Hiking is all fun and games until you realize that you’ve dressed completely wrong for the occasion. This is a problem that most hikers face. Just like any other event, hiking requires practical and effective clothing. Introducing; Layering! Layering Clothing is a vital aspect of hiking. Whether it’s summer, monsoon, or a winter hike, as long you’ve layered well, you’re going to enjoy your trip.
That is IF you’ve layered well. Don’t be deceived into thinking it’s an easy task. There are various things to consider and a lot of things to know before you could layer perfectly for a hiking trip. Lucky for you that we’ve got you covered. This comprehensive guide to layering clothing while hiking is your one-stop solution to all hiking needs. Sit tight; this is going to be a long one!
- What is Layering?
- Why is layering important?
- Layering System
- How To Layer Hiking Clothes?
- Summer Hiking
- 3 Key Factors to Consider Before Buying Your Hiking Gear
- Cover for head and Hands while Hiking
What is Layering?
Layering clothing has become a thing of vogue. But what does this term mean? In a nutshell, layering clothing refers to wearing just the perfect hiking gear for the day. Your outfit needs to perfectly regulate your body temperature and quickly adapt to the ever-changing weather conditions.
For the hiking gear to be perfect, you might need to layer your clothes well. For instance, if you’re planning a hiking excursion during the winter, you need to equip your body to sustain the chill of the freezing winter and the dew of the night. We want to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry in the monsoon, simple!
The clothes used for the layering system are defined by various factors including, the fabric of the clothes, the color, and even the thickness. Oh, but there’s more. The affordability, portability, weight, comfort, space, breathability also needs to be taken into consideration. Yes, you need to be meticulous about each aspect. This task can seem tedious, but it’s evidently rewarding. But fret not; once you get accustomed to the system of layering, you could brave changing weather conditions with ease!
Why is layering important?
Imagine wearing just a t-shirt and a sweatshirt and going for a trip up the hills. After trekking a certain distance, you are exhausted, and you feel exponentially warm. Naturally, to cool yourself down, you decide to remove the sweatshirt. But oh! It’s suddenly chilly now! Obviously, you won’t be able to brave the chill of high elevation with a pansy t-shirt. You decide to put the sweatshirt back on, and we’re back to square one. Now, do you clock it?
Layering ensures that you have clothed yourself perfectly for the trip. From your underwear, right at the top, to your jacket, and everything in between needs to be a perfect balance in the mix. The system of layering differs from season to season. But it is especially important to layer well during the winter and monsoon hikes. Following is the breakdown of the layering system and what each element of the layering entails.
The layering system is divided into three sections or three layers. These are;
- Base Layer
- Mid or Insulation layer
- Outer Layer
The key thing to note here is not how much to layer, but how to layer. This is a mistake that most hikers make. You could cover yourself with 7 layers and still feel chilly! Because the quantity has no role to play here. You need to pack smartly if you wish to have a fruitful hiking trip.
Layer 1: Base Layer
As the name suggests, the base layer is the clothing you’d be wearing first, your underwear. Though, at times it also includes the clothing you wear above the underwear, which then becomes the closest layer to your skin. Thus, how to choose base layers is vital. While you want the base layer to protect you from the freezing winter, you also don’t want it to absorb your sweat. Because you will be perspiring a lot.
If you are climbing up a steep hill and tire yourself down, you don’t want your base clothing to become wet from the preparation. This would feel not only uncomfortable and freezing but also itchy. Thus, the entire point of the base layer is to wick away the sweat. This is why the cotton base is a big no-no. For one, cotton fabric invokes sweat. But this is not even the worst part. Cotton absorbs the sweat, making the outfit that you’re wearing wet. The natural fiber will absorb all the moisture. It will paste to your skin and pave the way for discomfort.
However, synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon are preferred while hiking. Polyester or merino wool is good for wicking the moisture away. Whether it’s above your underwear or the underwear itself, you need to keep the moisture factor in mind before you choose what to pack. Although, some hikers do not prefer wearing underwear and dive right into the near-skin garment. We’re putting it out there just to let you know that not wearing underwear is also an option. One that is opted by many veteran hikers might we add. If you still insist on wearing it, go for synthetic fiber. We will discuss what clothing products you could use to base layer yourself perfectly.
Layer 2: Mid Layer or Insulation Layer
The insulation layer has to be the trickiest layer of all. This is where hikers make a mistake and burden their bodies with unnecessary and futile clothing pieces. The purpose of this layer is to adapt our bodies to the different temperatures or weather conditions prevalent outdoors. The foothills of the mountain are considerably warmer than the hill stations. As you go up, you’d feel the chill and the wind of the day increase, respectively. Naturally, you would need something to protect you from cold and the gusts.
As long as this philosophy is adopted for most pieces of clothing, you should be fine. As the name suggests, an insulating layer requires a fabric that does not allow the heat to escape. For the mid-layer, you want some airy. Something that keeps your body warm, but beyond the layer, it is cool, so you won’t perspire much. Breathability is the key while deciding the outfit!
If you’re hiking during the winters, you need to pay full attention to what you pack for the mid-layer. You don’t want to go for something too fluffy. It will only add to the overall weight of the bag. Halfway down the trip, you’d clock that you could have easily packed light had you thought the whole process through. Well, to save you from the rueful feeling, we strongly suggest you pack something light, yet effective, warm, and yet breathable. Yeah yeah, we know it’s too much to demand from a single piece of clothing, but ’tis what ’tis.
Also, the clothes you choose needs to be something that could dry quickly as well. If you’re expediting across chilly mountains, drying the clothes would become a problem. This is why we suggested against packing cotton clothes. Fleece sweaters and puffy jackets are two clothing most preferred by frequent hikers. They don’t allow the heat to escape, keeping your body exponentially warm. Furthermore, they are also highly breathable. Though, it all boils down to your personal preference.
Layer 3: Outer Layer or Shell Layer
The outer layer is your last man on defense against the unpredictable weather conditions. It is the one thing that will save you from the chilly damnation! Choosing the clothing for this layer is not as easy as picking the best-looking trekking jacket in the mall and packing it. You’d have to consider what you’re wearing under the thing as well. You neither want to feel too warm nor too cold. What you will need is an outfit that is;
- Breathable and Waterproof: If you are going to a region that is highly susceptible to rain, then you’re advised to pack something waterproof. Jackets that can easily wick away the water droplets without penetrating through the fabric are ideal. Though, you also want to keep your body warm. If it’s likely to rain, the temperature of the region with lower as well. Thus, a jacket that traps heat wicks away the sweat, and the droplets should be looked out for. At the same time, ensure that the clothing is breathable enough.
- Wind-Proof: Mountainous regions invite windy weather way too much. If you seek protection from the winds, look for something airy and breathable yet doesn’t allow the wind to become an impediment. Such jackets might prove to be expensive once you go out there to pick the perfect clothing. However, you could find plenty of budget-friendly options as well from e-stores.
All the layers that compose the system of layering are of much importance. There needs to be an optimum balance in every layer. Each layer needs to compliment the other. At the end of the day, it is a collaborative effort of your layering clothing that will keep you comfortable in volatile weather conditions. Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of the layering, let’s understand WHAT you could purchase to perform this task well. As long you pick your clothes wisely, you would be able to endure a tiring hiking trip conveniently.
How To Layer Hiking Clothes?
The way you layer your clothes during a hiking trip can make or break your trip. You need to be extra careful with what you wear and on what layer you wear it. However, the procedure of layering differs depending on the season you’re going hiking. Summer, winter, and monsoon, all seasons have specialized requirements when it comes to clothing. In this section, we will expound upon the kind of clothes you could wear in mid, insulation, and outer layer during summer, winter, and monsoon hiking.
Summer hiking is not as popular as winter and monsoon trip, but it does have its fair share of fans. Needless to say, you’d be dressing quite differently while exploring the steep hills under the scorching heat. So, how do layer for a summer hike and make our trip unforgettable?
If you’re planning to climb the steep steps of a hill, you will be perspiring way too much—way more than you could possibly imagine. Regardless of the elevations, summer hikes would demand a unique base layer, which keeps the moisture in check while ensuring that your insides feel airy and comfortable enough. Remember our previous mantra of never wearing cotton while hiking. The same applies here as well. What you could wear in merino wool. Merino wool offers versatility, which is exactly what we need in the bag while hiking.
As you go higher up in the mountains, you will notice the temperature lower and feel the chill splash on your face. Merino wool is compatible with both warm and mildly-sold weather. This is precisely why merino wool is opted for by most experienced hikers. You could also go for synthetic fabrics as they are incredibly cheaper. And we all know how expensive hiking gear can be. Long boxers and breathable upper is advisable for this layer. You won’t need a next-to-skin garment as it is a summer like we’re preparing for. Wearing underwear is a choice. If you want to feel airy and bulked up, feel free to ditch. You could purchase trekking gear from stores like Decathlon.
Mid-layer is responsible for two things; wicking away the sweat that the base layer lets slip out of its fingers and providing protection against wind and mild cold that could occur in high-elevation. Needless to say, versatility is the bare minimum you need to expect from the mid-layer.
Fabrics that can feel breathable, such as Polartec and Polartec micro, are good clothing insulators. They can trap heat to keep you warm while also wick away the sweat effectively. Polartec fleece jacket, or again, Merino wool jackets and track pants, are perfect for fulfilling the requirements of the insulation layer. You could prefer wearing white garments instead of black, keeping up with the general perception that Black is not the best color out there to wear in the scorching heat. But no scientific shreds of evidence corroborated with this claim, so, in a nutshell, wear whatever the damn you feel like wearing. But no cotton. Just a friendly reminder!
Since we’re strictly speaking of a summer hike, the outer-layer is not a big concern. Generally, the outer layer is meant to keep the chill of the day at bay or keep you protected from the downpour. We assume that you will be facing none of these phenomena in summers; you could pass on the outer-layer. However, you could still keep a lightweight jacket in your bag in case the weatherman fails to do his homework. If not the rain, you would come in handy as the first line of defense against a windy climate.
Winter has to be the most popular season to go for a hike. You get to witness the chill of the season, refreshing winds, and most importantly, the snow! Who doesn’t like rolling the snow after a long trek? But are you dressed properly enough to lay in the snow without getting yourself frozen up from top to bottom? If you allow even a little snow to enter inside your outfit, the cold will spread through your entire body, numbing your limbs or, even worse, get you incredibly sick. Thus, we need to make sure that your inside remains dry, warm, breathable, yet lightweight. Throwing a bunch of different jackets would not help you! You need to be methodical when it comes to the winter layer.
Winter hike gear is the only gear where you would be covering yourself under 4 layers instead of the traditional 3. You would need to protect yourself from the gnarly cold now. Though the last layer is nonetheless optional.
The base layer for a winter hike demands good quality merino wool or synthetic fabric. But our vote goes to merino wool for the reasons that we have repeatedly mentioned. We cannot emphasize enough just how important merino wool is during hiking. Their adaptability to varying temperatures is unmatched. You could wear a thin warmer underneath your base layer if you want.
But if you’d be adding the additional layer, then chuck the warmer lest you heave down because of all the bulky layers. The thickness of the layer depends upon the temperature of the place you’re trekking to. Thus, look for base layers with good sweat-wicking capability. Decathlon offers a wide range of base layers for winter. For this hike, you’re suggested to not chuck your underwear. Make sure you pack your boxers, or briefs, or any other underwear you generally wear.
Mid-layer is crucial during the winters; you don’t want to go wrong with it. The purpose of the mid-layer is to trap the heat and keep you warm. At the same time, it is also responsible for wicking away the moisture and keeping you dry. This layer needs to be versatile, so you feel warm in the evening but not hot in the afternoon. You could look for out mi-layers made of fleece, synchilla, PrimaLoft, and polar fleece.
Outer-layer is the layer that shells your body from the real cold of the hills. It will be the last line of protection against chilly winds, rains, hail, or even snow. Although, this layer may include various characteristics of both base and mid-layer. It does have some unique properties. Such properties include:
- Water resistance
- Wind resistance
- Snow resistance
- Provision of warmth
As long as your clothing checks out in all the above criteria, it is the best shell garment you could get! However, there are chances that you might have to compromise one thing or the other. But you simply cannot compromise with water-resistant, warmth, breathability, and lightweight. These are all the bare minimum properties you need to expect from the ideal outer layer. You could wear a puffy jacket for this layer, one that is thick yet lightweight. Moreover, down jackets are also a good choice to consider. Pullovers can or may not be included in the mix, depending upon the temperature of the region where you’re hiking.
Monsoon layering is much similar to winter layering. The only difference is you do not want to go for a “weather resistant” outer layer but “waterproof.” The piece of clothing should not allow any droplet of rain to enter the insides and spread child around your body. The insulation layer needs to be given much attention, like in the case of both the base and the mid-layer. This is because quick-drying up is one requirement that is imperative for the monsoon layering. Pack a lightweight and effective raincoat to defend yourself from cold rains. You can also expect some snow after the rain; thus, pack a snow-proof puffy jacket or something similar, just in case. Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating is crucial, but ensure that you maintain the jacket well.
3 Key Factors to Consider Before Buying Your Hiking Gear
Before buying anything, you need to consider certain things to ensure that you don’t invest in something that you’d regret. The same is the case with your hiking gear. Here are three key factors to consider before buying hiking gear.
Weather conditions are the foremost thing that you need to consider. With this, ensure that you gather information on how often does the temperature of the region changes. Based on such information, you could know when you will be needing a jacket and when you won’t. Moreover, you would know how often will you be wearing a jacket or what kind of a jacket would you need, or whether you even need a jacket. With such insight, picking the perfect jacket and the overall gear will become a piece of cake. You would also save yourself from overpacking.
Weight of the Gear:
The weight of the hiking gear decides how comfortable you are wearing the outfit. Bulky jackets are a straight-up no. You’d be spending much more time gathering yourself than having a good time hiking. Thus, it is imperative that you choose lightweight gear; at the same time, the gear needs to be insulating and warm. You also need to maintain the pieces of clothing well. Otherwise, after just one trip, the thing will show signs of wear and tear. We don’t want that to happen now, do we? That too, after spending the big bucks.
Durability and Pricing:
Hiking gear can be expensive. If you’re purchasing good-quality clothing, prepare your credit cards for some hefty Swiping. Thus, you need to make sure that your money is going to the right place. If you’re a frequent trekker, you don’t need us to tell you just how important it is to purchase durable clothing. Ensure that whatever you purchase is durable enough to last 3-4 years minimum. Not to mention you’d also be investing in things like caps, gloves, socks, and boots. Therefore, ensure that you make a comprehensive budget before you go to the store. Otherwise, you’ll end up mindlessly spending on an expensive jacket and forget to buy other important accessories.
Cover for head and Hands while Hiking
If you’re venturing on winter or a monsoon hike, you might want to consider what protection you will be rending to your head and hands. Moreover, you would also require something to cover your backpack as well.
If the hiking jacket you bought has a hoodie in it, you perhaps would not need additional headgear. However, consider buying a woolen cap to keep your head warm if the hoodie fails to stick in the designated place. You don’t want to expose your head to chilly winters, even for a few minutes. Women can gather their hair into a bun and place a warm cap on top of it to brave the snow.
If you’re hiking in snow, leather gloves are much effective than woolen gloves; this is so, if you play around the snow, the gloves would be drenched in melted snow in no time. While leather will simply let the snow and the water slip from the surface without drenching the clothing.
Cover for the backpack:
Altitude trekkers would need to cover their backpacks as well. The rain or snow could penetrate the surface of the backpack and possibly drench the items that you have in the bag. And you can count on the rain to ruin a perfect day by soaking the bag pack. Thus, ensure that you have bought a fitting cover of the bag as well.
Wow, hiking sure requires a lot of studying. However, the best part is, it can be equally rewarding. As long as you follow the guide to layering clothing while hiking, you could have an excellent experiencing mounting up the hills. In the beginning, it can be overwhelming to take care of so many things. But once you get accustomed to the system of layering, picking the right outfit will become a piece of cake!