Mike's Backpacking Reference


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Layers, Layers, Layers....   This is the key to confortable clothing.   You should have layers for warmth, wind protection, and rain protection.  Cotton fabric should be avoided as it retains moisture, can chaff when wet,  and provides very little warmth.  There are a lot of good options!   Choose a combination that is right for you. 


I prefer a single pair of wool socks.  Many folks like to wear a "liner" sock.  Both single and two sock systems work.      Cotton socks should be avoided.   To me your sock system should be what works best for you.   The feet are a common point of failure when hiking.  Once they are unhappy you will not enjoy the experience. 


While I have friends that backpack in tennis type shoes I cannot recommend this except for the most benign trails.   A pair of sturdy hiking boots should be chosen.  They should have a shank to stiffen the sole which help to prevent bruising of the feet.   They should have a good tread to prevent slipping.   They should provide ankle support.     I have come to like a Gortex lined boot which helps keep my feet dry in snow and puddles.  I hiked in leather boots for years, but now prefer synthetic materials as they are lighter and dry quicker.   You should size your boots so that you can put you fingers behind the heel with your foot in the boot.  This will insure toe room on the downhill.  Leather boot need some "break-in".  One way to do this is to soak them in water then lace tight around a dry sock and wear them until they dry.  The plan being is that leather will stretch and conform to your foot shape.   Synthetic materials don't stretch, no break-in.    In either case is is wise to do some day hiking in new boots just to check the fit.


"Long johns" are nice as a warm inner layer for wearing in cold weather instead of a s PJ's.   Any wicking synthetic fabric will work.  Under shorts and tee shirts make up the remainder of this layer for me.  I commonly take two sets.  Tee shirts with sleeves that cover the bicep are desirable for hiking in hot weather.    


Zip-off pants have long been my choice for an outer paints layer.  Nylon pants provide some wind protection and dry quickly.  I usually hike in shorts and put the legs back on in camp.  

I have become partial to "fishing" shirts.  These are long sleeved, light nylon shirts.  I will wear for sun protection when hiking even in warm weather. 


A hat is a must.   It should have a brim to keep the sun off of your face and ears (no ball caps).   Some hats come with a cape to keep the sun off of your neck.  (Note:  you can use a bandana to make a neck cape under a hat.)   I sometimes carry a knit hat for colder weather as you can loose a lot of heat through your head.  


I usually carry a pair of light fleece gloves.  Higher elevations can be cool in the evenings.   If you plan to encounter snow a heaver pair is nice. 


A special note about bandanas.  I carry are least two cotton ones.  I like red or orange as they are easy to see on the ground.    They are useful for so many things.  Washcloth, headbands, neck cape (under a hat), bandage, and more.  On hot climbs I dip in water and place around my neck. 


For warm layers I used wool and down in the early days.  Fleece changed that!   Now I layer with a mid-weight fleece or light down jacket.   The down jacket will provide some wind protection and packs well, but must be kept dry.   Fleece like wool will proved warmth when wet.   I generally use just a top (jacket) layer, relying on my long john bottoms if my legs are cold. I have worn fleece pants on colder trips and especially when camping in the snow.   For fleece top I prefer the pull over style.  Fleece vests are another layer to consider in cooler weather.  They can be used alone or with a pull over layer.    Note: I have tried "wind block" fleece fabrics, but really prefer to have a separate wind layer.    This seems to be more flexible.


For wind protection I generally use my rain gear layer.  Plain fleece will not stop wind.   In warmer windy weather (think a sunny peak assent) I find this layer works well over a tee shirt. 


Gortex or similar waterproof/breathable fabric is the best.  I use a light pair of pants.  For a top layer a light pull over parka with a hood.   Note that while breathable fabric does vent some moisture you will still sweat when hiking.   "Pit" zips can help. 

For years I carried a rain poncho.   Besides providing rain protection it can be pinched as a fly when cooking in the rain.   They can cover you pack when hiking.  However I have mostely abandoned this in favor of reducing weight.  A rain parka is useful as a wind shell thus does double duty.