Gear I Hold Dear: My REI Co-op Fleece

Growing up and moving on is part of life, but having something familiar to hold onto—or snuggle into—helps one co-op member embrace change.

When I pull the olive-colored fleece over my head, I am transported back. The intense nostalgia wraps me up into a tight hug, and I feel safe. Of course, the tightness I’m feeling might be because my REI fleece—a constant companion over more than a decade—may be a size too small. I think it’s a little bit of both.

It brings me to a different moment every time I wear it—to a tent hidden in a stand of elms, to my mom’s garden and buckets of ripe tomatoes or to my youngest brother’s birthday in 2005. I hear the giddy screams of neighborhood kids pelted by water balloons. I’m crouched behind the bushes, and I barely glimpse my dad’s feet as he runs across the grass.

“Surprise!” I yell when he is close enough and hurl the slick ammunition toward his chest. Then I race to where our collection of sweatshirts, including my fleece, lies in a heap: home base. I clutch my fleece close to my chest, score a few lungfuls of air, then sprint off across the wet grass.

Years later, the cicadas begin their nightly chorus while the fireflies make their debut. “Mine will be best,” my brother announces while spinning a stick with a marshmallow over the fire. I don’t have the patience for this competition. I thrust mine into the flames, then peel off the blackened bit and smash the remaining goo between two graham crackers. I snuggle deeper into my fleece.

REI Co-op Trailsmith fleece
The author’s REI fleece has traveled the world. (Photo by Courtesy)

Before I know it, I am finishing high school. It’s May, and we cram into my parents’ Honda Odyssey van to drive to our favorite spot, the middle of nowhere, Iowa. I lay on a limestone outcropping and let the warmth of the rock melt through my fleece into my back. We call this place The Waterfall, not because there are any cascades nearby, but because you can always hear the creek trickling through the woods. This rivulet eventually meets the Mississippi River, then makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a tiny ribbon of water with huge plans ahead, and that’s how I feel.

I can’t believe I’m doing this, I whisper to myself after I say goodbye to friends and family and board the plane. It’s my first international flight. I’ll be working in Japan for a summer, for a company that I know little about, in a place where I do not speak the language. I grip the sleeves of my familiar olive fleece and step off the plane. When I set up my new apartment with things to remind me of home—letters from friends, pictures of family, drawings from students—my favorite fleece hangs over my chair.

Since then, I’ve taught abroad in three other countries. I’m in Bolivia now, teaching students virtually amid the pandemic. Even on the difficult days, bright, high-altitude sunshine and hopeful, eager students greet me on Zoom. I clutch my fleece close to my chest like it’s home base in a water balloon fight 16 years ago.

REI Co-op Trailsmith fleece
The author hikes in South America with her REI fleece. (Photo by Courtesy)

Find the recently redesigned REI Co-op Trailsmith fleece at your local store or online. Pulled from our 1992 catalog and updated with recycled material, the Trailsmith fleece jacket stays true to its roots with Polartec® fleece, a relaxed fit and even our retro labels.

For more odes about our favorite stuff, check our Gear I Hold Dear series.

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