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Purple Rain Adventure Dress

photo: Purple Rain Adventure Dress hiking skirt

A Purple Rain Adventure Dress is a nearly perfect hiking garment, especially for hot, muggy, and shaded conditions such as those found on the Appalachian Trail. I wore mine continuously for my AT thru-hike. I prized it for its supreme ventilation, simplicity, functionality, durability, comfort, and quick-drying materials. The side-pockets were perfect for carrying my phone, snacks, toiletries, and a myriad of other things. I never thought I'd find a more comfortable piece of clothing than a Purple Rain Adventure Skirt, but the dress design is my new favorite.

Pros

  • Excellent ventilation and breathability
  • Made of functional, lightweight, quick drying, long-lasting materials
  • Facilitates full-range and easy movement
  • No buttons, waistbands, or zippers to get in the way
  • Designed/made in the USA by a fellow long-distance hiker
  • Multiple pockets for carrying cell phones, maps, snacks, etc.

Cons

  • Tank design allows sun-exposure on the arms and neck
  • Might allow chaffing for some body types
  • Length of bottom hem a little short for my body type
  • Limited production as of this publication, but new dresses of a variety of colors and sizes are in the works

 

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The most classic of AT scenes atop McAfee Knob
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The Purple Rain Adventure Dress in Shenandoah National Park

My Background & Experience with hiking skirts and dresses:
In 2017, I began a series of adventures that would eventually lead to a career, of sorts, in thru-hiking. I started with several section hikes of the Appalachian Trail, as well as a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. These were my first trails wearing a Purple Rain Adventure Skirt, for which I published a review of my very positive experiences at the time. 

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Southern Terminus of the CDT, in my favorite Purple Rain Adventure Skirt (worn on the PCT, CDT, and AZT)  and a merino T-shirt.

I went on to complete many more thru hikes since then, culminating with my finish of the Triple Crown on the Appalachian Trail summer/fall 2021. I've worn two different Purple Rain Adventure Skirts for all my trails, save for the AT, where I finally graduated to a Purple Rain Adventure Dress.

Here's that resume in a nutshell: Colorado Trail ('17/500 miles/black skirt), New Zealand's Te Araroa ('17-'18/2000 miles/black skirt), Pacific Crest Trail ('18/2700 miles/blue skirt), Continental Divide Trail ('19/2700 miles/blue skirt), Arizona trail ('19/800 miles/blue skirt), Long trail ('20/270 miles/black skirt), Grand Enchantment Trail ('21/800 miles/black skirt), Appalachian Trail ('21/2200 miles/Gray&Black Dress).

So, 12,000 miles later, I could say I have A LOT of experience with Purple Rain garments. First, let me list some of the general advantages and disadvantages I've discovered from hiking in skirts and dresses.

Benefits of hiking skirts and dresses:

  • Freedom of movement: no restriction around the knees or annoying swish/swish around the ankles or thighs. A dress allows for even more range of motion, since there's no confining waistband.
  • Ventilation is supreme.
  • Bathroom breaks are easy, while still maintaining a level of coverage / discreteness. Same goes for bathing and changing underwear, leggings and pants. This is especially useful when staying in communal areas (shelters/huts/hammocks), traversing desert and alpine environments, or hiking through highly trafficked areas.
  • Great for hiking in the rain, when paired with a rain kilt. Or just let your lower half get wet…. it will dry quickly once the rain stops. Also makes stream/river/mud crossings easier.
  • Simplicity...this especially pertains to a dress! There's just one piece to put on, take off and keep track of when washing clothes. Layering is also very straightforward..pants or leggings easily slide on underneath and thermal tops and jackets go smoothly over the top.
  • Confidence! I feel proud to rock a dress or skirt, blurring the lines of traditional gender-norms and femininity with my outdoorsy, tough-as-nails persona. Skirts and dresses are finally coming into their own as non-binary, functional and practical garments for anyone.
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1,700 miles down, with only 500 miles left to go on the AT

Do consider a few of the drawbacks (most of which can also be said for shorts and a t-shirt):

  • Sun exposure: I hate sunscreen, so covering-up is my preferred strategy for exposed environments. The Adventure Dress allows a pretty high degree of sun exposure to both my legs and shoulders/arms. For future wear of my dress in exposed conditions, I'll probably incorporate a product along the lines of a shrug or shawl, but an umbrella also does a great job.
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The White Mountains of New Hampshire were some of the few areas along the AT where I had troubles with sunburn. Luckily, conditions were so nice that I was able to deploy my "sun-brella"
  • Buggy conditions, i.e. ticks, mosquitoes, flies, ants, etc: I've suffered through some pretty terrible situations and always managed to get by  either covering up with layers or bug spray. I also try to avoid the worst of bug-seasons by hiking later in the year (southbound and fall hikes). As such, I never even saw one tick on the AT.
  • Overgrown trails/bushwhacking/poisonous vegetation: I've endured some of the worst conditions (i.e. unmaintained routes along the Grand Enchantment Trail in NM and AZ) by wearing compression socks/tights to cover my legs, plus a long-sleeve shirt. I still think the benefits of a skirt or dress outweigh these intermittent risks and annoyances.
  • Thigh chafe... I have no solution for this other than anti-chafing cream. I'm fortunate not to have this issue but can certainly understand how it could be a problem.
  • Accidental exposure: sure this can happen but it’s really no big deal for me. I wear underwear, which I occasionally intentionally reveal to go swimming (hiker-trash bikini). I've met plenty of hikers that wear nothing under their skirts/kilts, enjoying total freedom. It's a matter of personal choice and confidence. 
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Kneeling for a picture requires a bit more consideration in a skirt or dress.

 

About Purple Rain Adventure Wear: Founded by long distance thru-hiker Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland, her small business started when she couldn’t find what she wanted off the shelves, so she began making her own thru-hiking clothes.

Mandy sells her products (skirts/dresses/kilts) through her website and Garage Grown Gear. She also vends at some of the AT/PCT trail events in person. Her stock materials/colors/combinations are limited but she can do custom orders for sizing. On her front page, you will enjoy this slogan: Smart practical hiking skirts for baddasses. Handmade in Southern Oregon.

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The Roan Highlands of Tennessee

Specifics of my dress sample:

  • Size: Small
  • Colors: black, gray, light gray
  • Weight: 4.8 oz

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Mandy reached out to me at the beginning of 2021 to ask if I could test one of her dresses on a thru-hike. With the design being new to her lineup, she wanted to know how the materials would hold up over time and distance. The AT was the perfect trail for testing. I received my sample for free, under the condition that I would use the heck out of it and report back on my findings. So here they are:

Fit & Comfort: The minute I first put on my Adventure Dress, I knew I was hooked. It felt like I wasn't wearing anything, most notably around my waist. The dress employs a design known as an Empire Waist, which is basically a dress with a fitted bodice that drapes out from under the bustline, rather than at the natural waistline. The halter top is made of a stretchy material that feels just as unrestricted. The light gray side panels are composed of a mesh-like material that allows for additional ventilation around the midriff.

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My first dress (left) and second (right, recently purchased)

 

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A close-up of the mesh side panels, from the inside

I enjoyed total freedom of movement for a wide range range of activities during my AT thru-hike. These included swimming, bathing, rock scrambling, butt-scooting over slippery rocks and logs, climbing over and under downed trees, sitting on the ground to cook and do camp chores, stretching, massage-rolling, sleeping, and stair-stepping my way into oblivion. To say that I lived in this dress would be both accurate and an understatement. It barely left my body for over three months, comprising my one and only outfit.

This is not unusual, as most thru-hikers wear the same clothes day after day. But I've heard my share of complaints about various clothing choices...this is painfully rubbing me, this is too tight or this is too loose after losing so much weight. I've known plenty of thru-hikers that had to buy new clothing early or mid-way through their hike, either because an item had worn out or was causing severe discomfort.

Throughout my experience on the AT, I reflected on whether there were any other clothes I'd rather be wearing and I always came to the same conclusion: No way! This dress is perfect! It never caused chafe, the seams never rubbed, and it continued to fit me, no matter how much weight I lost.

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As far as the practicality of such a design, it's spot on. The dress is loose enough not to inhibit movement, but also fitted so that it doesn't snag. I never experienced any problems with the material catching on trail debris, bridges, ladders, etc. The fit was near perfect.

My only wish is that it were a little longer. Considering that I'm rather tall for a size small female (5'9" yet only 125 lbs when I've shrunk down to my hiker size), I wasn't surprised by this. I've long struggled with pants either being a bit short or else too large around the waist. With a Purple Rain skirt, I can pull it down further around my waist and hips, easily adjusting the length as needed. This is not so for the dress.

When sitting on the ground or bending over, the dress can appear a bit too short. I didn't really find this to be a functional problem, as I was still able to carry out a full range of motions as needed, it was mostly just aesthetic. And it's ok to show off my hiker legs, after all, I've worked hard to earn them.

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Crossing the Hudson River on the AT
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My AT yearbook glamor shot at Harpers Ferry, WV.

 

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The dress came up a bit short when I bent over to say hi to this Grayson Highlands pony. To this end, the dress would probably not make for great riding apparel. (No ponies were harmed or ridden for the purposes of my gear testing.)

 

Adjustability: The Adventure Dress embraces simplicity. There are no zippers, snaps, velcro, or other adjustment features. There are also no built-in undergarments in the way of shorts or a shelf bra. At first I thought that a shelf bra might be a nice addition but now I'm convinced the dress is perfect the way it is. Users are free to wear whatever undergarments they prefer (mine are merino wool underwear and bras) or not wear anything underneath at all. In this way, the dress is truly customizable and non-gender specific. This simplicity leads to supreme comfort...even the seams were unnoticeable under my pack or when I slept.

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Breathability & Moisture: These are the attributes I appreciated most about this dress, especially while hiking the AT. It was hands-down the most sticky, sweaty, rainy, and hottest trail I've ever hiked. Having lived and hiked many years on the East Coast of the US, I knew to expect a lot of rain and humidity. Even still, I wasn't quite prepared for the remnants of three hurricanes (Fred, Henri, Ida) in the time span of two weeks. So much moisture really impacted my experience throughout New England, not to mention heat index warnings of the upper 90's in New Hampshire.

My clothes were usually soaked with sweat, if not by rain, by 7 a.m. every day for months. And yet, I endured with a higher level of comfort than most. One trick for hot climates, which I discovered from hiking a lot in Florida, is to frequently dunk myself and my clothes in water sources. The evaporate-cooling effect really helps refresh me. This became a once or twice daily routine on the AT, keeping me cool, rinsing the sticky and crusty sweat off my body, and mitigating my hiker stink.

I was really impressed by how well the performance materials of the dress ventilated, particularly the mesh side panels, as well as how quickly they dried. I found that I could soak in a stream 1-2 hours before making camp and that my dress would be mostly dry and fresh by the time I stopped. 

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Shower time on the AT...I loved my daily dunkings and swims to cool off and wash the sweat away. My dress was perfect as a bathing suit. Photo Credit Tom "Stellar" Sherry

In this way, I was able to often slept in my dress, as it was too hot to change into my tights and fleece. Other times I bathed or swam when I got into camp, hanging my dress and underwear to dry for the night (though nothing really ever dries overnight in such humidity). Putting on wet clothes in the morning is a common experience for thru-hikers but the properties of my dress and merino undergarments made such an inevitability more bearable.

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I also spent some time drying out on rocks. Photo Credit Tom "Stellar" Sherry
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The day after Hurricane Ida dumped 6-8 inches in New England, I had to do some log scrambling to bypass what's normally a tiny creek across the trail near Kent, CT. Photo Credit Tom "Stellar" Sherry
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Ida left the trail flooded for over a week...my feet suffered but my body did not, thanks to the quick-dry and breathable properties of my dress. Photo Credit Tom "Stellar" Sherry

Warmth & Layering: The Adventure Dress is specifically designed to be a summertime garment, as it's ultralight and well-ventilated. However, it's also a very versatile garment for the shoulder seasons of thru-hiking, since it's exceedingly easy to add layers. Whenever the conditions dictated, I simply wore some combination of tights, my Zpacks rain kilt, Appalachian Gear Co All-Paca Crew, Gore Rain jacket, or Montbell Puffy. Such items are the core of my spare clothing carried on nearly every thru-hike and have gotten me by with temps into the low 30's.

For the vast majority of the AT, I hiked in just my dress. It was only in the last few weeks on trail (mid October to November 4th) that I started hiking with the addition of my fleece...this one layer was enough to keep me warm into the 40's, as long as I was moving.

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At the TN/VA border with my preferred cool-weather ensemble: a highly breathable but warm alpaca fleece and my dress. This became my norm for the remaining 500 miles of trail.

 

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My first day on the AT, summitting Katahdin before I headed south. This picture looks typical of a late fall finish but it was actually July 25th, the very start of my thru-hike. The weather was atrocious: 50 mph winds, rain and temps in the 40's. I still made it all the way up in just my dress before adding my rain skirt and fleece to take my summit photo.
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My AT finisher photo at Amicalola Falls, November 4th. Temperatures were in the 30's and it was rainy, not unlike my start 103 days prior. Around the Smokies and all the way to Georgia, I needed to wear tights, jacket, and crew to stay warm. The pockets of the dress still came in handy in combination with all these layers.

Function & Features: There are several things that set the Adventure dress apart from discount store or second-hand offerings a thru-hiker might be tempted to buy, in order to save money. Most casual dresses are not designed with sports and outdoors objectives in mind. As mentioned before, the dress is made from performance materials that are wicking, quick-drying, and have just the right combination of support and stretch.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Purple Rain products all feature large side pockets. Each pocket incorporates two separate spaces in a layered design, similar to those found on cargo pants. In early productions, the top pocket flap was secured with velcro, but now it's simply sewn at the sides. This creates a pretty secure yet easily accessible pocket for things like money, cards, and small toiletries.

I much prefer the lack of velcro from the original design. I also think the pockets are located perfectly, where they don't interfere with my stride, arms, or bounce excessively against my legs. In fact, I'd say they're the most functional pockets of any recreational garment (pants/shirts/jackets) I own. The only pocket that comes as close to being as handy is that of my Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights.tmp-1638992214684_copy.jpg

tmp-1638992215232_copy.jpgI've carried my phone in these pockets for thousands of miles without serious mishap...a few times it did come out when I tripped because I keep it in the unsecured pocket for ease of use and because my new phone is too big to fit in the secured pocket. I've also used the pockets to stash just about anything I could fit. They even come in handy for carrying Smartwater bottles a short distance when making a run, sans pack, to an off-trail spring.

I love that I always have a spot to carry things, even when I'm not wearing my backpack or fanny pack. When constantly traveling and on the go during the course of a thru-hike, it's really advantageous to wear clothing with pockets!

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In town, thru-hikers will do anything to avoid having to wear their pack for a change. With my hands being occupied by such precious cargo as this masterpiece strawberry shortcake, I had to improvise carrying the rest of my belongings...Pockets! And yes, I ate that whole cake in one sitting.

Construction, Durability, & Abrasion: One of my first observations upon receiving my dress was how lightweight it was...in total less than any of my skirts! This was a good trait, as it lightened my worn weight by a few ounces. Yet it concerned me that the material might be too thin.

I'm happy to report that the dress surpassed my expectations of durability. It lasted through my entire thru-hike and it wasn't even until I got home that I noticed any holes. The seams remained perfectly intact and there are no rips or stains. This is pretty incredible given such a strenuous and damp thru-hike, plus the number of times I slipped and fell.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of my gear...I had more gear failures on the AT than I did on the rest of them combined (granted I was reusing some old gear that had already put in the miles on the other trails).

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Hard to see, but there's a small hole where the pen's pointing.

Besides some minor pilling around the thighs and some stress to one of the pockets from the weight of my phone, there's only one area that shows significant wear. As expected, the dress suffered the most abrasion where the bottom of my pack landed on my upper pelvic bones. There are two pretty threadbare regions on the dress here, as well as one hole.

I hadn't even noticed these spots until I closely inspected the dress at home by holding it up to the light. It makes sense that this region would receive the most abrasion. On my old HMG Southwest pack, carried for over 9,000 miles on six thru hikes, my backside completely wore off the padding on the pack! Incredibly, my skin has never suffered any sores or bruises from such rubbing, so apparently I'm a bit tougher than my gear. 

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This is my biggest wear-spot, more so than even my shoulders. Please note, this is NOT the pack I wore with my dress, but it demonstrates that something particular to my anatomy and movement causes such wear.
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A rear-view look...my pack isn't very big, but over thousands of miles such weight will cause some wear on clothing. Photo Credit Tom "Stellar" Sherry

For the AT, I used a new pack: a Waymark Thru 40, frameless and without a hipbelt (review coming soon). Given the more lightweight and nonrestrictive design of such a pack, my shoulders carried most of the load. However, I possibly experienced more abrasion around my lower back because of the free-swinging, belt-less nature of the pack.

I don't fault the dress for not holding up to such friction...clearly the rest of the dress is still intact, having withstood the regular abuse of thousands of miles. I'd still say it's a big win for the dress and hopefully I can get some more miles out of it by patching the affected areas.   

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The high-wear spots are easy to see with the light shining through.

 

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Conclusion: I loved my Purple Rain Adventure Dress well enough to buy a second one. I purchased it during a holiday special, opting for a size XS despite my concerns for the length. Fortunately it's not any shorter than a size small. Mandy also seems to have slightly altered the width of the halter-top shoulders, which I think will be an improvement. Otherwise It seems to be almost the same as my first dress. I look forward to wearing it on my next adventure! 

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The newest edition appears to have slightly wider shoulders. In the future evolution of the dress, I'm hoping for perhaps a t-shirt sleeve...we'll see.

Experience

I've hiked and backpacked extensively (10,000 miles) in Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. I wore the Adventure Dress for just over 100 days straight while thru-hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles). I also wore the dress for an overnight backpacking trip in Colorado, prior to the AT as a shake-down trip. I've purchased a second dress for future use, but will continue to wear my first dress for local adventures.

Source: tested or reviewed it for the manufacturer (Kept it.)

About the Author

Leah Harman is an avid long-distance thru-hiker. Since 2017 she has completed the Te Araroa, Colorado Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Arizona Trail, Long Trail, and Appalachian Trail. When she's at home she volunteers as an activity leader for the Florida Trail Association.

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