Dressing effectively for the outdoors entails understanding two main elements. Your primary goal outdoors, is to keep your bodies core temperature at 98.6°. If your body gets too hot, you can die from hyperthermia (heat stroke), too cold and you suffer from hypothermia. Additionally, the way to address avoiding extremes in your core temperature is to understand such things as layering as well as other variables such as hydration and regulating body temperature.
I covered a little about layering in a previous post so let’s continue the discussion. Layering consists of three components or “layers”: base, insulation and environmental. Generally speaking, you want to use lighter colors for summer and darker colors for winter.
- Your base layer, which is against the skin needs to be able to wick water vapor away from the body and be non irritating and non constrictive. My preference is as light as possible since you can use insulation and environmental layers to provide warmth. Winter base layers keep your body temperature regulated and prevents cold air from freezing any water vapor and bringing down your core temperature. Your summer base layer is usually nothing more than underwear. The most common base layers are polyester and wool. Both have pros and cons so you may want to experiment. I still have comfort issues with wool, although it has certainly come a long way – in comfort and unfortunately in price.
- Underwear – ExOfficio is offered in a number of styles and can easily be purchased from Amazon.
- Socks – Wrightsocks sock are socks are socks, until you’re outdoors and walking a few miles. The reason Wrightsocks are so good is that they have an inner layer plus outer layer. What this effectively does is reduce the chance of blistering.
- Thermal underwear – Patagonia Capilene 1 and 2 - I like Capilene 1 as a T shirt and pants and use a Capilene 2 with zip neck as my base layer when warranted. You may want to switch these around but again, unless you’re going to really frigid climates, this is all you’ll probably need for your base layers. There are a number of newer and extremely technical thermal layers from such manufacturers as NorthFace and Arcteryx that you may want to check out.
- The insulation layer, is your normal pants and shirt – only maybe a little more technical. Again, generally speaking, use lighter colors for summer and darker colors for winter. Also, you want fabric which holds up to the rigors of the outdoors and doesn’t sound like you’re wearing rice paper.
- All seasons pants – I have tried more outdoor pants than I’d care to recall. From hiking and backpacking manufacturing to fly fishing houses to even tactical outlets – and I’m still not totally satisfied. Quite frankly, jeans are just too comfortable but cotton is a danger outdoors because it neither wicks well nor insulates. The pants I currently use are Vertx and although they are cotton and lycra, they are woven such that they repel water on the outside and wick moisture on the inside. Also, although tactical they don’t look like SWAT wannabes.
- Shirts and top layers – During colder weather conditions, tops like Arcteryx or Patagonia’s poly or even down or Nano Puff vests work well. In warmer conditions, shirts which wick and allow ventilation such as Simms, ExOfficio and Columbia work well. I try to go with the cotton blends since some of the nylon/rayon etc., seem to not wick well.
- The environmental layer includes both windproof, rainproof, warmth and ventilation. No one jacket will meet all your needs but a few can be extremely versatile.
- Colder seasons – unless it’s absolutely frigid, the Patagonia Down Sweater is really a favorite. I use the full hoody, not because it’s currently fashionable but because I hate hats and the hoody is always there when the wind picks up or it gets too cold. It’s light, non constrictive and extremely comfortable.
- Cool and even wet – Both soft and hard shells are available to address wind, rain and ventilation. The soft shells thicker and slightly heavier so they also provide a level of warmth while the hard shells are lighter, easier to ventilate and don’t really provide any warmth outside of keeping wind and rain off of you. BackPacker and Outdoors magazines often run editor picks on these items and you can Google and check out their latest recommendations. My soft shell is a NorthFace Alpine Project which is extremely light and hooded – again, a feature which is important in the outdoors.
Shoes are a another issue which you need to give some consideration. You may want to check out some of the editor recommendations on again, BackPacker and Outdoors magazines. Also, Zappo’s is great for ordering, trying and returning until you’re satisfied. You may consider not getting the heavier type boots as the lighter weight shoes are really more versatile and comfortable. Finally, I did run across a belt which works great for outdoor use – the Frequent Flyer belt. Really designed for tactical and outdoor use, it works well for frequent flyers since there’s no metal (you have to wear your shirt out to get through the TSA inspectors though – I know that’s what I have to do…).
I mentioned previously that there were other variables in maintaining your core temperature – one of the biggest is hydration. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold outside, hydration is key to keeping normal body temperature. Hydration is water by the way, not wine, beer and coffee. Also, in really hot weather, keep the sun off your body – that means hats, long sleeves and pants and collars up. It also means misting your face and neck to let the heat escape and reducing your exertion. In really cold weather, hydration is just as important. Also, keep your heat in by layering properly and covering your head. Finally, you need to reduce your exertion in cold weather just as you do in hot weather – which for some people is an art form .