The Perfect Way to Gear up for a Hike, According to the Duo Behind Hikerkind

Allison Levy and Chelsea Rizzo share why they launched their own hiking apparel brand and reveal their must-haves for exploring the outdoors.

Left to right: Allison Levy and Chelsea Rizzo | DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST
Left to right: Allison Levy and Chelsea Rizzo | DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST
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Hiking is one of those outdoor activities that catapulted in popularity during the pandemic. Trails became a go-to spot for people who desperately needed to get out and gulp up some fresh air while also practicing social distancing. For Allison Levy and Chelsea Rizzo, hiking was already part of their lives, but they seized that moment as an opportunity to combine their love for the outdoors with their background in fashion. The result? Hikerkind, a hiking apparel brand focused on style-forward technical gear that’s rooted in sustainability.

This “true quarantine baby,” as Rizzo calls it, came from their shared frustration with not being able to find high quality outdoor gear that fitted their style. “It didn't seem to make any sense to us, because we wanted to look like ourselves in the place where we felt most like ourselves,” says Levy. “We decided to create gear that not only performed how it's supposed to perform on trail, but also fit your body and aesthetically was streamlined, and classic.” They launched with one core piece— the Midlayer_01 pullover—and three accessories, including a water bottle, organic cotton bandana, and a scrunchy made from fabric scraps.

Ensuring their offerings were sustainable was also a top priority. Their pieces are made with all recycled materials or natural fibers, including Polartec Power Air, which is a recycled polyester. “Not only is it a recycled poly, but it also has these little pillows [with] microfibers trapped inside for your heat, but it doesn't shed as much on trail, so you're not leaving as many microfibers behind, or when you put it in the wash, it doesn't go into the ocean,” says Levy.

DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST/PHOTOS BY JONATHAN TASKER

Levy came up with the name Hikerkind while listening to Barack Obama’s latest audio book and perked up when she heard him speak about mankind. She immediately wrote “Hikerkind?” down on a piece of paper, and the word stuck. “We love that it tells you exactly who we are, because we're so hyper-focused on hikers,” she says. “We're also really trying to open the gates, and create a community for everyone, and create gear for everyone.” That’s why, alongside their clothing brand, they’ve created a community of women hikers by organizing twice-monthly hiking trips to trails just outside New York City.

We spoke with the designers and avid hikers about how they achieve style and functionality with their pieces, what they consider an ideal hiking outfit, and what you should always bring with you on your hiking and camping excursions.

Thrillist: Tell us about your pieces and how you manage to combine style and functionality?
Allison Levy: We see style as a function. Not only are we thinking of the different elements of how it can function [while] on trail, but the way it looks as part of that function. Whether that is a seam in a certain place, because it's going to make you put your arm up higher on the mountain, that's there, but it also stylistically adds the shape of the silhouette.

Chelsea Rizzo: I think a great example is [how] we chose to do a three button placket [on our Midlayer_01], because we liked the way it looked, but functionality wise, it works just as well, if not better than a zipper. It's also on-trail mendable, or consumer mendable. Most can't replace their own zipper, but you could definitely sew on a button.

What does an ideal hiking outfit look like for you from head to toe?
Rizzo: Super important to have a layering system, so no matter where you're hiking or when, the mountains are completely unpredictable. We always wear a base layer, such as a shirt or a top, and then a mid layer (like the Midlayer_01) which is your insulation layer. When it gets a little cold, as you gain elevation, you pop that on. When you're going back down, you take it off. Then it is super chilly at camp at night or at the top of a peak or a summit. You want your outer layer, so that can be your puffer or your shell. Then on the bottom, same kind of idea. You have your base layer, so that could be a short or a trouser. [Also], when I hike, I bring full rain gear because I've been caught in rain storms before. I just get really cold, and I get really angry when I'm cold. Then of course, a good pair of socks and a good pair of shoes. That can either be a boot or a trail runner. Lastly, sun protection, so like a hat, bandana, or beanie if it's cold.

Levy: [Also, our] Nalgene, the Water Bottle_01, because we love that it screws onto your backpack. You don't have to constantly be trying to get back into your pack.

What are your favorite outdoor gear brands to shop from?
Rizzo: We're obsessed with this company up in the Bronx called Allmansright. They're a couple who designed and made all of their own gear. It's ultra-light backpacking or hiking gear. They have this amazing eco cross-body. It's really beautiful, and it's really well fit for men and women. That's why we love it.

Levy: We also just love [Darn Tough’s] ethos. They have a lifetime guarantee, so if your Darn Tough socks get holes in them, you send them back, they send you a new pair. You buy a sock, you buy a pair for life.

Rizzo: Then we both wear trail runners when we hike, we wear Altra trail runners, which we love because they have this wide foot bed, so it's really good for anyone who's spending a lot of time hiking it on trail.

Levy: I wear the Lone Peaks, and Chelsea wears the Timps. Also, stuff that we bring on trail, like our sunscreen or our bug spray, like we have this brand, Kinfield, that's also a small brand based out of New York.

Rizzo: Their Golden Hour bug repellent, it actually works. It's so good. It smells like, I think it's mainly citronella, so it smells like citronella, so it's not like a chemical smell on your body after a long day of hiking.

DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST

What items should always be on our packing list when planning a hiking or camping trip?
Rizzo: Take your “big three,” which is your shelter, your backpack, and your sleeping-system. Your sleeping-system can include your pad and your bag. Then you're going to take, we like to call it your worn items—clothes you're going to wear during the day. Any sun protection, shoes, additional layers, your watch,... Then you’ll need your headlamps, so you can make sure to be able to be visible on site. You'll also have to have your water filtration system, we both use Sawyers. If you are car camping, a great hack of course, is to bring a bunch of water with you. I have a Stanley five gallon that I fill up. Then I know it's my clean water for the entire time that I'm there. I wash my pots with it. I refill my water bottles.

Levy: That's another thing. Cook set. Make sure you have fuel, make sure you have something to cook in, something to eat with, a utensil.

Rizzo: Another very important thing [to consider] is trash. You need your trash bag, and it's something that's often forgotten, because you have to leave absolutely no trace. That counts for when you're going to the bathroom, too. When we have our bathroom kit, we have whatever we need to go to the bathroom, our trowel, and our pee cloth, TP, or wipes. Also, if you're using a map on your phone, make sure you have your external battery charger and the cord. [Also, a] first aid kit.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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