Last week my wife and I trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Four days of hiking along dusty trails, cloud forests, and climbing stone staircases up high-altitude mountain passes.
I wasn’t ready for it. I hadn’t trained enough. Asthma and altitude are a bad mix. I’ve barely lived, much less camped, in below-freezing temperatures.
My one advantage was that I’d done enough research to bring good gear, and that – more than anything – carried me the 40 kilometers to the Sun Gate. A CamelBak kept me hydrated. Sunglasses and a wide hat staved off solar radiation. Four distinct moisture-wicking and waterproof layers kept me warm at high altitudes, cool in steaming forests, and dry in both.
But as I researched what to bring along the Incas’ fabulous stone pathways, I couldn’t help but think how different this gear looked from our classic conception of an adventure outfit. You never see Lara Croft wearing a sun hat, for example, or Nathan Drake carrying a canteen. And where – if anywhere – does Indiana Jones store his water purification tablets? Given my newly field-tested knowledge, I decided to examine these three adventurers to see who’s the best-outfitted adventurer in videogames.
Before we start, a few terms:
A base layer is whatever you wear against your skin. It could be a T-shirt, underwear, long johns or even a bra. A base layer should do two things: wick moisture (like sweat) away from your skin and keep you warm and insulated.
Smart fabrics and Merino wool are two materials favored in outdoors clothing. Both contain wicking properties, but trekkers generally favor the more expensive Merino wool because it insulates when wet and has natural resistance to body odor – important when you’re wearing the same clothes for several days.
Layering is wearing several successive layers of clothing to help you adjust to a variety of climates by adding or removing layers. For example, my trekking outfit in Peru had a wicking base layer, a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection, and a mid-layer fleece and waterproof outer jacket for colder altitudes.
Indy set the mold for the other adventurers on this list, but just because his gear is iconic doesn’t mean it’s practical. While suitable for hot climates and offering exceptional sun protection, his unwillingness to branch out hurts him in cold weather and his boots don’t have the best tread. But considering he had his heyday before most smart fabrics were available and outdoors research hadn’t exploded yet, he does all right.
Indy’s probably sports the best headgear out of the three. His fedora keeps the sun off him in Egypt and traps body heat in Nepal. And because it’s made of wool felt, it can even insulate him while wet. It has some major disadvantages that we’ve discussed before, though – it’s not particularly breathable in hot climates, takes forever to dry out in humid ones, and lacks a wind cord making it vulnerable to gusts. He also doesn’t wear sunglasses, though they were available at the time.
Shirts, Jackets and Base Layer
Due to his time period, Indy’s at a significant disadvantage when it comes to smart materials and warm weather choices. Still, his cotton safari shirt isn’t a bad base layer in hot climates, considering it’s breathable, provides basic sun protection and should dry out quick enough – but it probably chafes and stinks after living in it for a week. Indy’s leather jacket on the other hand is more stylish than versatile. While it’s fine for cool nights in Egypt and Germany, it’s totally inadequate in Nepal. Leather isn’t totally waterproof even after extensive treatments, and a long rainstorm or dunking in a river will ruin one in the long term and make it extremely heavy in the short term. Still, it provides some layering possibilities.
Indy wears a WWII-style Army and Army Air Corps officer’s trousers with a plain web belt. They’re simple, effective and practical given the time period. Not too heavy but also enough to defend his knees against rocks, thorns and brambles. He likely uses U.S. Army cotton boxers as a base layer, hopefully substituting long johns in colder climes.
Indy’s Alden 405 boots are good, heavy boots that provide both protection and adequate support for a day’s walking. While not as light or vented as some modern hiking boots, they’re a solid choice for the time period. Pair them with some wool socks to keep your feet dry, and they’ll still do the trick today. However, they have minimal tread compared to modern hiking or trekking boots, making them less than ideal for the outdoors.
Indy carries a British Mark VII gas mask bag made of heavy canvas with a modified leather strap. It’s a pretty minimal pack for an expedition, though he could conceivably carry survival supplies, chlorine water purification tablets, a compass, quinine pills, basic first aid and other essentials. Notably, Indy is also the only adventurer on this list that carries a canteen – which he used as a health replenishing device in Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.
Pros: Adequate hot-weather gear, effective sun protection, some carrying capacity, canteen
Cons: Poor performance in cold climates, minimal boot tread, chafing, no eye protection
It’s amazes me that Nathan Drake is alive. While his outfits have improved over the course of the series – they’re best in Uncharted 3 – his outdoors gear is riddled with rookie mistakes and baffling decisions. On the other hand, he’s also willing to adopt local garments and accessories and seems to understand the value of a base layer, so maybe he’s not so much incompetent as he his strapped for cash – adventurer-thieves don’t make a lot of money.
Nate wears no headgear or eye protection whatsoever, whether in the sun or the cold. The one exception to this rule comes in Uncharted 3 when he sports a Jordanian shemagh, a light cotton scarf favored in the Middle East. Conceivably, Drake could wrap this around his head for sun and dust protection, but considering he fails to do so while lost and dehydrated in the Rub’ al Khali desert, it’s probably more to protect his neck.
Or it’s a fashion accessory and he has a death wish. Whichever.
Shirts, Jackets and Base Layer
Unlike the other two on this list, Drake often wears an identifiable base layer. Usually cosplayers and fans have identified it as a cotton T-shirt (and given Drake’s propensity for baseball shirts this may be true) but I’d venture that both this is actually smart fabric, Merino wool, or some other wicking material. This would help keep moisture off Drake’s skin, and dry quicker between his impromptu swimming excursions.
For the same reason, I believe Drake’s long-sleeve Henley is a Merino wool blend like this one, since it would make more sense than cotton. Drake’s decision to wear a long-sleeve overshirt is a smart one – long sleeves provide some of the sun and cold protection he lacks from neglecting a hat, and he can push them up if he’s getting too warm.
In Tibet, Drake also ads a leather jacket with a nice wool lining. Given that it’s made in the village, it’s likely a good-quality jacket and will aid insulation – but he makes the fatal mistake of never wearing gloves or a hat. Not a good idea.
Nate tends toward jeans, which is an extraordinarily poor decision. While jeans provide a barrier to environmental hazards, they’re also the worst trail pants imaginable. Denim is made from heavy cotton, and cotton retains moisture instead of wicking it away like wool or synthetic smart fabrics. This means jeans take a long time to dry out once wet by either the environment or sweat, and that moisture on your skin sucks away body heat leading to greater risk of hypothermia (and terrible chafing). Worse still, in below-freezing climates wet jeans can actually ice up. This makes them a liability in both humid regions and cold ones, with dry climates being the only time they’re useful – and even then, there are better choices. To be fair, I met a trekker on the Inca Trail who favored jeans, but he seemed like a comparatively dry hiker. One look at Nathan Drake tells you he’s one sweaty dude.
In Uncharted 3 Drake switches to cargo pants – which, if they’re synthetic, was probably a wise move. He probably has UnderArmour or wool long johns as a base layer, because while those materials are expensive, they’re also easy to shoplift.
I don’t know how to say this other than that canvas shoes are terrible for what Nathan Drake does. They’re without doubt his most baffling piece of gear. Jeans and canvas shoes are what you wear if you’re fourteen and this is your first hike at sleepaway camp, not if you’re a seasoned traveller and adventurer.
In Uncharted 3 Drake switches to more sensible desert boots and, I assume, curses himself for all the years he spent destroying his arches and making squeaky noises on stone floors.
Drake has woeful carrying capacity. He mostly makes do with his pockets and some minimal pouches, and neglects any sort of water. Given how often he’s stranded with no notice, maybe a collapsible or roll-up water bottle would be a good thing to keep in one of those new cargo pockets or that hard-shell zip pouch he’s wearing in the Uncharted 4 trailer.
Pros: Good base layer, solid boots (Uncharted 3), adapts to conditions using local products, likely sues wicking fabrics and wool
Cons: Jeans increase risk of chafing and hypothermia, years of poor shoe choices, no hat in cold or hot climates, no eye protection, little room for gear, outfits inadequate for his (frequent) strandings in cold and hot climates
Lara has endured criticism for her outrageous clothing, but on balance she’s the best outfitted adventurer on this list. She has a wide range of outfits, adjusts her gear to different climates, and due to her wealth you can guarantee everything she wears is top-of-the-line or custom made. I mean, look at her mansion. Does it look like she’d have a problem affording gear from The North Face?
While she dons fur or wool-lined hoods in winter, Lara has never been known to wear a hat, meaning she’s exposed to the sun in hot climates. On the other hand, she’s a well-known sunglasses wearer, making her the only adventurer on this list who may avoid severe cataracts later in life.
Shirts, Jackets and Base Layer
Lara’s known for her tight shirts – and though the reason has more to do with male gaze, these actually could serve a practical purpose. If the shirts are a base layer meant to wick away moisture they should be tight since that improves effectiveness. (But what old-school Lara really needs is for someone to introduce her to sports bras.)
As for her mid layers and jackets, Lara can take her pick since she has by far the most expansive wardrobe on this list. In general terms, she dresses for local conditions better than either Indy or Nate, having worn puffy down jackets and arctic gear when operating in cold climates and keeping it light and breezy in stickier latitudes. Even the recent E3 trailer saw her geared up in a hooded rain jacket that had a Gore-Tex waterproof sheen to it.
Lara does love her khaki hot pants – which isn’t a bad thing. Hiking shorts are necessary in certain environments. They keep you cool and allow easy movement, but sacrifice the barrier longer pants provide. Lara has been known to wear them in Tibetan winter, however, which isn’t the best idea. And with all that exposed skin I hope she’s wearing sunscreen.
Later games – including the recent reboot – have favored long pants for Lara in colder and more hostile environments. And since this is Lara Croft and her bank accounts are effectively bottomless, it’s safe to assume her clothes are made from the best performance fabrics available.
Lara’s outfits can lend themselves to a certain stylistic extravagance, but her boots are all business. They have solid ankle support, deep tread and likely some killer orthotic insoles. Given their height, it’s also possible some contain kevlar layers to defend against snakebite (I wore a pair like this on an archaeological dig in New Mexico – you dig in the ground in some places and you’ll find snakes). (Editor’s Note: Why did it have to be snakes?) Even when shipwrecked in the most recent installment, she manages to escape with good boots, which is overall the most important part of a trekker’s outfit.
Though it’s by no means a constant feature in her kit, Lara has been known to carry a day pack. With more room than Nathan Drake’s pouches and better weight distribution than Indy’s shoulder bag, Lara’s backpack has by far the best gear bag on this list – though it still pushes the extremes for ultralight backpacking. It’s enough for the basics and a canteen, anyway.
Pros: Versatile wardrobe, dresses to climates, room for gear, solid boots, eye protection, appropriate winter outfits, likely buys the best fabrics available
Cons: Lots of skin exposed to the sun, will wear shorts in the snow, no sports bra, at times sacrifices practicality for style
So there you have it: the best-outfitted adventurer in videogames is, on balance, Lara Croft. She’s adaptable, has deep pockets, and even when she’s escaping a sinking ship she manages to make it out with the most important thing. Let’s hope that in her next adventure she’s got a little more time to pack.