Sweated & Vetted: Pistol Lake

Pistol Lake has been making heritage inspired sportswear in Los Angeles since 2012. Working closely with local factories, the brand’s production runs are quick, and highly responsive to input from fans; a surge of Facebook interest in a particular color or detail can turn into a production run within a week. The decision to expand into workout gear came late last year. When I asked co-founder William Sulinski about the new direction, he replied, “I think life is too short to allow the gear I have to give me limitations – so our workout gear was really about offering functionality. But too much activewear out there makes you look like a Power Ranger, and we just wanted to show that you could have more subdued design but still have gear that performs.” The initial short run of eight pieces (four men’s, four women’s) was funded through a Kickstarter in March, and the full collection should be available on the Pistol Lake website any day now.

William sent me a short-sleeve t-shirt and a pair of shorts to wear-test, and after putting a few weeks of use into both, I’m impressed at the way Pistol Lake has retained their core aesthetic while expanding into a new category. The t-shirt performs well as a workout tee but looks good enough to wear casually, while the versatile, dual-use shorts could easily be the only pair you need.

The t-shirt is made from a sustainably-produced fabric that’s a mix of recycled plastic bottles (about ten per shirt) and eucalyptus pulp. According to William, “it’s made from the pulp of trees grown on PEFC-certified, sustainably run farms. It’s manufactured using an extremely efficient, closed-loop system that uses non-toxic organic solvents, making it the most eco-friendly, renewable fiber.” The shirt is soft, stretchy, wicks and breathes well, and dries quickly. However, since the fabric is still so new, I was concerned with how it would hold up under hard wear and multiple washings. Out of the box, my size medium measured 20” across the chest, 27.5” in length, 19.25” across the waist, and 7.25” across the sleeve opening. After a dozen washes (cold water, hung to dry), the measurements were exactly the same and the shirt had no noticeable wear or durability issues.

On the fit, a medium was almost ideal for me at 6’2” and 175, although I wouldn’t have minded an extra 1-1.5” in length. The hem hit just below my waistband when running, but I noticed it riding up and showing some skin when I had my arms above my shoulders (squats) and when I bent over (deadlifts). I’m hoping Pistol Lake’s short-run business model will make it possible to offer tall sizes in the future.

Beyond the measurements, the small details demonstrated just how much thought went into the design. The flatlock seams are strong and durable without being obtrusive or chafing. The saddle shoulders are attractive and functional, and curved hems are one of my favorite details for athletic shirts (and underused, in my opinion). I’ve seen shirts that overdo this detail with big scalloped hems that look like untucked dress shirts, so I appreciate that this is more subtle. 

The shorts fit the stretchy, waterproof, dual-use niche that an increasing number of companies are trying to fill, but Pistol Lake’s version includes some details that set them apart. The most welcome difference is in the pockets, where Pistol Lake has included a snap-closure phone-sized pocket on the right hip (large enough for an iPhone 5 with a big waterproof case), a zippable hidden pocket on the left hip, and zip-closure rear pockets. The pocket bags (which are printed with a vintage map of Havana) are deep and secure as well (the front pocket bags measure 10” deep, while the rear are 8”).

My size medium shorts measured 16.5” across the waistband, 10” inseam, 12.5 front rise, 13” rear rise, and 10.5” across the leg opening. The waistband has a dual-closure system, with a zipper and velcro fly secured under a laced flap. The combination of the four-way stretch fabric and generous cut through the thighs made the shorts comfortable for running, hiking, cycling, and weightlifting. The thick fabric is durable, although the trade-off is that they are relatively heavy. Without a way to secure the waistband tighter than the fly and laced flap, the shorts sag a bit when the large pockets are full or the fabric is wet. One possibility for future iterations would be to convert the laced flap to a full internal drawstring.

Overall, Pistol Lake has put together a line of athletic gear that combines their vintage aesthetic with innovative performance fabrics. The blend of recycled plastic and eucalyptus pulp is sustainable, and keeping production in Los Angeles makes this gear an easy ethical choice.

Jason Brozek is an ultramarathon runner, lapsed Ironman triathlete, and professor at a small liberal arts college, where he teaches courses on sustainability and international politics.

  • KW

    The shirt looks great, but the shorts are underwhelming. I’d prefer a standard button closure with, as you mentioned, a possible internal drawstring (a la Outlier’s New Ways). The inseam also seems much too long for an athletic short. On the positive side, the cell phone pocket is a really nice touch, and it looks like it’d be really easy to use headphones while the phone is snapped in. Hope they can refine the design a bit going forward.

  • M

    Thanks for the info Jason. Your write-ups are really helpful! – M (LU ’11)