I have a theory that the travel industry has been preparing us to thrive in a pandemic for years and we just weren’t paying attention. There is one piece of travel gear that proves it.
When SARS-CoV-2 hit last March, we were required to keep our distance from one another. It was a new way of living. It was hard. But many found that the skills we needed to adapt had already been picked up on the road.
Packing a suitcase requires us to ask the question, what is essential, what do I need to have with me as I wander in a foreign landscape? While isolating from a global pandemic, Americans encountered the inverse problem: There’s nowhere to go at all, what is crucial? Instead of traveling – with luggage limiting the boundaries of our needs – we are all staying put, necessities bound within the four walls of our home. Travel and isolation both require a crisp definition of basic needs.
One group of travelers who were best prepared for this paradigm shift: Long distance hikers.
The folks who carry entire households on their backs for months at a time have clear ideas of what objects are critical. When the house goes everywhere, home and away become the very same place: the Venn diagram between travel and home is a circle.
So what innovations could thousand-mile walkers bring to our year of virus-induced stasis? The outdoor industry, a $887 billion behemoth in the American economy, has been perfecting valuable technology for our home-based pandemic lives: The rugged slanket.
Sleeved blankets came to prominence as a late-night infomercial under the trademark The Snuggie. They gained notoriety as a 30 Rock punchline when Tina Fey, as Liz Lemon, chows down on “night cheese,” slothed-up in a slanket.
For backcountry hikers, the blanket with sleeves answers a concatenation of questions posed by the fusion of travel and home: Schlepping a heavy backpack during the day works up a sweat. At night, temperatures dip and you are no longer generating body heat through exercise. First you’re hot, then you’re cold. You carry a puffy jacket. When it’s time to go to bed, you unroll your sleeping bag and it, too, is puffy, warm, and similarly made of feather down or lightweight synthetics.
To the forward-thinking hiker, this was an obvious redundancy, an unnecessary, inefficient overlap of necessities. If only there were a puffer jacket that did double duty as a sleeping bag. When two objects from opposing spheres of day and night, public and private, can be blended into one, it looks exactly like a slanket.
Adventure retailers such as REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods have been stocking outdoor sleeved blankets for years now. These can also be a key innovation for our home-based socializing in the winter of viral discontent.
Today we all stand still. Indoor conversations can kill, so safe friendships take place outside. We have turned our backyards and public parks into our living rooms. We dine at sidewalk restaurants as if we were in Paris. We hold January barbecues as if we were in Australia. Sales of firepits and propane heaters have skyrocketed. The once well-defined lines between intimacy and community are smudged, if not erased, when we don’t go anywhere at all.
We are social creatures. We need fresh air friendships and we want to be as comfortable and comforted as if we were in our own homes. America in the time of coronavirus is a nation in want of sturdy, warming slankets.
Top Choices for Sleeved Blankets and Plush Ponchos
- Poler Stuff Napsack,$130
- Selk’Bag, $170
- Rumpl Puffy Poncho, $179
- REI Co-Op Camp Wrap, $99
- Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt, $250
Featured image: Nadia Snopek / Shutterstock
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