December 26, 2011 / Comments (0)

Hiking Clothing Guide


Dressing for the Trail
Dressing appropriately for a hike is important for comfort on the trail and, in some cases, necessary to staying alive. Below are guidelines for trail clothing. Please note that this is only a guide and the weather/season/your body will dictate the type and amount of clothing you bring.

Layer 1: Outerwear

Each season will demand different outer layers. Always be prepared for the worst weather. Outerwear is your first line of defense against the elements! Outer layers may include a warm jacket, down vest, or rain jacket. It should repel rain and snow, but also breathe so perspiration doesn’t build up inside your layering system and soak you from within. In wet conditions, you’ll want something that’s totally waterproof.
Look for a jacket with features such as sealed seams, zipper guards, and cinchable hoods. Armpit zips, mesh pockets, and waist drawcords will help you ventilate when working up a sweat. If conditions are very dry, you can get away with bringing a shell that’s windproof. These usually aren’t very waterproof but are fairly breathable, and they pack smaller and lighter than waterproof models. Much of the time on hikes I keep my outer layer in my pack, but am glad I have them above treeline. For summer hikes a jacket is all you need. But for hikes in fall, winter, and early spring, you may need waterproof/breathable pants, too.

Layer 2: Insulation

A shell or rain jacket will keep you dry and prevent wind from penetrating, but won’t keep you very warm. It is important to have an insulating layer. Insulating layers include synthetic fleece, wool, down, and high-loft synthetics like Polar-guard, Micro-loft, and Primaloft.

Synthetic pile and fleece are the most effective all-around materials for insulation and your best choice for wet weather. The advantages of these materials are numerous: They’re breathable and easy to ventilate. They keep you warm even when wet. They’re warmer for their weight than wool. They trap heat while absorbing very little water. And they’re durable and machine washable.

For below-freezing winter weather, add a light down jacket to your wardrobe. Lightweight and highly compressible, down won’t add much to the bulk or weight of your pack, yet it will help you keep warm during rest stops and around camp.

Layer 3: Base layer/Underwear
On a mountain you need a base layer that will wick moisture away from your skin, so you stay dry and comfortable. This is essential when you’re working up a sweat in the cold mountain air. Fabrics include silk, polyester, and wool, along with many other blends. Along with long underwear, make sure your underwear isn’t cotton! Nothing like having a cold butt during a winter hike!

Several weights of fabric are available. For general three-season hiking/backpacking, the lightest weight is your best choice. If you’ll be winter camping, add a heavier “expedition”-weight top and bottom to your clothing bag.

Now that you have all your clothing, you need to decide what to pack! Here’s some tips:

Anticipate your activity level as more vigorous hiking may allow you to wear lighter layers in daytime.

When buying hiking clothes, look for versatility. The more conditions a piece of clothing will accommodate, either alone or combined with other pieces of clothing, the more it deserves a place in your pack. Aim for three season pieces with some extras for winter weather.

Always plan for the unexpected when packing. Especially if you plan a multiday trip; consider the range of conditions as weather can change very quickly, particularly in the mountains.

Be prepared for precipitation and cold temperatures in summer. Pack a wool or pile hat. For the weight, no other piece of clothing will keep you as warm.

In summer, dress for the heat of the day. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored synthetic clothing. Avoid cotton fabric. A long-sleeved shirt and long pants might seem like overkill, but they’ll protect you from sunburn, ticks and other bugs.

Don’t jump for a heavy, insulated parka. You’ll most likely be carrying it up the mountain. Several light layers do a better job at providing greater warmth and more versatility than a single heavy layer.

Resist the temptation to wear extra thick socks or too many socks. On the trail, wear a thin, synthetic liner sock topped by a wool or synthetic hiking sock. Save the heavy socks for camping.

In winter, carry more warm clothing than you think you’re likely to need.

Last modified: July 16, 2017

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