Our Favorite Pieces from Outdoor Afro x REI’s New Hiking Collection

Vibrant pants and a jacket with a practically custom fit are must-haves.

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Outdoor Hiking Tout

REI

REI recently debuted its first joint collection with Outdoor Afro, an organization that promotes Black leadership and recreation in nature via a network of hubs across the country. The line of hiking gear and apparel was designed to address the unmet needs of the Black community, and it marks Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp’s first venture under her for-profit business, Outdoor Afro Inc

Outdoor Afro x REI consists of 22 pieces, including lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, pants, and a daypack, all in statement-making colors you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the outdoor industry. The products are loaded with features that make the wilderness experience more accessible to the Black community. 

On behalf of Travel + Leisure, I attended the collection’s launch in Washington, D.C., where I spoke to Mapp and the REI team about their design process and tested out the inaugural collaboration — which the co-creators say will not be their last. 

These are T+L’s favorite pieces to shop.

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Trail Pants

Hiking Trail Pants

REI

Mapp infused the collection with her love of “hip-hop styling” of the ’80s and ’90s, and nowhere is that influence more apparent than in these parachute-inspired trail pants. I’m a huge fan of my pair in the vibrant teal. The waistband is extra-wide, includes a drawcord, and hits high on my midsection, creating a cinched look that I feel confident wearing far beyond the trail. Eye-popping in its own right, the teal is accented with yellow and blue-green zippers and stitching for an even bolder look.

From a functionality standpoint, these check all my boxes for a pair of outdoor pants: sweat-wicking, water-repellent, hard to tear, and armed with UPF 50+ sun protection. I wore them for a rainy day rock climbing in the Catskills and stayed comfortably dry while the Trail Pants held up beautifully to rubbing against rough terrain. I’m also a fiend for pockets (you have to be when you’re as prone to losing things as I am), so the many storage spots instantly won me over.

Available in sizes 0 to 26 with tall and petite options up to size 16, the trail pants have the most expansive fit range out of the entire collection. Rethinking the standard approach to sizing and shape was paramount to the mission of Outdoor Afro x REI.

“I’ve been wearing pants in this work for a decade, and it was never right — the waistline, the hip line,” Mapp said. “For me, it’s not about petite, plus-sizing, and [then you’re done] because you can be plus-size and still have a small waist. Or you can be petite and have a big ole booty. So we were trying to figure out, ‘How can you meet people in their fit moments that they need for the outdoors?’ I really felt like our community and everyone deserved high-quality, fashionable clothing that will not just fit and look good, have bold colors, but do the job.”

REI creative director Scott Mosher reiterated that it wasn’t just about “making more sizes available.” Much of their focus was on creating products that worked for a wider range of body shapes. “We knew that if we did do that, then it was actually just going to make [the] product better for everyone,” he said. “There clearly were going to be other people that were going to be like, ‘Oh, finally. You’re making things that fit a wider range of people.’”

To make garments that look and feel great on more people, the team studied different body types and worked with fit models with diverse shapes to establish a new “baseline for sizing.” Mapp said the “big takeaways” included increased height across the board, superb stretch, and broader shoulders.

Price at time of publish: $100

Rock climbing pants

Travel + Leisure / Lydia Price

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Shell Jacket

shell jacket

REI

The look of this waterproof jacket had me very excited. I’ll take a cinched waist wherever I can get one, and the effect of this dual-drawcord design is pretty much what my hourglass dreams are made of. Adjustability lets it drape in just the right place while affording ample room for layering. The women’s shell jacket comes in black with papaya detailing, an all-papaya that is great for deep-woods visibility, and a sleek color-block combination of black, white, and teal. 

Hitting mid-thigh, the water-repellent garment has four large pockets (two zippered and two sleeves at the chest), a sturdy yet breathable build, and, critical to the goals of Outdoor Afro x REI, features a spacious, extra-soft hood designed to accommodate and care for a range of Black hair types and styles. 

Maureen Estep, REI’s divisional vice president of brand partnerships, told me working closely with Mapp and her research was a wake-up call when it came to the industry’s inclusivity shortcomings, one of which they aimed to rectify with the shell jacket’s hood. “One of the surprising pieces of insight that came out of that work was that [a] product that was not developed or completely [missed] the mark for the Black community was so known within the Black community but so unknown in product development. An example would be talking about the hood,” she said, adding of the hair-friendly design, “That’s not a new need, it’s just one that hasn’t been heard before.”

“Those are the types of insights coming out in the work: a bigger bust but having a smaller waist and being able to cinch and why that’s important, and why the lining of the hood is needed, why the size of a hood matters, how a pack fits and how it can adjust over your chest and to be able to adjust for different body types. Those are the types of feedback that were really important,” Estep said. 

Price at time of publish: $179

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Flash Hiking Boots

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Flash Hiking Boots

REI

These hiking boots share the same structural elements as their general REI counterparts, save for the Outdoor Afro palette that lends a pop of color to the laces, insole, and stitching details. It’s a lively departure from the monochromatic options of the rest of the Flash Hiking Boot line. For me, the standout feature of the Flash Hiking Boots is their top-notch arch support. The ankle support is also snug and reassuring without feeling too constrictive, and the freedom of movement is furthered by the boots’ light weight. 

As you’d expect from the beloved retailer’s signature hiking boot, this 1.8-pound, over-the-ankle pair also comes with exceptional traction plus waterproofing that doesn’t inhibit breathability and is made from a bevy of recycled materials. They’re a great choice for fall hiking

Price at time of publish: $150

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op 7/8 Leggings

leggings rei

REI

I spend a lot of time in leggings, and these are a comfortable addition to my closet with a unique look. They fall particularly high on the waist, which features a drawstring cord that makes them extra secure. Again, pockets are essential for me, so I was pleased to see one on each side of this pair (I easily fit my iPhone 11, AirPods Pro case, lip balm, and keys in one pocket alone). 

Do note that the leggings’ fit caters to hourglass shapes — I recommend those with higher hip-to-waist ratios size up. Sizes range from XS to 3X, and mine lands below the ankles with plenty of room to spare on my 5-foot-2-inch frame. My pair is in the black and sea forest, a deep, rich take on the teal glaze you’ll find throughout the rest of the line. 

Made of 75 percent nylon and 25 percent spandex, these Bluesign-approved leggings feel as buttery as promised and have an impressive stretch. They passed my squat tests with flying colors — pitted against bright-red underwear, mind you. This equal-parts-functional-and-stylish performance is the “beauty” of REI’s products with Outdoor Afro, according to the brand’s creative director, Mosher.

“It was important for us to not just make more stylish, more comfortable, more expressive outdoor apparel, but also, it had to function,” Mosher said. “That was a big piece of what we do really well at the co-op — it’s gonna work, it’s gonna be durable, it’s gonna be made with sustainable materials. The blending of those two things is really the beauty of this collection.” 

Price at time of publish: $75

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Outdoor Afro Graphic T-shirt

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Outdoor Afro Graphic T-Shirt

REI

Like many who came of age in the early aughts, I’m a sucker for a graphic tee — especially one with something important to say. Naturally, I was drawn to the poignant text Mapp chose to grace this T-shirt. Available in black or white and sizes XS to 3X in a flattering silhouette, the tee pays homage to trailblazing moments in Black outdoor recreation. Places including Lake Ivanhoe, Wisconsin’s only Black-founded town; Idlewild Beach, the “Black Eden” close to W.E.B. Du Bois’ heart; and Colorado’s Lincoln Hills, a resort community where young girls got their chance to attend summer camp, are honored in the pulsating yellow, papaya, and purple hues that are ubiquitous in Outdoor Afro x REI.

“Through this graphic tee, I’m conveying that this is not the first time that Black people have embarked on contributions to the outdoor industry,” Mapp told me in D.C. “These are all moments, places where Black people were outfitters, where they created these oases of joy in nature at the height of Jim Crow. And not only were they outfitters, but they were guides and innkeepers. I stand on the shoulders of those pioneers, and it’s important for us to remember that.”

The shirt is made of 50 percent recycled polyester along with 50 percent organically grown cotton and meets Bluesign criteria for ethically and sustainably produced textiles. I have the crisp white version of the shirt, which is super soft and features a generous scoop neck that enhances breathability and, on me, affords the slightest hint of cleavage. An extended shirttail provides extra rear coverage and side-seams aid in creating a tapered shape that I love. The shirt in my usual size falls in a roomy position on me without appearing boxy. It’s a great comfy option to throw on for warmer-day outings or lounging around the house. 

Price at time of publish: $40

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack

Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack

REI

Like the Flash Hiking Boots, the Flash 22 Pack shares the same specs as the store’s general Flash 22 pack, a popular 14-ounce backpack for day trips, but its lid is uniquely adorned with an Outdoor Afro x REI patch and comes in the collection’s signature quad-color array. The emblem consists of a diamond shape that Mosher tells me is a bit of an “Easter egg” from earlier in the co-op’s 80-year-plus history and Outdoor Afro’s namesake silhouette.

The afro-styled cameo moved the shoppers Estep spoke to at the line’s launch event in REI’s flagship D.C. store. “I was asking this woman and her daughter, ‘What do you think?’ and the mom said, ‘To see the words ‘afro’ and ‘REI’ next to each other — I never imagined something like this in my lifetime,’” she recalled the patron, who added that the collection’s promotional photography also resonated with her, saying. “She said, ‘I’m a 60-year-old woman, and I feel like you saw me.’”

As for the bag itself, this latest edition comes with all the features that have made Flash 22 backpacks a favorite among hikers for daytime treks, including a removable mesh back panel and hip strap, a hidden pocket for valuables, and a hydration reservoir. Hip and sternum straps are crucial for me, as they help distribute weight away from my back and ensure my (if I’m being honest, usually over-packed) load doesn’t throw off my balance on uneven terrain. This backpack is roomy, adjustable in all the right places, and has two water bottle pockets that are plenty big enough to hold my 32-ounce Hydro Flask. Although it isn't waterproof, it kept my fleece inside dry when hiking in light to moderate rain for about two hours under some tree coverage.

Price at time of publish: $60

REI Flash Pack

Travel + Leisure / Lydia Price

About Outdoor Afro x REI

I joined Mapp, Outdoor Afro leaders, and a contingent from REI’s headquarters to learn about their collaboration as they celebrated the launch with a kayaking trip through the heart of D.C. “Kayaking” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when I think of the United States’ capitol, but it’s precisely this type of appreciation for nature interaction in its many forms — brief and extended, remote and urban — that is the heart of Outdoor Afro’s mission to connect Black people with our lands.

Enlightening in both environmental and historical terms, our tour was typical of Outdoor Afro excursions. Over 60,000 of the group’s participants have engaged in activities including skiing, fishing, and gardening across 32 states. 

As I learned while kayaking, countless seminal moments in Black history took place on the banks of the Potomac. It was the site of some of the earliest integrated construction crews, while racist senators successfully fought to close down the Tidal Basin beach rather than make a section accessible to the Black community. And in the middle of the waterway, just northwest of the Lincoln Memorial, stands Roosevelt Island, where the first Black troops to fight in the Civil War trained in isolation to avoid racial unrest in the district. This rich past is one of many “poignant, personal” and “symbolic” reasons Outdoor Afro founder Mapp, who aspires to become “the Madame C.J. Walker of the outdoor industry,” chose to celebrate her first foray into for-profit business in REI’s D.C. flagship.

“I think there is an undercurrent of joy and justice in this work, and D.C. has been the mecca of where to make statements about both of these things,” she told me.

Kayaking

Travel + Leisure / Lydia Price

We launched our kayaks from Columbia Island Marina under the scrutinizing gaze of local ducks, geese, and seagulls (unfortunately for me, D.C.’s osprey had already begun their southward migration for the season). As we paddled on the Potomac, Outdoor Afro leader Raymond Smith shared the history of Black triumphs and tragedies along its shores, including the nation’s largest nonviolent attempted escape by enslaved people. Had that group not made their daring bid for freedom, the capitol likely would have remained a slave city into the war years.

“They sailed all the way to Maryland until they were caught up with,” Smith explained. Dubbed the Pearl Incident, the voyage “saved the District of Columbia from being a slave city.” Smith described how, in response to the attempt, a slave-supporting mob started a riot in the district, which in turn pressured Congress to address the sale of slaves in the city. Consequently, a provision that ended the slave trade in the district was included in the Compromise of 1850.   

After making our way across a wide expanse of river and under gargantuan bald eagle seals on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, we rounded a bend onto a narrow path that hugs the western side of Columbia Island. With lush greenery dropping over calm water, it felt insulated from the bustle of the city, mammoth monuments, and prominent government buildings that had framed the first part of our journey. It made something Mapp had said to me about the spirit of wilderness particularly affecting.

“Our country has faced so much division in these last couple of years, a consciousness of division, and one of the things I got clear about in the pandemic is that nature is the ultimate unifier,” she said. “It’s a place where you can go, and the trees don’t know what color you are, the flowers bloom no matter how much money is in your account, the birds sing no matter who you voted for. There’s something we can learn about nature, about how we can be with each other. I really have leaned into the ways in which nature can be a unifier and a connector across perceived differences.”

Kayaking

Travel + Leisure / Lydia Price

Mapp’s philosophy about the omnipresence of nature resonated with REI creative director Scott Mosher. Explaining where he envisions the apparel they produced together in action, he told me, “Some of those people are going to go climb a mountain, and some people are just going to go for a walk in the park, and that’s okay. It’s all nature. That was the big thing that I took away, particularly from Rue, was this idea that nature is at hand — it’s not something that you have to go to; it’s something that’s inside of you.”

Grounding Outdoor Afro x REI in elements of adjustability and a new sizing baseline made it useful to the biggest group of shoppers possible, allowing them to embrace the huge range of ways to experience nature.

In addition to sharing the co-op’s mission to, as Estep called it, “get as many people outside as possible to experience the benefits of time outside,” Mapp joins them in hoping her work will help other Black entrepreneurs find success in the outdoor space. She aims to “inspire more people to think about business and starting a business, and not just be consumers but be the purveyors of the things that we know that our community needs.”

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Lydia Price is the commerce editor at T+L, where she tests and reviews the latest and greatest in outdoor apparel and gear in addition to general travel products. For this article, she tested Outdoor Afro x REI’s hiking collection and spoke to Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, REI creative director Scott Mosher, and REI’s divisional vice president of brand partnerships, Maureen Estep, about the research, design, and production that went into its creation. 

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