Hiking clothes can be categorized into several different categories – base layers, insulating layers and hard-shells or wind-breakers. By combining these layers, you will be able to fine-tune your clothing performance for any activity, weather conditions and duration of the trip. In this article I will be discussing some of the most essential types of gear for any hiker.
Lightweight breathable base layers
Depending on the level of activity and climate, you will probably need a lightweight, breathable active-wear option, such as a pair of shorts and a synthetic or lightweight wool/synthetic t-shirt. You can also choose warmer base layers to add warmth and insulation for your activities. Merino wool and synthetic fast drying materials are the best for base layers.
Avoid cotton wear, as it absorbs water very well, and makes you cold. Cotton t-shirts, jeans and cotton hoodies are some of the worst choices for hiking, especially for any multi-day, variable weather pursuits. If you are out hiking for a few hours, it is not a big deal of course; but these materials are not suitable for backcountry. A pair of wet jeans might take days to dry out, which is why you will want to do your best to keep dry in the outdoors.
Wool, especially merino clothing perform excellent in the outdoors with amazing insulating and moisture-wicking properties and durability. A wool shirt or t-shirt will keep you warm, wick any moisture away and will dry fast, at the same time taming any odors.
Insulating mid layers
The purpose of insulating layers, as the name indicates, is to provide warmth. There is a massive range of mid layers available these days, made out of various materials, designed for all possible uses. Mid layers should be worn on top of your base layers and are usually close fitting and relatively thin. The most common materials include merino wool, fleece and other breathable synthetic materials. Insulating mid-layers can be combined with insulating outer layers or hard-shells and windbreakers for a full package.
Hard-shells are essential for any gear kit
Hard-shells usually refer to relatively lightweight and thin jackets and pants with no insulating layer, created to protect you from wind, rain and snow. At the first glance, they don’t seem to have much power, but that supreme weather protection allows your body not to lose warmth to winds and wet layers. If you space for only one emergency layer, it should always be a hardshell.
For cold and storm conditions, you should also wear hardshell trousers. Hardshell layers are like your personal tent that protects you from all the elements.
Softshell pants are also an excellent option for semi-waterproof insulating combination. They are perfect for cold weather (and dry-ish) activities. Softshell and hardshell pant combination is excellent for those cold winter hiking days.
How to layer clothes
Layering clothes is the best clothing management system, when in the outdoors. It is always better to have several thinner items than one super-warm jacket (in most of the cases), as it is easiest to find the best combination this way. The layers should vary in materials and thicknesses to achieve the best insulation result (and have the maximum amount of choices).
The way usually layer my clothes is use a light breathable synthetic or wool t-shirt as a base layer, then a thicker wool shirt as a mid-layer and a thicker fleece jacket or thick wool hoodie as an extra-warm mid layer. If it’s cold outside, you should also add a down jacket your kit. Finally, to top it all, you should always have a waterproof and windproof outer layer, especially if on a multi-day trip through variable climate and terrain.
For your lower body, a pair of long merino long-johns and a pair of softshell, synthetic or hardshell pants is usually the best choice for majority of the conditions.
Neck warmers, beanies and gloves barely weight anything and can provide a lot of warmth, since we lose a large fraction of our heat through neck and head. Never leave on a hiking trip without a lightweight beanie, neck-warmer and thin gloves (assuming we are not talking severe heat hiking). Neck warmers are especially versatile and can be made into a face mask, a hat or a hand cover.
Managing your clothing items on multiday hikes
A clever clothing management system makes things easy, when hiking in the backcountry. Given that you will probably be carrying everything on your shoulders, you should pack only the most essential gear. The rule of thumb is to have one set of clothes you will wear during the day outside and one dry set for when you stop for the night. You should always keep one set of clothes dry for to be able to get warm. When hiking in summer under rainy conditions, it is sometimes best to just wear fewer clothes to avoid getting them wet. Moving fast allows you not to get cold (but be careful with that).
The best clothing options will vary incredible depending on the hiking climate, conditions, terrain and duration, and you will have to fine-tune everything based on your personal experience. It is always useful to read about, what people use in similar conditions you might be dealing with. Before purchasing an item, spend some time reading about its better applications, read some product reviews by other users, outdoors bloggers and gear review websites; this will help you know, what to expect. If you are a beginner hiker, it’s always best to start safe, taking more layers than you might need to avoid getting caught in unexpected bad conditions.
Choose wisely and play safe!