
  • 1 pair of flat sandals

I also wore a pair of chunky heeled sandals on the plane. I assumed I'd wear the flat sandals for non-mountain sports activities and the heeled sandals for dinners out. And that's pretty much what I did. However, it's worth noting that summer style in Vail is pretty casual and sneakers, as it turned out, were de rigueur morning, noon and even for some, at night.

Personally, I have never been able to make sneakers look stylish, so I kept my "eyes peeled" for any sneaker style tips. On a stroll before dinner, I spotted a  group of over 40 women (below) on the move through Vail village. Unfortunately, they were moving fast and I didn't get a great shot. Hopefully, you can see they're all wearing sneakers.

I loved the group's ultra-simple look: Skinny ankle-length slacks in black or pastel colors and neutral-colored jackets and tops. The jackets, which had a masculine edge, were balanced by the feminine ankle-length slacks. In this sporty context, I even love the white pants with the black stripes. Next time I feel like wearing sneakers (because I'm planning to do a lot of walking), I'm going to try putting together a simple, neutral- or pastel-colored outfit, including ankle-cropped slacks. 

While I was looking forward to communing with nature and getting a little exercise, I was also looking forward to sightseeing, shopping and a little wining and dining. So...I needed more than just activewear in my luggage. Also, after pursuing the Vail weather reports, I knew I had to include clothing that would be comfortable during warm, sunny days and cooler mountain evenings. In addition to my sports attire, I packed for a week in the mountains...
  • 5 lightweight, fitted cotton T-shirts
  • 2 cotton skirts
  • 1 jersey sun dress
All of these pieces were chosen because they can be rolled up tiny for carry-on travel. I'll talk more about these items and how I used them in my next two posts. Only my white cotton skirt and few of the T-shirts needed a little pressing when we arrived in Vail. On the plane I wore another T-shirt and skirt as well as the sandals I mentioned earlier.  I also had a lightweight cardigan and white jean jacket with me on the plane.

What do you pack for summer days in the mountains?