4s Approach to Clothing for Hiking and Backpacking

Clothing and Layering systems for outdoor adventures have been discussed ad nauseum. Rightly so, it is a first defense essential against heat and cold exposure. No matter how many times it is discussed, it still seems to confuse people.

Your clothing’s primary function is to keep you warm, dry, and offer protection from the sun. Their secondary function are to protect you from insects and small scrapes. There is a delicate balance which must be observed when deciding on your clothing. Putting on a heavy jacket while covering miles on a hiking trip will keep you toasty, but can cause you to perspire making you wet from the inside which ultimately works against you.

Triple Crown hiker, Andrew Skurka, has come up with his Core 13 approach for hiking and backpacking. His system is a sensible approach meant to cover the four things one will do on a backpacking trip.

  • strolling (Skurka calls it go suit. I use strolling to help me remember it better)
  • stopping
  • storming
  • sleeping
elementex merino wool baselayer

Strolling is when you’re actually involved in the act of moving out, covering miles. Time of year, environment, and and level of physical activity will dictate the type of garments one will take. Generally speaking, layer with clothing that wicks away moisture from your skin and dries quickly should it get wet. Unless it’s really hot, at which point I wear loose cotton clothing, I like to use a merino wool baselayer, because of it’s odor fighting abilities. At the same time, I hate spending money and wool base layers, such as icebreaker and other name brands, can be pricey. Personally, I use a merino wool baselayer (next to my skin) from Elementex. It cost under $40 and has great reviews on Amazon. I often hike with just the baselayer top, but when it starts to get a bit more chilled, I will put on a lightweight fleece. Nothing fancy or name brand, something simple and light from target will do. Remember to keep it light so sweat doesn’t build up and cause you to chill when you stop. Inversely, I will not put on a heavy fleece, because I don’t want to perspire. Remember “Moisture Control”

Hawke & Co. Puffer Jacket

Stopping is when you are just kicking back in camp, perhaps cooking lunch or resting. In these situations, your level of activity will be lower and you will become chilled more so than when you’re covering miles. This is when you rock the puffer jackets or more, depending on the temperatures. If you’ve done a good job with your strolling clothes and have prevented perspiration you can rock it on top of your clothes. If you’re strolling clothes is wet from perspiration, change into a dry set of clothes and hang your strolling clothes out to dry. It pays to have lightweight fast drying clothes for strolling.

Hawke and Co. puffer jacket is an inexpensive jacket with great reviews.  Your needs may require heavy insulated pants as well, so keep that in mind.

Storming. Hike long enough and inevitably you’ll encounter rain. This is especially true in areas that experience quick mid-day thunderstorms. Have the gear ready to keep you dry, but be ready to take it off once the rain is over. Because while your clothes are getting rained on the outside you’re also building up sweat on the inside and getting wet on the inside. I know Gore-tex is a popular textile for rain management and breathability, but it is not full-proof. Moisture control, both internally and externally, is critical to maintaining thermal homeostasis

4s Approach to Clothing for Hiking and Backpacking

Sleep is critical for proper performance. Next to annoying mosquitoes, nothing disrupts my sleep more than sleeping in the clothes I’ve been hiking all day. It is wet from perspiration, making for a restless night. Having dry sleeping clothes goes a long way to getting good solid rest. Keep a dry set of sleeping clothes, including sleeping socks, with your sleeping bag or quilt. And always only use those clothes for sleeping. When you wake in the morning change back into your strolling attire. I know the temptation is big to sleep in the clothes you hike in, but take the extra time to change into sleeping clothes. You’ll be glad you did.

This isn’t a be all end all approach, but is a good primer to get one started.