Outdoor clothing has evolved in the last two decades for the better. It breathes, it protects and it’s lighter. It’s also more complicated and of course more expensive.
How to layer clothes for hiking and adventure travel has almost become a woodsy fashion movement in three statements – base, insulating middle, and outer. Adherents for various fabrics make it seem more technically complicated than it really is. Seek the layers that will keep you warm, cool and dry while adjusting to changes in temperature with heavier layers. Don’t get hung up on technical jargon that manufacturers like to throw around.
Follow our layering advice in three easy steps. Each layer provides a specific purpose intended to maintain your comfort:
- Base Layer
- Middle Layer
- Outer Layer
Tusker founder Eddie Frank keeps it simple. “Have different weights of layers on hand. When you’re hot, take stuff off, when you’re cold, add stuff – and this doesn’t happen once a day. It’s ongoing.” Eddie says.
Remember the days when you threw on a funky t-shirt and a tattered long sleeve cotton shirt over it? We were younger and the weather seemed less severe and capricious, but now we need to seriously think about our outdoor clothing starting with our base layer.
The base phase sits directly on your skin and is essential to preventing hypothermia. You need to think about staying dry, so cotton is a no-go because it retains sweat and will not keep you warm. A merino wool base layer from Icebreaker or Ibex is perfect for Kilimanjaro and any adventure trek.
Wool is not for everyone as some are allergic, but synthetic fabrics are also efficient at wicking sweat off your body and keeping you dry. Polartec and Patagonia’s Capilene are reliable base layers. Base layers come in different weights and you can adjust the higher in altitude and lower in temperatures you go. The upper reaches of Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and Peru’s Cordillera Blanca may require a heavier weight of base layer. Lower Kilimanjaro is more tropical and requires lightweight base layers.
Middle Kingdom of Insulation
Heat retention is the middle layering level’s goal and the best at it are the classics – merino wool and goose down. A merino wool sweater will insulate, keep you warm when it’s wet and looks like a million bucks. We like wool because when it’s wet outside it will keep you both warm and dry. Another benefit – it never smells bad. Goose down can’t be beat for warmth at high altitude as long as it’s dry.
A more modern middle layer option is fleece. Fleece jackets and vests provide warmth while being lightweight, a huge advantage while on an overseas trip. Fleece comes in three weights and for high altitude backcountry on Kilimanjaro, Nepal and Peru, a middle or heavier weight comes in handy.
Outer Shell in Outer Mongolia
The outer shell layer is for weather protection and this is where many of us get into trouble. To keep the wind and rain from penetrating, you should spend some cash and get something that will be waterproof (not just water resistant). You pay a premium for rainproof materials such as Gore-Tex, but it’s worth it especially when you’re above 10,000 feet in Mongolia or Nepal and it starts snowing.
Outer shell protection is not just about your trunk. A pair of waterproof gloves can be essential, especially in heavy wet snow at high elevation. To keep your head warm and dry, layer with a tight fitting wool cap and a waterproof hood from your jacket.
Now that you know the basics go out and treat yourself. You may end up spending upwards of $500 to become well layered, but it’s well worth it. Look at your investment as a form of insurance. You’re good to go in cold and wet conditions, and you’ll look good doing it.