Before you go on a hike, you need appropriate clothing that provides comfort regardless of the weather. Uncertainty when it comes to garment choice and layering is something that new hikers, and, sometimes, even the more experienced ones, go through.
If you’re unsure about your choice in clothing, fret not because we’ll be giving you some helpful information on the variety of garments to wear on your hike and a deeper insight into the concept of layering.
When it comes to activities that take place in nature, one thing is for certain: you’re always at the mercy of the weather. This is what you need to keep in mind when layering your upper body, as this allows you to either add or strip away garments to suit the weather changes.
The garment system for hiking consists of three layers: the base layer, the insulation layer, and the shell layer. The base layer is what you wear constantly, while the next two layers are only worn if the conditions require.
Layering is also applied to lower body apparel. In rainy weather, for instance, you might find it necessary to don breathable, waterproof overpants. Extremely cold weather, on the other hand, warrants the use of long thermal underwear.
Long underwear, however, usually isn’t the most popular among hikers due to how difficult they can be to remove when the temperature gets warmer.
Hiking pants provide insulation for the lower body. They come in different types and are made of different materials to suit particular conditions. It’s important to keep in mind that, while vital, lower body insulation isn’t as essential as the insulation of your upper body. This is due to the lower rate of heat loss in the lower body compared to the upper body.
What to Wear on Your Hiking Trip
1. Base Layer
Staying dry is crucial in cold weather as wet skin and clothing can lead to rapid loss of body heat. Water has a thermal conductivity 25 times higher than that of air, which is why it transfers heat at a higher rate.
The base layer is worn next to the skin and needs to be worn constantly as it draws off humidity and keeps you dry.
For this layer, it is recommended that you choose materials made of merino wool or polyester. You can opt for tank tops, t-shirts, or long-sleeved shirts.
Aside from moisture management, skin protection should also be a factor when choosing your base layer. Since this garment comes in direct contact with your skin, make sure it’s soft and odor-resistant.
2. Mid Layer
This layer is worn over the base and is ideal for moderate to cold weather. It provides thermal insulation and comes in materials like merino wool, goose down, synthetic fill, and polyester fleece.
Put on a mid-layer if you feel that the base isn’t giving you enough warmth.
Don’t limit yourself to a single mid-layer if the temperature warrants it. A down jacket, fleece sweater, woolen sweater, or fleece jacket would all work as mid-layer garments.
These garments keep you warm by trapping air that’s been warmed by the body within their fabrics.
One very important factor to consider when choosing mid-layer apparel is the warmth-to-weight ratio. Factoring in this specific ratio when selecting your mid layer allows you to carry minimal gear weight without compromising on thermal comfort.
Other qualities to look for in this layer are space-saving, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. Take note that mid-layers are usually tight-fitting to improve thermal efficiency.
3. Shell Layer
The shell layer is either worn over the mid-layer or the base layer in warmer weather. It’s typically made of materials like Gore-Tex, Pertex Shield, Polartec Windblock, and Gore Windstopper to protect hikers from the wind and rain.
For the upper body shell layer, you can choose from either softshell jackets, insulated jackets, or rain jackets. Normally, hikers should only wear this layer when it’s windy or rainy, as it can affect breathability to a certain extent.
A more waterproof fabric tends to be less breathable. Today’s manufacturers, however, have figured out a way to fill this gap with better technology and more advanced materials. There are now relatively breathable fabrics that offer great protection against the rain. Nevertheless, completely waterproof fabric is never going to be the best to breathe in.
So, which is it? Are you looking for shells that are water-resistant, waterproof, or insulating?
Knowing more about the conditions you’re hiking in, including the weather changes, would go a long way in helping you choose the right shell layer.
The weather will always determine what you wear on a hiking trip. If it’s warm, you can stick to wearing a base layer; if it’s cold, put on a mid-layer to help preserve body heat; if it’s windy or rainy, a shell layer will do loads of good protecting you from the elements.
Since we’re talking about the unpredictability of Mother Nature here, make sure to anticipate weather changes and prepare gear that helps you cope with those changes.