What Grandma’s Casserole and This Fleece Have in Common

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There’s a dish my grandmother used to cook, and my mom after her. We called it Grandma Helen’s Hash Brown Casserole, and you probably devoured some version of it if you grew up in the Midwest before “organic” was a thing.

Made with two pounds of frozen hash browns, two sticks of butter, a pint of sour cream, 12 ounces of cheddar cheese, half a box of cornflakes, and the obligatory can of cream of chicken soup, Grandma’s casserole was a staple at holidays, family reunions, and church potlucks. It was also so popular at memorial services that my Indiana in-laws still refer to it as Funeral Potatoes. Sure, it was an artery-clogging cholesterol bomb, but it soothed the soul like no kale salad ever could.

What does this have to do with outdoor gear, you ask? After 25 years of testing all sorts of tricked-out technical apparel, I have come to appreciate the simpler things in life. Like durability. Reliability. Ease of use. And comfort. On backpacking trips, I wear Lowa boots. My go-to pack is an Arc’teryx. My new bike is a titanium throwback. And the most frequently worn fleece in my closet is Melanzana’s Micro Grid hoodie ($78).

Purchased around 2008 from Melanzana’s iconic storefront in Leadville, Colorado, this hoodie is a masterpiece of utilitarian restraint. It doesn’t have taped seams or laser-cut edges or water-proof zippers. There are no elastic cuffs to absorb moisture or hidden pockets that add weight. And the designers didn’t bother with body mapping or elaborate fabric blends that drive up the MSRP on other jackets.

This simplicity has been core to Melanzana’s ethos since the company was founded in 1994. So has a commitment to sewing every garment in Leadville. All this has earned the brand a cultlike following, and means that your hoodie will last a long time, because there’s little about it ever likely to fail.

What you get is a supersoft, loose-fitting pullover with a kangaroo pouch and a roomy drawstring hood. The lightweight Polartec fleece (current versions are made with 100 percent post-consumer waste) is not the warmest, but it does the job on cool mountain evenings—and makes a dreamy pillow in a pinch.

For mountaineering trips and ultralight sorties, I typically pack a more advanced puffy. But for close-to-home adventures, fly-fishing trips, and pub crawls, this hoodie is my favorite, the sartorial equivalent of comfort food minus the carbs. It’s not just the cozy feel I treasure. It’s also the years of memories: camping with my kids, casting flies on the Snake, and curling up with my Bernese mountain dog after a day on the trail (in fact, I think that’s some of his drool on one sleeve). All of which, like Grandma Helen’s cooking, makes this sweatshirt worth more than anything money can buy.

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