Picture This: You’ve planned to head out to the backcountry today and the weather reports it will be a high of 65-70. You wear your favorite cotton t-shirt, pack a light jacket and set out for the trails. You start getting chilly while hiking in the shade, so you throw on your jacket and continue on your way. A half an hour has passed and you still feel cold and start to feel clammy.
Ever been there? That's because you didn't pack the right clothing! There's a certain science to packing the right layers and clothing for the backcountry, and you don't want to make that same mistake twice.
Now that temperatures are dropping and seasons are changing it's time to start reconsidering what clothing (and how much) you bring with you out on the trails. Hint: you'll likely need layers. From base layers to mid layers and outer shells, we've got it all covered right here.
Layering your clothing correctly in the outdoors keeps you warm and comfortable. If you get too warm or too cold, you can simply take off or add on a layer and you're good to go!
As a general guide, here's what each layer is for:
- Base layer (against your skin) manages moisture.
- Mid layer keeps you warm and protects you from the cold.
- Outer layer (or outer shell) shields and protects you from the weather (wind, rain, snow).
Your base layer or next-to-skin layer’s job is to manage moisture and regulate your body temperature by moving moisture away from your skin, so you'll want to make sure you have a shirt that will do just that.
Moving moisture away from your skin also helps keep you dry. This helps you maintain a cool body temperature in the summer and provides warmth in the winter. For optimum comfort in the outdoors, your base layer should be made of merino wool and other synthetic fibers that wick moisture away instead of absorbing it.
So, what’s a base layer?
Base layers can be briefs, sports bras, long underwear sets, tights, and t-shirts. While most are designed to fit snug, some do (and can) fit loose depending on your preferences.
Your mid layer’s job is to help you keep warm and retain heat by trapping air close to your body. This layer is for insulating, so you need clothing made of natural fabrics that keep you warm such as wool and down. Merino wool sweaters and layers offer warmth, perfect for fall and cold conditions. However, goose down is the best for very cold and dry conditions because it’s highly compressible and offers a very high warmth-to-weight ratio.
If you’re in the rain or snow, we suggest a merino wool layer because it’s able to keep you warm and insulated even when it’s wet. On the other hand, down must be kept dry to do any insulating.
Fleece is another fabric that’s great for insulating. It’s lightweight, breathable and can still keep you warm when wet. and it even has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than wool. For activities like skiing, running, or cycling, we suggest wearing fleece to avoid overheating. The only downside to fleece is that it’s less compressible than other fabrics and can be bulky.
So, what’s a mid layer?
A mid layer is a piece of clothing that fits over your base layer. Depending on what you’re wearing for your base layer, mid layers can typically range from long sleeves, sweaters, and pullovers to quarter zips and zip-ups.
It might be a good idea to bring along two options for your mid-layer, especially in the cold. Either a lightweight fleece or a lightweight puffy down jacket will do. We recommend using the fleece when hiking on colder days and the puffy if it's even colder.
Outer Layer (Outer Shell)
Your outer layer’s job is to protect you from weather conditions like wind, rain, snow, and hail.
All, if not most jackets are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish so water will roll right off. They also offer ventilation or mesh zones to allow moisture to evaporate. Outer shells are important layers, especially when the weather gets bad because they prevent wind and water from getting to your inner layers, which could make you cold.
So, what’s an outer shell?
Your outer shell can be rain jackets, mountaineering jackets, windproof jackets, or just about any waterproof or water resistant jacket you can think of.