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Life Should be Worn Like a Loose Garment
What to wear when hiking is a very important consideration for several reasons. The first being comfort. Some materials and fabrics aren’t conducive to hiking in the great outdoors. Anything that isn’t going to wick away moisture from your body, especially as a base layer isn’t a good idea. But let’s start there with the layering system concept first.
The layering system enables you to adjust to the changing conditions the weather throws at you along with your rising or falling body temperature which fluctuates depending on how hard you’re walking. For instance, when the trail heads up a hill and you start climbing (even when it doesn't seem that steep) your body will warm up quick. Alternatively, once you start going down or level off and a slight breeze picks up, you might start to get cool.
So a big part of this depends upon what time of year you’re hiking where and what to expect from the weather. Since I covered what to wear and pack in the frigid reaches of winter in How to Dress for Snowshoeing: Layering Specifics, I’ll stick to the other three seasons in this article. Being safe is always better than being sorry but by the same token carrying a rain jacket in the dry season of a desert climate just isn’t necessary.
It’s imperative that your first layer, the one closest to the skin, be made from moisture wicking material. This is synthetic material designed to remove the seat and moisture away from your body speeding up an evaporation process. Having wet clothes against your skin is not only uncomfortable but very dangerous when it gets cooler. You can get hypothermia even when temperatures aren't all that cold (in the 60's in some instances) when you have wet clothing on.
This breathable material that you want consists of synthetic materials like nylon, polypropylene, lycra, or blends of these. Sporting goods stores are well stocked with such items now. You can even get ultra-light rain wear that is breathable although they’re designed for the passing rain showers and won’t hole up in sustained raining conditions. Rain gear is usually a good idea and I always carry a light Marmot rain jacket whenever I’m going more than a couple of miles.
The super light, rain resistant Marmot vest I have is my go-to article whenever it gets a little colder or a little wet. On all these articles for your torso, the zipper running up to the neck is hugely important. Just zipping it up and down can make a surprising difference when adjusting to temperatures. Having a draw string at the top of the neck is great too, especially for the wind. Gloves and a hat should be available for the cooler months.
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Stay Dry, Safe, and Happy
A second layer with the same type of material, maybe a little thicker if necessary, is next for the cooler climates and months. The fleece jackets that come with zippers under the armpits are the way to go because you can still move comfortably without trapping to much heat when it’s cooler. The trick is to remove a layer before you get overheated, when you feel that sweat start coming on it’s time to let more air in.
As far as your feet, you should have wicking socks too but people vary in terms of whether they want thick or thin socks depending upon whether you’re feet or prone to sweating or you tend to get a blister problem. Get to know your feet well; they’re doing everything for you. Look for an upcoming article about Asola hiking boots, a great choice.
In the summer I like a really thin long-sleeved button down shirts made of wicking, breathable material that has an aeration design on the upper back portion. I like a lot of aeration as opposed to the wicking tank tops I used to wear. This brings me to the important final point about dressing for safety. First you have to prevent your skin from suffering from the ravages of the sun. Especially for us really pale folks who used to be regarded as freaks but now, thanks to this Twilight phenomenon, we have temporarily become hip while still remaining permanently unable to tan.
Secondly, there are the insects to consider too. Companies, I know Columbia off the top of my head, make shirts that are insect resistant. If you go with shorts, still pull your socks up high because ticks are far more dangerous than mosquitoes. Light weight pants that unzip into shorts are quite nice to have. I had a very severe case of Lyme disease once so I recommend strong tick repellent in areas where you have that. With that said, nothing will ever keep me out from the backcountry, the mountains, and the woods and I urge you to get out there yourself to tap into that mystical wonder that nature exudes.
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Bob Wards Sporting Goods of Montana