Climbing Mount Everest: Lessons Learned from Hillary and Norgay

Each morning when we wake up we are all faced with a similar dilemma; how to dress for the day ahead.  For most of us, this is a preference led exercise, guided by what pieces we feel would look good on that given day.  But the question of what to wear takes on new meaning when your life depends on the outcome. This is the quandary that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were faced with in 1953 during their journey to the summit of Mount Everest.  Hillary and Norgay’s sartorial decisions were literally a matter of life or death as they prepared to brave temperatures that fell well below zero and an increasingly thin atmosphere.  The two adventurers stayed away from puffy, down stuffed jackets that would limit their mobility during their ascent.  Instead, they opted for pullover long bodied anoraks as their top layer with streamlined, non-bulky layers beneath. This strategy provided protection and warmth without interfering on their climb, ultimately granting them success where seven teams had failed before.
While it is highly unlikely that you’ll be preparing for negative twenty temperatures like Hillary and Norgay were, there are still many lessons that we can pull from this pair as we enter into the cooler months: First, the pullover anorak is a fantastic option as a top layer.  The fully sealed off body and shortened opening prevent any wind from permeating through the jacket, saving the wearer from an uncomfortable chill.  The lack of a long zipper also opens up the possibility for an additional pocket front and center on the jacket’s face, providing easily accessible storage.  Something that certainly came in handy for the explorers in keeping everything they needed for the climb close at hand.  The pullover anorak is actually an incredibly underutilized design and is fairly difficult to find in today’s marketplace, but Barbour, Engineered Garments, Filson, and Woolrich do produce some noteworthy options.
Second, do not underestimate the importance of accessories when enduring the elements.  While this pair had to don serious add on’s such as goggles and gas masks in order to withstand the atmosphere, you’ll be in need of something less substantial.  Scarves are a critical component in a man’s everyday winter wardrobe, as they protect an exposed neck and stop the cold from seeping into your otherwise warm outfit. Drakes offers traditional scarves in a wide array of colors that are renowned for their craftsmanship.  For a more contemporary approach, Gant Rugger and Woolrich Woolen Mills offer scarves in more bold patterns that help draw attention toward the center of an outfit.

Finally, and most simply, sometimes it is those that worry the least that end up looking the best. Hillary and Norgay did not set out to be admired for their style, in fact their appearance was probably one of the last things on their mind.  For these two men it was not about looking cool, it was about wearing what they had to in order to accomplish their goal, going so far as innovating on what teams before them wore and accomplishing a previously unthinkable feat.  Sometimes the less you care the better – and the more unique – you’ll look. Hillary and Norgay certainly prove this adage, and teach us all a valuable lesson.
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