”There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
– Alfred Wainwright
Extra clothing, for our discussion, is the “more stuff” you carry to make you safer and more comfortable if the need arises. Generally, extra clothing consists of additional layers, head covering, and gloves.
Why the big deal? Well, it can be cold at any time in the mountains, especially at night. And yes, even in the summer!
Layering of Clothing
Let’s get one thing straight right at the beginning. Eliminate cotton clothing from your survival-savvy wardrobe.
Cotton fabric retains water and loses its insulation value when damp or wet, and promotes accelerated body heat loss. Can you insure your cotton clothing always stays completely dry? No.
Ditch the cotton. Look for wool or synthetic fabrics that still provide warmth when wet.
Layering of clothing is “clothing teamwork”. Each layer can function on its own, but excels in combination with other layers.
The base layer, right next to your skin, is where your clothing system starts.
Think T-shirt, underwear, long-johns, etc. A synthetic such as polypropolene, thermax polyester, coolmax polyester, or something similar is essential. This even goes for the undershorts (you can find those in synthetics as well).
This layer goes over the base layer. You can have more than one middle layer. If it gets colder, put on more middle layers, one over the other. If it gets warmer, take off the middle layers one at a time until you don’t feel overheated. This process (known as layering) is the key to hiking comfort. Think sweaters, pull-overs, zip-ups, hoodies, etc. Fabric should be synthetic polyester or acrylic fabric (fleece for the heavier layers).
Always carry at least one middle layer!
The outer layer protects you from wind and rain. It traps heat inside and is water-resistant, yet should be breathable so sweat doesn’t build up and drench you from within. Think hooded windbreakers, rain jackets, wind shells, etc.
Fabric should be tightly-woven nylon or polyester, with a breathable membrane (Gore-Tex and DryPlus are two brand names). Avoid coated nylon, plastic, or rubber-coated rain jackets, which don’t breathe and only drench you from within.
Outer layers are generally uninsulated, since they supplement (and use) the base and middle layer(s) for insulation.
An outer layer is usually put on last during the layering process, such as to retain warmth during a rest stop. Conversely, it comes off first when one becomes active.
Always carry a reliable outer layer!
Two types of head coverings are necessary. One is a hat that shades your head from the sun, and the other is a knit cap that keeps your head warm in cold or wet weather.
Lots of people prefer a military-style “boonie” style hat for sun protection. Boonies work well, particularly when the weather’s hot and the sun’s bright. They’re a good choice if you don’t like putting a lot of sunscreen on your face. Select one that is a nylon or polyester blend. Ditch the “all cotton” varieties.
Others prefer a baseball-stye cap with a shading bill. They’re better than no hat, but do nothing to shade the sides of the face or the back of the neck. Okay if you remember to use that sunscreen, or hang a bandanna over your neck French Foreign Legion-style.
A lightweight knit cap (beanie-style, pulls down over the ears) is the minimum for temperate-weather hiking. Expecting colder early or late season temps? Carry a second knit cap as a middle layer. Pull your parka hood over for the outer layer. Lots of flexibility here. Polyester, wool, or acrylic, please.
Always carry a shading hat and a lightweight stocking cap!
Lightweight finger-style gloves are in order. If it’s colder, carry liners and mitten shells. Does this sound familiar? It should. What you have is a base layer (lightweight gloves), middle layer (glove or mitten liners), and outer layer (mitten shells). Again, you can layer up or down depending on the need. Same fabric as the knit cap.
Always carry at least a lightweight pair of gloves!
A Final Word
Clothing color is very important; bright, obvious colors can help you survive an emergency situation.
Think about what searchers will see if they’re looking for you after you’ve (heaven forbid) been reported lost or missing, or if you’re awaiting rescue after an accident has left you injured.
Avoid camouflage colors that stuff the shelves of sporting goods stores! Your clothing should be brightly-colored, such as yellow, red, orange, blue, and so on. Choose colors that stand out from the landscape, and will be easy to spot from the ground or in the air. Bright colors are also safer in the fall around hunting season!