Hiking Clothes Guide
How to Choose the Right Hiking Clothes
Choosing the right layers is essential to your comfort on the trail. To more easily adapt to changing temperatures and weather conditions consider dressing in a number of lightweight layers instead of just 1 or 2 heavy layers.
Layering solves the problem of being too hot wearing your heavy jacket then too cold when you take it off. If you're wearing several layers of hiking clothes you can add or remove layers to find just the right balance.
Let's take a look at the different layers and the types of materials available for each.
The Four Layers
Hiking clothes can be grouped into 4 basic categories: inner layer, mid layer, insulation layer and outer layer.
Inner Layer (underwear)
This first layer is worn right next to your skin. It should be made of a wicking material that wicks the sweat from your. It also provides an extra layer of insulation. You will need an inner layer when you may break a sweat and the weather conditions are cool to cold.
Cotton - Cotton is not your best choice for an inner layer, since it is absorbs sweat instead of wicking it away. Plus it takes a long time to dry, which will cause discomfort after a while.
Silk - Silk is very comfortable and lighweight. Silk is an effective wicking and insulating material. However it is not very durable some silk hiking clothes require special cleaning.
Polypropylene - The original wicking material. Polypropylene will wick moisture away and maintain a dry layer next to your skin. The material is highly elastic and allows unrestricted freedom of movement.
MTS 2® (Moisture Transport System) - This material is a step up above polypropylene. It is durable and comfortable like cotton and wicks sweat away from your skin. MTS 2® is available in a variety of "weights" for different conditions.
Capilene® - An ideal first layer for cold weather activities. Capilene is also a comfortable polyester-based wicking fabric. It has a special chemical treatment spreads sweat throughout the fabric so that it evaporates quickly.
Mid layer hiking clothes is also known as everyday clothing. This layer consisist of shorts and a short sleeved shirt or lightweight long sleeved shirt and pants. These can be worn alone in good weather.
Cotton - Cotton is a good choice for warm-weather hiking clothing. It's comfortable, lightweight and it keeps you cool. Cotton is best for warm weather uses because it takes a long time to dry and is an ineffective insulator.
Nylon - Lightweight, durable and (generally) non-absorbent, nylon is made in shorts, pants and shirts. Nylon comes in many styles, for both warm and cold weather uses. Most modern nylons are soft and comfortable against your skin.
Wicking materials - Wicking inner layers like MTS 2® and Capilene® can also be worn as mid layers since they help you keep dry and comfortable and they provide good insulation.
Wool - Wool hiking clothes are perfect for moderate- to cold-weather. It's available in long-sleeve shirts, pants, sweaters, jackets and more. Wool insulates well when wet but it takes a long time to dry and can be scratchy and bulky.
In cold temperatures add a lightweight, breathable insulation layer when your first two layers aren't warm enough.
Wool - Again since wool is a great natural insulator it can be used as an insulation layer also. It insulates well when wet but takes a long time to dry.
Pile/Fleece - A better option than wool since it is fast drying and half as heavy as wool. Since this material is very breathable it usually provides minimum protection from the wind. Newer pile/fleece garments come with wind and weather-stopping liners built in.
Outer layers are used in bad weather situations such as rain, cold wind and snow. You should always pack an outer layer with you in case of unexpected weather changes.
To choose the right outer layer, pick hiking clothes that fit with the type of weather you will be hiking in.
Warm/Light Precipitation - Choose water resistant/breathable fabrics. These repel wind but are not suitable for heavy rain or very cold conditions. Good for short trips in good weather. The extra breathability is good for when you will be doing strenuous activity.
Cold Temperatures and/or Heavy Rain - Choose waterproof/non breathable hiking clothes. A common type of waterproof/non breathable item is a poncho and rain pants that you pack along in case of an unexpcted change in weather.
All Weather Conditions- To be prepared for most weather conditions choose waterproof/breathable hiking clothes. These fabrics are breathable to a degree. They do not provide the breathability of water resistant/breathable fabrics, so sweat may build up during strenuous activity. This is a good choice if you plan on hiking in moderate conditions. While it is not specialized toward one extreme or the other it will provide comfort in a wide range of weather conditions.
Outer Layer Designs
Outer layer hiking clothes come in many different designs geared toward different uses. When shopping for outer layers compare the different feature offered to make a wise decision. Some feature to look for are:
Adjustable Openings - You should be able to adjust the waist, cuffs and necks openings to tighten for bad weather and loosen for breathability.
Vents - Vents enhance breathability of hiking clothes, but the more vents you have the more you are susceptible to leaks.
Hoods - Any outer layer top you use for backpacking should have a hood to keep your head dry. Look for hoods that can be rolled up and/or folded away when not in use so they can be put out of your way when not in use.
Storm Flaps - Storm flaps cover zippers, pockets and other openings to protect against leaks.
Sealed Seams - Sealed seams are a must for any waterproof outer layer. They're not necessary for water-resistant ones.
Buying Hiking Clothes
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Now that you know all about hiking clothes and how to add layers, you have taken one step to a more comfortable, enjoyable hiking experience. Be sure to browse this site for more info on how to choose all of your hiking gear.
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