Dress For Success in the Wilderness

CLOTHING LAYERING SYSTEM FOR HIKERS/BACKPACKERS

Just as important as it is in the business world to dress for success in the workplace and job interviews, it is important to take seriously how you dress for an outing in the wilderness- be it hiking or backpacking and other outdoor activities in nature.  

This post will cover some basics to consider to keep you warm and comfortable for your trekking experience.  If you think it is fine to just head out wearing things that you do in your casual life, such as jeans and a t-shirt, when heading out into the backcountry then please think again.  In this post we will cover the basics of the Layering Strategy and briefly touch on the materials the clothing is made of, which is also important.  

Case in point.  Years ago… okay- maybe a couple decades ago, I learned the phrase “Cotton Kills”, from a professional guide that my Mother insisted I hire to backpack into the Grand Canyon.    

Previously I had only car camped while racing Hobie Cat Catamarans, and that means I was never far from help.  Help in the form of warm, dry clothes nearby, a vehicle I could warm up in or go for help.  Being at an organized sailing event there where people that could assist me if I got into trouble.  When you are heading out to explore away from aid you can’t afford mistakes.  So it is important to be knowledgeable.

I spent weeks exploring different areas in the Desert Southwest, as part of my mid-life crisis, lol.  The last hoorah was the Grand Canyon, the Grand Daddy of them all.  It was February so I experienced some weather dipping down into the teens where my water bottle froze at night.  I had been to a lot of spots and everything was going fine.  But my guide, (remember that my Mom made me get), refused to take me wearing jeans.  Jeans are made of cotton and “Cotton Kills”.  The problem with Cotton is it soaks up sweat and dries slowly.   Even perspiration can be dangerous as it can give you a chill and deplete your core temperature when the thermometer plummets during the night.  We were going into the Grand Canyon and there was a chance of snow at the higher elevation and rain at the lower, so getting wet was a possibility and that could lead to serious consequences. So, I was forced to purchase new gear at the Grand Canyon store- very touristy, not a lot of selection and certainly no bargains.  

Side note it turned out that the Grand Canyon was the tamest of any of the areas I had been in those weeks building up to this grand finale. I found the Grand Canyon to be less wild with wide safe trails that even had bathrooms every mile or two, donkey trains going by once in awhile, and an outpost at the bottom of the Canyon, but of course there was no getting around that it was still 5,000 vertical feet.  

So what are the advantages of layering your clothing when out on the trail?  Let’s say you had a tee-shirt and a heavy jacket.  Probably works fine at the beginning of the day.  However, as you hike your body warms up from the exertion and the sun warms the air temperature so you might need to shed your jacket.  Well, the problem may then be a tee-shirt is too cool- while the heavy jacket too hot, so now you are stuck.  By using the Layering Method you have options.  

Here are a couple examples of hikes were I was very happy to be dressed in layers:  Icehouse Canyon Trail to Timber Mt in the Angeles National Forest.  I was all bundled up at daybreak, but once the sun came up over the ridge and I started up the switchbacks I needed to start shedding.  When I got higher and into a little snow, I was more exposed as the wind started to howl near the ridge.   It was time to re-bundle.  Breaks are another time to add a layer if so desired.  Another spot where layering was essential: Hiking the Palmer Lake Fire Break.  It was near freezing when I started, but I now know why you see NFL players in short sleeves with snow on the ground.   They are working hard and are impervious to the cold because they are super heated.  As I worked my way up the steep incline in Washington State in late Fall, I was sweating even with snow on the ground.  I stripped down to short sleeves and remained that way until the end of the hike when the sun set behind the mountain and the temperature dropped to sub freezing.  At that point I started to layer up again.  So the point here is options are good.   

Using the Layering Strategy encompasses basically three layers.   The Base Layer, Middle Layer and the Outer Layer.  If you utilize this system correctly you will be warm, dry and comfortable, or at least comparatively so.  

The Base Layer is the layer that fits snuggly against your skin.  It should have moisture wicking properties.   This type of clothing,  underwear basically, can come in light, medium, and heavy depending on the time of year, weather conditions, if you are a warm or cold body heat type of person, and the exertion of the activity.   

The Middle Layer is the clothing with insulating properties that will hold in your body heat.  Just like the base layer it can come in different weights Light, Medium, or Heavy.  Usually thicker and more puffy equals more warmth.  

Fleece Jacket would be an example of a Middle Layer item of clothing.  Fleece dries quickly if it becomes damp and is breathable.  That is good to keep you from sweating too easily, but conversely it also means that bitting wind will go right through it.  (That is one reason for an Outer Layer.)  

Another Middle Layer item could be a Down Jacket.  Down is an excellent insulator found in nature.  It also has a great weight to warmth ration and is compact thus it does not take up as much room in your pack, all things that are important to a backpacker.  The drawback however, is it loses it’s warmth value if it gets wet.  

A Synthetic jacket is not quite as warm as down, nor does it compress into a pack as easy, but it doesn’t lose as much of that warmth value when it gets wet as Down does.  So there are trade-offs.  

The lower half of your body should be hiking pants that are rugged and made for the outdoors to protect you from the elements, but also brush.  I find it useful to have the hiking pants that the legs zip off when it gets hot.  Then for freezing conditions I have fleece lined hiking pants, but you could accomplish the same thing with long underwear under your hiking pants.  

The Outer Layer, in this system, is to shield from snow, wind, or rain.   A waterproof breathable jacket is on the high end of expense for excellent protection, second on the list would be water resistant which is fine for a light rain or windy, and the minimum would be an everyday wind breaker not breathable, but would block the wind and have some rain protection.  

So to sum this up the three layers of protection are quite useful to really dial in the correct temperature.  No matter if it is to keep you drier and more comfortable when you are sweating from the heat and just as important to keep you drier and warmer in cold conditions.  

I want to touch on UPF Protection which would be your base, and only layer, in hot weather, or in a little cooler temperatures it could be your Middle Layer.  I many times will have a ‘Pursing Balance Through Adventure’ short sleeve moisture wicking high performance shirt underneath and then my PBTA long sleeve moisture wicking high performance shirt with UPF 50+ sun protection over it.  That way when I get hot later in the day I strip down to short sleeves to stay comfortable.  

Long Sleeve Moisture Wicking High Performance Shirt with UPF 50 Protection worn as a middle layer. Underneath I have a short Sleeve moisture wicking high performance shirt which was great for down in the canyon out of the wind. I have a beanie and face gator (around my neck) for added warmth and protection from the wind, and as a Cov-19 mask when I encounter other hikers. I have on fleece lined hiking pants, and a Down Jacket in my day pack.

UPF is similar to SPF other than UPF is a designation for sun protection in clothing, and SPF is for skin. It measures the amount of protection it provides against the harmful UV rays that can burn, or prematurely age skin, and helps prevent skin cancer.  To give you a frame of reference an everyday white tee-shirt has a UPF of 5.  As far as UV clothing protection goes UPF 15-20 is good, UPF 25-35 is very good, and 40-50 is excellent.  The sun gives us plenty of vitamin D which is important, but like everything else- in moderation.  People that should take the most care are fair skin, however dark completions can still get skin cancer.  Younger kids should have protection as damage at a young age can cause problems later in life.  Keep in mind that sun is stronger at higher elevations and reflections from snow or water are more intense.  Medication can also increase the risks of sun sensitivity even acne medicine, antibiotics, and inflammation inhibitors.  

A hat with a brim such as my ‘Pursuing Balance Through Adventure Caps keep the sun out off your face as well as out of your eyes, the rain off your face, but for added protection. You might consider the broad brimmed hats that go all the way around, or you could wear a PBTA Face Gator also useful to help prevent the spread of Cov-19.  Plus a lot of heat escapes from your head so a PBTA Beanie will add extra warmth.

I hope that you found this article informative and it started you thinking of how you can incorporate this practice into your adventures. Being more comfortable in your clothing certainly adds to the success when ‘Pursing Balance Through Adventure’. For more articles to enhance your experience stay tuned by doing these simple tasks: LIKE, FOLLOW, COMMENT and SHARE. For inspiration and ideas on where to go checkout the menu above. Keep in mind each location is a separate website and thus needs to be FOLLOWED independently. We spoke a lot about proper clothing. To look good, feel good and spread the joy of ‘Pursing Balance Through Adventure’ checkout SHOP APPAREL for top quality adventure wear.

Happy Trails-

Roger Jenkins

Pursuing Balance Through Adventure

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