Outdoor Attire: Layering

With an upcoming three day hike at the end of winter, I have been on a shopping frenzy in order to be prepared for my latest adventure in Queenstown. With the tempting sales happening at places like Kathmandu, Macpac and Bivouac, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed with the different types of items and basic jargons that they throw around at you. I remember having such a hard time figuring out what I needed, I ended up purchasing wrong gear for my spring hike at Tongariro. I know not to make the same mistake again!

When it comes to layering, there are three different types of layers that we need to consider. The gear you need is dependent on the type of trail and the weather condition.

Base Layer (aka next-to-skin layer)
In cold conditions, you should opt for a snug-fitting base layer so that it acts to trap your body heat in. In warmer conditions, opt for a loose-fitted layer so that air can easily circulate and keep your cool. This layer should wick sweat away from your skin so that you feel dry and comfortable.

There are inexpensive options at most outdoor clothing store which are made of synthetic material such as the PolyPRO and ThermalPLUS range from Kathmandu and Geothermal from Macpac or you can splurge and get merino base layer from stores like Icebreaker which has excellent temperate control and the 100% merino wool is supposedly anti-bacterial which means no odour and can be worn for days without washing. Don’t wear items made out of fibres like cotton as it traps moisture and wet clothing can make you susceptible to hypothermia.

Mid Layer
This layer acts to further trap body heat in its fibres are are usually made/lined by material such as wool, fleece or down. When it comes down to it, layering clothes is the best method to keep warm while having the flexibility to take things off. In my opinion, the best option is to chose mid layers that are light weight with a good fit so that you remain comfortably warm inside while minimising bulk. The outer surface for the mid layer is not that important as it is the outer shell which directly faces the elements.

Outer Layer (Shell)
Depending on your activity, the type of shell will vary. As I’m planning to go on a three day hike, I opted for a lightweight soft shell jacket which is more breathable than a regular waterproof jacket and more water/wind resistant than a fleece jacket. This type of jackets usually have a more active design and are less bulky/stiff compared to regular hardshell jackets.

However, in order to be prepared for the different elements such as rain or snow, I would also bring a hardshell jacket as a soft-shell tend to only protect but not provide complete shelter from the elements. As the outermost layer, a hardshell provides the most weather protection and are usually fully wind and waterproof. Jackets made from Gore-Tex material repels liquid while allowing water vapour to pass through providing breathability is a popular option.

If you’re planning a hike where you know the conditions will be cold and wet, it is a MUST that you have proper layers of clothing. You don’t want to under-pack and run the risk of getting hypothermia nor do you want to over-pack and carry unnecessary items in your pack.

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