About the Author: Jason P. is a Dappered devotee, having curated the majority of his wardrobe through the site. He is an enthusiast of wool sweaters, chino pants, and affordable automatic watches. In his free time, you can find him at his boxing gym or antiquing with his wife.
Everyone is chasing lululemon. Hill City, a member of the GAP portfolio of brands, seems designed to cash in on the Instagram-fueled trend of amoebic fashion which is capable of walking the line between performance-wear and casual streetwear. Spend any amount of time in trendy neighborhoods in major cities, and you’ll find droves of people dressed in apparel that makes you wonder “is that form or function?” Hill City, from what I can tell with a few hands-on looks and wears with their product, is aiming for their answer to this question to be “both.”
This is Lucy. She’s strong as an ox, and she’s ready to put paws to pavement.
My first reaction when browsing through the Hill City lineup was… this stuff is expensive. I should note here that I, personally, am not a proponent of expensive gym or fitness apparel. Your primary usage is, presumably, for activities where you’re going to get a bit disheveled. I applaud reasonable efforts to look good while training hard, but I’ve never been one for higher-end workout attire.
Yet, that’s the market. Like $4-$5 for a coffee (or, something sold in a coffee shop pretending to be coffee), paying $90 for stretchy workout pants is, weirdly, something that happens. And to play in this particular retail sandbox, it seems like Hill City feels they must look $$$-eye to $$$-eye with lululemon. (Whereas, Amazon’s Peak Veloicty, seems to be purposely undercutting those price points.) Hill City also claims they’re “sourced responsibly,” and promote the fact that they’re a Certified B Corporation. If Hill City is out to take a swing at lululemon, then recent news seems to indicate that, to put it coldly, lulu may have some vulnerability in that area.
All that said, there are a couple of pieces here that might be worth the splurge depending upon your budget, and others that I don’t think are worth your hard-earned cash. For a fit perspective, I’m 5’7″ / 175lbs and all sizes are medium. (Both shirts and pants.)
When a brand like Hill City tries to walk the tightrope of form and function in athletic wear, the first piece I gravitate toward is the basic workout tee. Their Everyday Train Tee is nice – I really enjoyed the fit. With an athletic cut and strong moisture wicking fabric that lays well on the body, this will do all you could ask in a workout. But, good grief is it expensive. At $38 you can buy two Under Armour tech tees on sale that do the same job just as well. I can’t recommend anyone spend $38 for what amounts to a basic tech t-shirt.
This shirt had me hopeful. Merino is a premium, multi-use fabric that is starting to gain much-deserved traction in performance wear. The shirt certainly felt premium out of the packaging. It was substantial, yet not weighty, and quite soft to the touch. It laid well on my torso and shoulders, yet the sleeve monster struck again. If you’ve read other pieces on Dappered from me, you’ll know that I struggle a bit to find long-sleeve items that aren’t overly long, and unfortunately that was the case with this merino shirt. 5’7″ and a size medium can’t be that uncommon, can it? Maybe? Performance wear should be unfussy, and this had some fuss. As you can see, the sleeves were simply too long. Of course, your mileage may vary, so take this critique with a grain of salt. But personally, I have a hard time spending $68 on a long sleeve shirt for workouts. Especially when the sleeves don’t fit right and I can find a shirt that performs the same function (I use Nike’s Dri-Fit tees) for less than half the price.
This was my favorite top from the collection. A blend of 78% polyester, 16% Tencel, 6% spandex isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the whole thing is executed perfectly. The fit is spot-on in the waist, torso, and shoulders. The inclusion of thumb holes in the sleeves suddenly eliminates the sleeve-length issue. The sleeves go from too-long to being proper coverage in brisk conditions. Though, I wouldn’t recommend wearing this in cool weather. It’s fairly thin. So unless you run super hot (and perhaps you do), beware that it doesn’t feel like it’ll keep you that warm. A chest pocket is fairly hidden with the exception of the zipper pull, and the collar lays nicely when unzipped. It creates a clever multi-dimensional, layered aesthetic in a comfortable and functional package.
The blend here utilizes 16% merino wool, 48% recycled polyester, and 36%, uh, virgin polyester. The added merino wool gives much-welcomed breathe-ability as well as durability, and a higher-end feel. Unfortunately, in the end, I was a bit let down by this top. There are nice details, like the wool blend, key pocket at the waist, and a flat, baseball-jacket style “collar” to set it apart from other ½ zips, but it fit large and loose around the waist. The waist is circumnavigated by elastic to create tension in an effort to prevent the shirt from lifting up when performing movements with your arms over head (like a pull up). A nice feature, but if it DOES rise up, it… stays there. And you get some bunching. This fit issue was absent in the Train ½ zip. Overall, this merino mesh 1/4 zip, altogether, was a collection of strong features and details that fell short as a combined effort.
Making my way downtown, I tried out two pairs of pants from Hill City. One, I quite enjoyed. The other, I immediately disliked. With brands like Hill City, it can be difficult to discern what is built for leisure versus exercise. These are most certainly for the latter. The Lightweight Run Pant is built for rigorous activity. But I still wouldn’t recommend them. Among their many faults, one unrelated to actual performance could be a deal-breaker for many. These pants have serious swish-swish. The noise from the 90% nylon, 10% spandex water-repellent fabric is a disappointment…they are LOUD. As for fit and function, these are the definition of slim-fitting. Huge amounts of stretch allow them to move with you, but to me, they felt pasted on, and seemed to cling to me with every shift and bend. In a word, these are uncomfortable. Zero points. I can’t recommend these for casual OR athletic pursuits.
The Midweight Train Paint is an aptly named product. It’s not overly dense, but neither is it featherweight. You would do well to wear these on a walk, yoga or during some outdoor training. One concern, perhaps, is the elastic cuffs at the ankles that look like they could lock in heat and moisture. Or at least, reduce natural ventilation? But that’s the “jogger” look that’s so popular right now. The fabric is light due to being a poly/lycra blend, and sufficiently comfortable. It feels a bit like traditional cotton, without the sweat-soaking characteristics. Overall? This one is a winner. The fit is comfortable, with no hot spots or annoying seams. Construction is well done, and the fabric is unexpectedly soft for a non-cotton pant. This is my favorite item – top or bottom- from Hill City.
Overall, I’m fairly apathetic to Hill City. The pieces do what they were intended, but nothing here really moves the needle in a manner that would lead me to purchase, especially at this pricing level. Hill City appears to be targeting lululemon, but for those of us who just want to get in the gym, get our work done, and get on with the rest of our lives? I feel inclined to stick with less expensive items from brands Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, and even Amazon’s Peak Velocity (thanks for the nightmares, Joe). But, if you’re interested in giving some of these pieces a try, Hill City is offering $20 off your first purchase of $100 or more with email sign-up to soften the blow. It won’t take any effort to get to that threshold.
There you have it. Do you have any Hill City apparel? Do you plan on giving any of the above a try? Let us know!