Best Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

Best Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

2018 is forecast to be the worst year for tick/Lyme disease*. But don’t let fear of Lyme or Zika keep you off the trail! This article has tips on the clothing, gear, repellents, and techniques that will maximize your Lyme and Zika Prevention as well as other tick/insect diseases when hiking or backpacking. Includes section on new Picaridin lotion which is more effective than DEET with none of the downsides.

* new 2018: The CDC reported in May that illnesses like Lyme and Zika from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the US.

Lead photo: 2015 map of prevalence of Lyme disease [source US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)]. Superimposed on the map is a blacklegged tick, the primary transmitter of Lyme disease to people. Zika is also on the increase as noted here (CDC Map of Zika), and here Harvard Medical School Article on the rise of Zika.

This Article in Five Parts

  1. DON’T GET BIT – DON’T GET SICK: Why not getting bit is your first and best strategy for lyme and zika prevention.
  2. Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme & Zika While Hiking: The Cliff Notes version
  3. New Picaridin Lotion. More effective than DEET with none of the downsides!
  4. What to Do if You Get a Tick Bite
  5. Non Chemical Ways to Reduce Bug Bites: For those leery of chemicals. But this content improves the effectiveness of all methods to reduce bug bites, chemical and non-chemical.
Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

Why it’s hard to check for ticks in the field: Blacklegged tick nymphs which can transmit Lyme disease (second from left in photo) are exceptionally hard to see in the field. It’s extremely difficult to find them on your body during an evening check in camp and showering is not usually an option. For instance, how would you find the second from left blacklegged tick on your scalp or in body hair? Keeping them off of your body in the first place is your best strategy. BUT! by all means, continue to check for ticks (just don’t expect it to be 100% effective in the field). AND if you remove a tick quickly (within 24 hours) you can greatly reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease.

1. Don’t Get Bit – Don’t Get Sick

The best strategy to reduce your risk of getting a bug-transmitted diseases like Lyme and Zika is to not get bit in the first place. I know this sounds obvious, but some bug-transmitted diseases are not preventable. That is, if you get bit by a bug carrying some diseases you may get infected despite the best medicine. And if you contract a disease there may be no medications to effectively treat it. Consider the following:

  • Lyme Disease: Currently, there are no vaccines to prevent tick-carried diseases like Lyme disease, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fortunately per the CDC, “patients treated… in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely.”  (But note: there is some controversy about the effectiveness of treating Lyme disease if undetected/not-treated in time.)
  • Zika & West Nile: There are no vaccines to prevent mosquito-carried diseases such as Zika, and West Nile encephalitis today. And there are “no specific medicines” for Zika or West Nile if you contract them.

2. Best Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

Permethrin Treated Clothing
Per the CDC
 a key element for maximum tick and mosquito protection is wearing Permethrin-treated clothing. Treated clothing can be of thinner, cooler fabrics and still provide protection. This is crucial to staying cool and comfortable when hiking in warm weather—the conditions when bugs are prevalent & disease most likely.

 

The following is SAFE and effective. The “Best Lyme and Zika Prevention” techniques in this post are are based primarily on information and recommendations from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). E.g the CDC’s section on “Maximizing protection from mosquitoes and ticks:” But they are also based on Alison’s and my experience hiking long distances in hot, humid environments with high disease risk. Examples include the tropical jungles of South America—or spring in Shenandoah National Park (lots of Lyme!).

A short list of Clothing and Bug Protection (a cool set that you won’t overheat in)

Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

Yes, the outfit might look slightly geeky (although bright gaiters spice things up). But having contracted Lyme disease on the AT, I can say without reservation it is an illness you never want!

for best viewing of this table on a mobile device, turn phone sideways (or view on a laptop or tablet)

ItemDescriptionComments
E GBug repellent on face neck handsSawyer Picaridin lotion 14 hrs!
Pocketable Picaridin 0.5 oz spray
Lasts 14 hrs! No odor. Won’t melt plastic. Small, pocketable, easily applied.
AHat (repellent)Exofficio Bugsaway HatBug repellent for upper head area
 BShirt hiking*RailRiders Men’s Journeyman Shirt w Insect Shield & Women’s OasisCool fabric, mesh side vents, sun protection, Lifetime insect repellent (vs. sprays 8-14 hrs)
Shirt (alt)Exofficio Bugs Away Halo Long Sleeve Shirt Men’s and Women’sWidely available: Campsaver and other sources like Amazon. Lifetime insect repellent.
CPants hiking*ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Pants Men’s and Women’sAvailable in both Men’s and Women’s. Light, cool, sun protection. Lifetime insect repellent.
Pants (alt)RailRiders Men’s Eco-Mesh Pant with Insect ShieldRailRiders pants have huge side vent on legs for cooling. Lifetime insect repellent.
E GBug repellent on face neck handsSawyer Picaridin lotion 14 hrs!
Pocketable Picaridin 0.5 oz spray
Lasts 14 hrs! No odor. Won’t melt plastic. Small, pocketable, easily applied.
 DPhysical Prot. Tuck pants into socksPrevents tick entry into pants. Stops pants legs from “gapping” and exposing ankle to mosquitos
FPhysical Prot. Tuck shirt into PantsPrevents tick entry into pants and lower shirt area.
 HGaitersDirty Girl gaiters (fun colors!) or
REI Co-op Activator Gaiters
Seals pants against tick entry. No ankle gaps. Can be treated with permethrin spray.
HGaiter trap shoe
(optional)
Altra Lone Peak shoes or
Altra Superior shoes
Velcro “gaiter trap” permanently attached to heel of shoe. (adhesive ones that come with gaiters only work for a while)

* You can treat your own clothing with Permethrin Spray (REI) or at Amazon  This lasts for up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. (For comparison: factory treated clothing is good for up to 70 washings, essentially “life-time” use). Both clothing treatments far exceed the 8-14 hours of skin applied repellents like Picaridin and DEET. And they don’t require the time/attention needed to properly apply repellents to large areas of skin each day.

Picaridin – A New Repellent Better than DEET

Best Lyme and Zika Prevention for Hiking

Picaridin (lotion) lasts 40% longer than most DEET products and lacks the downsides of DEET. It has no odor and doesn’t melt plastics or degrade clothing. In Hand: Airline friendly 0.5 pump sprays, last 8 hours are small, pocketable and easily applied in the field. Right rear: Picaridin lotion lasts 14 hours, and can be repackaged into small 1 oz squeeze bottles.

Picaridin is a new (2005) “pepper-based” insect repellent that lasts up to 40% longer than most DEET products. And perhaps more important, it lacks many of the downsides of DEET. Picaridin has no odor and doesn’t melt plastics or degrade clothing. It is registered as safe and effective by the US EPA. More about Picaridin here

Important: Make sure you closely follow the directions for applying repellents, including knowing how long an application will last! Skin applied repellent effectiveness greatly depends how well and how often you apply it.

Treated tents and camp mosquito netting

Note: The EPA has also approved Sawyer permethrin spray as an insect repellent treatment for tents. As such, you may want to consider this option if you are in an area with high risk of disease and/or you are a person super concerned about ticks and mosquitoes. This spray treatment might be especially useful to treat the bug netting on the door(s) of your tent where insect entry would be most likely and where mosquitoes want to hang out. As always, follow the package directions to the letter!

  • National Institute for Health (NIH) study indicates that “Permethrin treatment of tents is an effective, inexpensive public health measure to reduce mosquito bites.”
  • The CDC says: “[bug] nets are most effective when they are treated with a pyrethroid insecticide.”

3. What to do if you get a tick bite – per the US CDC

Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.

Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–do not wait for it to detach.

  1. Here are the complete instructions for how to best remove the tick (and send it in for testing if you wish)
  2. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours* or more to transmit Lyme disease
    [*Note: There may be no established minimum attachment time for Lyme transmission. Rather, This study from the National Institutes of Health suggests that the chance of Lyme transmission increases the longer the tick is attached, with no minimum time.]
  3. Here are the Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease to look for
  4. And always check carefully for ticks each hiking day

“If you develop illness within a few weeks of a tick bite, see your health care provider right away.”
“Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely.”


 4. Non Chemical Ways to Reduce Bug Bites

While this section is non-chemical, its content is important and applicable to all methods to reduce bug bites, chemical and non-chemical.

Overview

  1. Non Treated, Bug Protective Clothing: Wear clothing that bugs can’t bite through and/or ticks can’t enter. There are some challenges here when hiking in warm weather.
  2. Where and When You Go: Be smart about where and what time of year you take your trips. (also has a short section on international travel)
  3. Where You Camp: If possible, camp in areas with few bugs (some nearby camps, just a few minutes away can be much better than others!)
  4. Shelter bug netting: Includes tips you may not know about using a tent or shelter with bug netting

a) Non Chemically Treated yet still Bug Protective Clothing

The difficulty here is to: 1) prevent tick entry with seals on entry points for pants and shirt and 2) have clothing thick enough to stop mosquito bites.  By the time you’ve met both criteria, your clothing is usually too hot and uncomfortable for warm weather hiking—the exact weather when bugs are prevalent & disease most likely. In summary, this is not an optimal warm weather option. It is listed here as an alternative for hikers who are leery of chemicals.

I have used this non-chemical clothing system with success for some intense mosquito hatches in the Western Mountains in summer (Rockies/Sierras). It works well for camp, and is OK for moderate paced hiking as long as temps don’t climb into the 60’s or higher. The beauty of this system is that includes clothing I would normally bring on a hike (e.g. a windshirt/rain jacket and baselayer/hiking shirt).

Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Zika While Hiking

for best viewing of this table on a mobile device, turn phone sideways (or view on a laptop or tablet)

ItemDescriptionComments
AWindshirtPatagonia Houdini or
most “windbreakers”
Any windbreaker or rain jacket will work. When layered over a midweight baselayer, this provides decent protection against mosquito bites. Good for camp, but a hiking challenge in warm weather.
BaselayerCapilene Midweight Top
Ibex Indie Hoodie 1/4-Zip
This is also my hiking shirt in cooler environments like the Western Mountains in Summer (Rockies/Sierras)
 BGlovesGlacier Glove fingerless fleeceProtection from bugs, but fingertips free for dexterity.
CPants hikingREI Sahara convertible pants
RailRiders X-Treme Adventure
Need to be thick enough that mosquitoes can’t bite thru. Note: While these have worked well for me, I can’t say with 100% confidence that either of these pants are thick enough to prevent all mosquito bites.
DHat, ballcapOR Sun Runner HatScalp protect. Keeps netting off face. Any brimmed hat fine.
 EBug-netSea to Summit Head NetNon-chemically treated. OK for camp, but not fun to hike in.

For hiking in warmer weather (e.g. AT in summer), one might need to find a single shirt (and pants) that meet your personal criteria for adequate protection from mosquitoes bites. (Since I use chemically treated clothing in warmer temps, I don’t have enough experience to recommend non-chemical pants and shirts.)

b) Where You Go: Be smart about where and when you take your trips

If you are through hiking the AT, you may not have wiggle room to avoid bugs. You’ll likely have to hike through the height of mosquito and tick season (mid-spring, summer, and early fall). In this case, you’ll just need to do your best to avoid bug bites. But most trips will likely have some good options to avoid the worst bugs. So do your research on what bugs are present and what times of the year they are most present/active. Then if possible, plan your trip to avoid the worst of the bugs. Here are some examples:

  • We like to do much of our AT hiking in early spring and late fall when mosquito pressure is lower and there are hopefully fewer ticks. And winter on the AT is lovely with no mosquitoes and fewer ticks to worry about, and not a lot of people either!
  • Mosquito pressure in Alaska is surprisingly low in August. But it is insane intense just a few months earlier around summer solstice (June 21).
  • Alison and I take our kayaking trips in the everglades in January and February when mosquitoes are virtually non existent.
  • And finally, where you camp (see below) and where you walk has an impact, especially with ticks. Wading through thick brush or grasses (e.g. an off trail bio break) in spring/summer on the East Coast will invite a greater chance of encountering ticks. Sticking to the grass free center of the trail helps.

Here are a few resources to help research bug and disease pressures for your trips

c) Where You Camp: If possible, camp in areas with fewer bugs

While it is unlikely that that you can avoid bugs completely, good campsite selection can greatly reduce the number of bugs in camp, even in areas with lots of bugs like Alaska in June. Sometimes a campsite only a few minutes walk away may have far fewer bugs.

  • Where insects live: Camp away from boggy soggy areas areas with standing water.
  • Avoid places obviously frequented by animals: Don’t camp along game trails or other places obviously frequented by animals like deer and rodents (especially white-footed mice the primary carrier of blacklegged ticks that transmit Lyme).
  • Find wind: Try to camp in open areas that have a breeze which reduces the number of flying insects. An elevated area, like a bluff above a river or a small ridge is a good place. If you know the prevailing wind direction use it to your advantage. Note: Dense trees or brush stop wind, and therefore can harbor a lot of insects.
  • Pay attention to elevation: In the mountains, biting insect hatches usually are most active at a particular altitude. Plan your day to camp above or below that altitude to reduce bug pressure.
  • Final Check!: Before you commit to a camp, it’s good to stand around for 5-10 minutes and assess how bad the bugs are. If they are bad you can look for a better camp without having committed the time and effort to unpacking and setting up camp.

d) Use a tent or shelter with good mosquito netting

This is solution that is likely familiar to most people. And most of you already own a tent with good mosquito netting. But here are some things you may not know.

Tip:  When entering your tent, take “a lap” away from your shelter before running back and jumping quickly through the door. By doing this you’ll likely shake the insects hovering around you, and therefore bring far fewer mosquitoes into the tent. After getting into the tent, do a search and destroy mission for the few bugs that may have tailgated in with you.

Top Mistakes Using the Layering System – How to Stay Warmer and Drier

Top Mistakes Using the Layering System – How to Stay Warmer and Drier

The layering system sounds attractive in theory. But as practiced by most hikers it is seriously flawed. It can be heavy, and expensive. And not used properly it could even make you colder. This article points out the major mistakes hikers make when buying and using a clothing layering system. And of course, it has tips on how to properly select and use a better and lighter layering system!

Lead photo: Southern Sierra in a “shoulder season” spell of winter-like conditions—daytime highs below freezing & nighttime low temps around +12 ºF.

Early spring seasonal Update*: Now that winter is waning and it’s about time to hit the trails but hard frosts are still common in the East… this updated, seasonal version of this post contains:

Top Mistakes Using the Layering System

  1. People bring too many layers as well as the wrong layers. This costs a lot of money and it’s heavy. Try to find a minimal set of light clothing that will work in a broad range of conditions. It can be done!
  2. A good layering system is NOT about frequently changing layers. Quite the opposite, you should strive to minimize adding or removing layers!  A single set of well-selected clothes should work in a broad range of temperatures (from mid-20s °F to around 50 °F) without adding or removing layers. [* “shoulder season” clothing should get you down to +10º to 0º F]
  3. Frequent stops to change layers can seriously chill you. And once chilled it can be exceptionally hard to get warm again. (In cold weather, constant but moderate movement is what keeps you warm.)
  4. Overheating and sweating out clothes will get you very cold in the long run. Wet clothing is cold clothing and unhappiness. (And in cold weather it takes a very long time to dry, if ever.)
  5. A windshirt is not all that it’s cracked up to be. An inexpensive, midweight fleece jacket or (*Patagonia R1 Hoodie) is far more useful cool weather and saves weight. (Among other things, it helps minimize sweating out your clothes!)
  6. Finally, leave your shorts and short sleeved shirts at home. Long pants and long sleeved shirts are far better and more practical at protecting you from brush, sun, and disease carrying insects than sunscreen and insect repellents. [Note: this year will be a bad one for Lyme. See Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Zika While Hiking].
xxxx

A single set of clothes for the entire day: Here I am in late winter conditions at around 4,000 ft on the Appalachian Trail. It’s windy and about 25 degrees. But I’m warm and comfortable hiking at my own pace wearing just a 6 oz base layer, a 7 oz fleece shirt (mid-layer) , a 2 oz fleece hat, and 2 oz gloves. I can hike in this outfit from the mid-20s °F to around 50 °F – going up and down hill without needing to stop for a clothing change.

Why Use a Layering System?

A layering system is really just a set of good hiking clothes. It is supposed to keep you safe and comfortable in a broad range of temperatures and environmental conditions (wind, rain, sleet and snow). The layering system is most useful for cold weather (in warm weather, a light top and bottom usually suffice). Ideally, this layering system should be simple, light and inexpensive.

In cold weather the challenge for a layering system is to have you:

  • Not freeze when hiking in low temperatures and/or at low physical exertion levels (e.g. walking downhill)
  • But also not overheat and soak your clothing with sweat as temperatures get warmer and/or at high physical exertion levels (e.g. hiking uphill with a pack on)
  • To protect you from wind and precipitation
  • Finally, have a very warm layer ready (usually a down jacket) to keep warm at rest stops and in camp


A Layering System for Hiking and Backpacking

This clothing layering system is designed for 3-season conditions (spring, summer, and fall) and for temperatures from the mid-20s °F and up. It has withstood the test of time and many difficult environments. I’ve used this layering system for the past 5 years hiking in many places and many seasons in the US and on 3 continents. And with surprisingly little variation it has worked exceptionally well from the high mountains, to the desert and jungles of South America. (Note: to be very clear, this system is not for full-on winter hiking. But I have included some clothing adjustments (in blue) for brief periods of winter-like conditions of the shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring.)

The following layering system is slightly tuned towards cooler temperatures of the high mountains, or early spring and late fall at lower elevations (e.g. March on the Appalachian trail). But I’ve also added a few options in a subsequent table for warmer, more humid conditions (e.g. the Appalachian Trial mid-summer, or the tropical jungle).

This post is in four parts

  1. Layering System for Colder Weather, including the”shoulder season”
  2. Shoulder Season Gear Hacks Addendum Table. Non-clothing gear like shelter and sleeping bag to keep warm early season “winter-like” conditions
  3. Layering System for Warm Weather (also Lyme & Zika Protection)
  4. The Essential Techniques to Use these Layering Systems

1) Layering System for Colder Weather
Including the “shoulder season” – Spring or Fall with potential winter-like conditions

layering system

A light layering system while summiting in Scotland’s Highlands. I was ribbed by the Scots as “the Yank in trainers [running shoes] and yellow pants” for wearing virtually nothing given the winter conditions. Nonetheless, I summited just fine in my light running shoes and 4 oz shell pants—wearing the same clothing system without changes to the summit and back down.

Note: much of the following is from my top-ranked 9 Pound, Full Comfort, Lightweight Backpacking Gear List). Take a peek at it for an integrated set of gear that won’t weigh you down and break your back.

ClothingItemOzComments
shirt and baselayer*$40 REI 1/4-Zip Tech Shirt 6.5 
Smartwool PhD Light 1/4-Zip 8.8
8.0Neck zipper key to warmth management
shirt/baselayer
(for cold Wx)
Patagonia R1 Hoodie 12.5Think of it as “fur for humans.” possibly the most versatile cold  to very cold weather base layer. It works over an astonishing range of conditions.
Mid-layer top*TNF TKA 100 1/4 Zip Pullover  or
Amazon 100wt fleece w zipper
7.9Sadly it appears that 100 wt fleece shirts like this are a dying breed. You may still be able to find a few. Otherwise go for a 200 wt one, the Patagonia R1 Hoodie above or a Patagonia R2 garment
Midlayer active layer top (alt)Patagonia Nano-Air
OR Ascendant Insulated Hoodie
 13.0New highly air-permeable (super breathable) shell, synthetic fill jackets are a new alternative to fleece. More expensive and less durable they may be lighter and more compressible for equivalent warmth. [I still prefer fleece]
Rain JacketOutdoor Research Helium II or
REI Coop Rain Jacket $35-$70!
 6.4Light rain-jacket is just as dry as a heavy one
Use as “windshirt” only when very cold
Rain Jacket
3-layer tech
(for cold Wx)
Outdoor Research Realm
Montbell Storm Cruiser
Patagonia M10 Anorak  only 8 oz!
Columbia OutDry Extreme ECO
 10.9Given that I will likely be wearing my jacket more frequently (both for rain and as a “windshirt” when cold), I favor a more breathable & durable 3-layer construction for shoulder season (SS). Outdoor Research Realm is my current favorite.
Rain Pants
(bring them!)
Outdoor Research Helium (6.0 oz)
Zpacks Vertice Rain Pants (3.6! oz)
 6.0While I might not bring them on all 2+ season trips, I DO bring rain pants in the (SS). Vertice pants are super light and crazy breathable.
Warm jacket A high quality down jacket (REI)
or Feathered Friends Eos Jacket
10.5For occasional rest stops. Moderate/consistent movement is key to keeping warm when it’s cold
Down jacket
(very warm)
Feathered Friends Helios Jacket
or Montbell Mirage (12.8 oz)
13In very cold Wx a puffy jacket essential for warmth in camp, rest stops AND at night to supplement your down sleeping bag/quilt.
For more down jackets and down pants see: Recommended Down Jackets, Pants, and Booties
Pants*REI Sahara Pants 14Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
Down pants
(for cold Wx)
West. Mtn. Flash Pants (6.5)
Montbell Superior Down Pants 8.4
FF Heilos Down Pants (13)
 6.5For colder weather. West. Mtn. pants light & warm!
Montbell’s a great value in down pants.
Helios crazy warm with side zips.
UnderwearExOfficio Give-N-Go M’s or W’s2.0Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days
GlovesDefeet DuraGloves (2.5)2.5Great liner glove. Light, warm, durable! (or similar)
Rain Mitts (bring them!)REI Minimalist Mitts or
MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2)
 1.2Critical for keeping hands warm and dry in cold rain. Also work as great wind shells.
Gloves
(for cold Wx)
RBH Designs Vapor Mitt 9.0My goto insulated mitts (I have a 4oz UL Version)
Gloves – cold & wet conditionsShowa Japanese fishing gloves 4.5Alternative hand-wear for wet & cold. Waterproof, breathable, with grippy rubber-like shell.
ShoesAltra Superior Trail-Running or
Brooks Cascadia Trail-Runners
 18Altra: Light, huge toe room, super comfortable!
Brooks: tried and tru trail favorite.
SocksSmartWool PhD Light Mini or
Darn Tough 1/4 UL w cushion
1.8Key to keeping feet warm is to keep moving and NOT warmer socks
Camp footwearFeathered Friends Down Booties For those with cold feet. Put on with dry socks as soon as you get into camp!
Warm hatWarm watch cap/beanie (REI)
or OR Option Balaclava (1.8)
1.8Also note that a hooded down jacket is HIGHLY DESIREABLE. And the built in hood on the Patagonia R1 Hoodie is excellent
Cold hands and feetChemical hand warmer and foot warmer packetsCritical re-warming contingency/backup for hands and feet in case you blow it and get them too cold to warm up again on their own.

* Note: You only need one! Extra shirts, pants (and base-layers) are a poor choice to stay warm. And you only need single 6-12 oz fleece/wool mid layer garment.


2) Shoulder Season Gear Hacks Addendum Table

The following is excerpted from Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Ultralight Backpacking. This gear (in combination with the clothing above) will keep you warm and protected with a minimal increase in weight over 2+ season gear.

  • Your tent doesn’t keep you warm. The hard reality is that the temperature inside your tent, at best, will only be a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature.
  • Your tent just keeps the wind and rain off (very important!)—but so will a tarp or pyramid shelter.
  • What does keep you warm is a puffy down sleeping bag and jacket. Usually used in combo when it’s super cold. That is, down get you the most warmth for its weight.
  • So get a good down jacket and a down sleeping bag or quilt vs. spending extra bucks and weight on a bomber shelter. That is the difference in weight between a 14 oz pyramid shelter and a 3+ pound tent will get you some incredible warmth in down gear and clothing!
  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all sorts of conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t keep me warm. (New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve upon this.)
ItemOzComments
Tent/ShelterMountain Laurel Des. Solomid XL
or
HMG Ultamid 2 Pyramid Shelter
14.0Late season bugs non-existent. Pyramid design is light, strong, and able to withstand rain, snow and hight winds at a fraction of the weight of a tent. Super easy to setup (faster than most tents!).
Sleeping Bag
(a warm one!)
REI Co-op Magma Bag (32 oz)
Feath. Friends Merlin UL 30 23 oz
FF Hummingbird UL 20 (25 oz)
Feathered Friends are among warmest & lightest bags. Conservatively, rated they are likely +20 and +10F respectively.
Sleeping QuiltHammock Gear Burrow Quilt +1018.0I add +2 oz of down (to a +20F quilt) in the top vertical baffles to bring temp rating to around +10F. Great value! ~1/2 cost of sleeping bag.
For more on Sleeping bags and Quilts see: The Art of Sleeping Warm – A Guide to Sleeping Bags and Quilts
Sleeping Pad
(warm one!)
T-Rest NeoAir X-lite “Women’s”
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest 1/2 pad
12.1“Women’s” R3.9 lighter/warmer than Men’s. Best for for men too!  XTherm, R5.7, is warmer & heavier. For a light, low cost hack cut Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest pad in half & put it over the top of your current pad (shoulder to knees).

3) Layering System for Warm Weather (also Lyme & Zika Protection)

Note: Many of these layers are also perfectly appropriate for cold and temperate weather. As such, they bear serious consideration if you only want to buy one set of clothing for 3 seasons (Spring, Summer and Fall). In contrast to cold weather layering systems, this warm weather version also:

  • Protects you from Solar Radiation
  • Keeps you cool when it is hot
  • Protects you from bug transmitted diseases such as Lyme and Zika

And as stated earlier, long pants and long sleeved shirts are far better and more practical at protecting you from brush, sun, and disease carrying insects. Chemical sunscreens and insect repellent lotions take a lot of time to correctly apply to large areas of skin. And they don’t last nearly as long as the near-lifetime* effectiveness of long pants and long sleeve shirts against bugs and sun.

Note it’s going to be the worst year yet for Lyme Disease. For more detailed information on how to protect yourself see: Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Zika While Hiking.

ItemDescriptionComments
Hat (repellent)Exofficio Bugsaway HatBug repellent for upper head. And sun protection
Shirt hiking*RailRiders Men’s Journeyman Shirt w Insect Shield & Women’s OasisCool fabric, mesh side vents, sun protection, Clothing bug repellent lasts 70 washes (vs. sprays 8-14 hrs)
Shirt (alt)Exofficio Bugs Away Halo Long Sleeve Shirt Men’s and Women’sAlso good, widely available via Amazon and other retailers like REI. 70 wash insect repellent.
Pants hiking*ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Pants Men’s and Women’sAvailable in both Men’s and Women’s. Light, cool, sun protection. 70 wash insect repellent.
Pants (alt)RailRiders Men’s Eco-Mesh Pant with Insect ShieldRailRiders pants have huge side vent on legs for cooling. 70 wash insect repellent.
GaitersDirty Girl gaiters (fun colors!) or
REI Co-op Activator Gaiters
Seals pants against tick entry. No ankle gaps. Can be treated with permethrin spray.
Gaiter trap shoe
(optional)
Altra Lone Peak shoes or
Altra Superior shoes
Velcro “gaiter trap” permanently attached to heel of shoe. (adhesive ones that come with gaiters only work for a while)

* You can treat your own clothing with Permethrin spray (REI) or (Amazon). This lasts for up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. (For comparison: factory treated clothing is good for up to 70 washings, essentially “life-time” use). Both clothing treatments far exceed the 8-14 hours of skin applied repellents like Picaridin and DEET. And they don’t require the time/attention needed to properly apply repellents to large areas of skin each day



4) Essential Techniques to Use these Layering Systems

Keep Hiking When It’s Cold

In colder weather, you can spend far too much time stopping to adjust layers. This is especially true on hilly trails where you are consistently getting sweaty and hot going uphill, and freezing while on ridges and going downhill. Moderate but consistent movement, not stopping for layer changes, is the key to keeping warm when it’s cold.

  • Hiking to keep warm needn’t be at all tiring or strenuous.
  • Even walking 1 to 1.5 miles per hour should keep your internal, metabolic heater going, and keep your hands and feet warm. If you are getting tired you are going too fast!
  • Minimize stops to essential needs, and don’t make them longer than necessary. When you stop, you get cold quickly and it takes a long time to warm up again. If you’re starting to chill it’s time to move.
  • If you really need to stop for a longer time (over 5 minutes), try to do it in a warmer, more protected area and put on warm clothing (e.g. a high quality down jacket) as soon as you stop. Take your warm clothing off just before you start hiking again. Or after you have been walking for a few minutes. (note: I store the jacket as the topmost item in the main bag of my backpack so I can quickly retrieve it and put it back.)

Clothing Adjustments

  • When starting to hike, I put on just enough clothing to keep me warm when moving. (It might take 5-10 minutes at a brisk pace to get fully warm. Then I can back-off to my normal hiking pace.)
  • Overdressing, getting hot and then sweating out is a great way to get wet and then really cold. It’s very easy to get clothing wet, but it takes a long time to dry it out in cold and damp weather. Wet clothing is cold clothing and unhappiness. [Note this is where the better venting fleece jacket outshines a windshirt, allowing sweat to pass through your clothing and evaporate!]
  • Temperature adjustments are made without stopping or changing a top or bottom layer. Too hot? take off hat and gloves (put in pants pockets). To further cool unzip fleece jacket and/or your base layer, and possibly push sleeves up. Too cold? reverse the procedure.
  • I only add warmer clothing when I can no longer stay warm walking at a comfortable pace (and with a good clothing system, this is a rare).
  • If you do need to change layers do it quickly. What most people don’t realize is how much time it takes to stop, take your pack off, put-on or take-off a layer, put your pack back on and start hiking again. It’s plenty long enough seriously to chill!
  • If it’s extremely cold and windy, I will use my rain jacket as a windshell (note: unzipping your rain jacket all the way is a major cooling force when needed).

Keep your Clothing Dry

  • At the risk of pointing out the obvious, put on your rainwear before you get wet. Have your rainwear readily available on the outside of your pack so you can put it on quickly and without opening your main pack bag and exposing your pack contents to rain. (I like to keep it in the large rear pocket.)
  • When wearing your rain jacket pay special attention to not sweating out your clothing.  Adjust and ventilate your clothing and/or slow your hiking pace as necessary. As above, it’s very easy to get clothing wet, but it takes a long time to dry it out in cold and damp weather.
  • And if it’s going to rain for a long time you are going to get wet—it’s inevitable one way or the other. Just try to do your best to keep warm and minimize it. [A discussion on how to deal with long periods of rain (like days), is another whole topic and beyond the scope of this post.]

A Fleece Jacket is Better than a Windshirt?

I find that in cool weather (where a layering system is most useful) a fleece shirt is better. For almost the same weight of a windshirt, a light 100 weight fleece shirt has a greater temperature range for comfort — which means fewer clothing changes. And a thin fleece doesn’t trap moisture in the same way as windshirt. Yes, against common perception, windshirts are not all that “breathable!” Try running on a warm day in a T-shirt and then in a T-shirt with a windshirt over it if you don’t believe this. (Note: many cheap fleece jackets in the $20 range may work fine. I’ve been using one that was a giveaway at triathlon I did. It works great!)

  • A light 100 or 200 weight fleece shirt or jacket is far warmer than a windshirt and more versatile It is an excellent insulating mid-layer, and it does a surprisingly good job of slowing down the wind. (Sadly many major brands are discontinuing their 100 wt fleece shirts. You may need to make due with 200 wt/mid-wight fleece OR buy a thinner “cheap” fleece at stores like Target. Oh, and the Patagonia R1 Hoodie is still a great option albeit a bit pricy.)
  • Note: this is for inexpensive fleece that has a much tighter weave and is far more wind resistant than more open weave, high tech fleece like Patagonia R2. As such, the fleece does an a decent job keeping wind from penetrating your clothing. BUT it is far less clammy and more breathable than a windshirt, allowing sweat to pass through your clothing and evaporate.
  • By the time it’s cold enough and windy enough to warrant a fully windproof shell like a windshirt, my rain jacket does fine. By then it’s cold enough that condensation from the rain jacket is not a huge issue.
  • Finally, it’s lighter. Since you’d bring a fleece layer anyway, you save the weight of a windshirt and simplify your layering system.
  • That being said, a good windshirt is only 3 ounces, so bring one if you want! (I just find that I end up in a taking it on and off scenario to control heat and prevent sweating out. And this ends up with extra stops and lost time.)

Enjoy Your Hike!

pack-snow-1200

Disclaimer

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a slight portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed.  I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

Hyperlite Mountain Gear boldly calls their $450 rain jacket THE SHELL, and states “this jacket is unprecedentedly breathable, waterproof, and tough as f*#k for its weight.” To see how well it stands up to the hype & price I took THE SHELL out for two weeks of guiding at 10,000 to to 14,000 feet in the High Sierras. The following Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL summarizes my findings.

(Lead picture: THE SHELL is roomy, especially in the upper torso, arms, shoulders and hood. To demonstrate this I’m wearing it over my super-puffy GoLite Bitteroot Jacket which is stuffed with over 5 oz of high fill power down—something most snug-fitting 6 oz waterproof-breathable (WP/B) rain jackets can’t do.)

Quick Spec’s

  • 5.8 oz claimed weight M’s medium (6.0 oz measured)
  • Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber)
    with highly breathable eVent WP/B liner (claimed 32,000 gm2/24hr)
  • Roomy fit – especially in the upper torso, arms, shoulders and hood
  • Fully featured with beefy, toothed zipper; velcro cuff closures; dual drawcord adjusted, helmet compatible hood, etc.
  • Full spec’s are below

Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

Test Setup

The picture below shows my 8.8 oz, highly breathable, full rain setup:

  1. (Top) HMG THE SHELL is 6.0 oz
  2. (Bottom) a MLD Dyneema Composite Fabric (Cuben) rain kilt is 1.8
  3. (Hands) MLD eVent Rain Mitts are 1.0 oz
Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

THE SHELL kept me dry in a torrential weather event in the Sierras. It started with snow and sleet and progressed to 35 degree rain for the next 4 hours. In just a few hours sections of trail were 4 to 6 inches under water. When it was all done, I fared much better/drier than the rest of our group. [Apologies for the “phone-quality” photo, but it was dark, pissing down rain and I wasn’t going to get my good camera out.]

Field Testing

We had the full spectrum of late season conditions in the High Sierra. Snow, sleet and sustained 35 degree rain. For 4 days, the low temperature was 13 to 19 degrees, and daytime highs barely rose above freezing. The average temperature one day was only 26 degrees. I used THE SHELL over my fleece as an active layer during this cold snap—and it was breathable enough that I didn’t sweat out. THE SHELL fit well over my super-puffy GoLite Bitteroot Jacket to increase it’s warmth on cold nights (the jacket is un-baffled). And finally the jacket kept me warm and dry in a torrential storm of snow and sleet, changing to sustained 35 degree rain.

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL did everything everything required of it and did it well. It kept me warm. It kept me dry from precipitation on the outside. It kept me from sweating out on the inside due to the eVent breathability (but note that I mostly used it in cold weather). It was small and light, so easily carried and available in the outside pocket of my pack. The roomy, non-constricting, climber’s fit was especially welcome as was the stiff hood brim and the sophisticated adjustment system.

Mid afternoon conditions for my guided group at 11,000 feet during the colder time in the Sierras

Compared To

  • Patagonia Storm Racer (6.3 oz, $249) is likely the strongest competitor – THE SHELL has more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms; is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters for hoods and sleeves. The outer fabric on the THE SHELL is likely tougher. The Storm Racer is a 3-layer fabric, so the WP/B layer might be less prone to damage from long term use due to a tricot lining. And the Storm Racer has a more useful Napoleon chest pocket vs. the hip pocket on THE SHELL.
  • Outdoor Research Helium II (6.2 oz, $160) – THE SHELL is  has a LOT more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms, has a much longer hem, is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters. It also has a beefier and smoother operating zipper vs. the Helium II’s small coil zipper. Helium II has a more useful Napoleon chest pocket vs. the hip pocket on THE SHELL.
  • Patagonia Men’s Alpine Houdini (6.5 oz, $199) is closest in roomy fit – Still THE SHELL has a bit more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms. It is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters. It also has a beefier and smoother operating zipper vs. the Alpine Houdini’s small coil zipper which lacks even a metal tab. The Alpine Houdini has no pockets.

Conclusion

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s THE SHELL comes close to meeting the hype of “this jacket is unprecedentedly breathable, waterproof, and tough as f*#k for its weight.” THE SHELL did all I asked of it and I have few if any complaints. I especially like the roomy fit and its ease of use with all its well thought out adjustments, e.g. the beefy front zipper, and hood and cuff adjusters. So often these are skimpy or not included in minimal rain jackets. As HMG’s new slogan states, “LESS WEIGHT. MORE OPTIONS.” And it’s nice to see some many useful options included in THE SHELL without unduly increasing weight.

After only two weeks of field use, THE SHELL’s long-term durability or “toughness” is still undetermined. And durability for a full-sized, 6 oz garment is a shaky topic—subject to many opinions, interpretations, and expectations. That being said, THE SHELL feels solid and durable for such a large and low weight garment. It shows no obvious signs of deterioration from two weeks of use.

In addition to the outer fabric’s toughness, there is also the durability of the WP/B membrane. After almost 40 years of using WP/B rain jackets I have found that ALL of them, when worn for a long enough with a heavy backpack will eventually leak around the neck shoulders. This is true of both 2-layer and 3-layer fabrics by all manufactures! 2-layer versions leak sooner than 3 layer, but all will eventually succumb to the stresses of a heavy backpack’s shoulder straps.

Please to get me wrong! This is NOT criticism of the WP/B rain jackets or any manufacturer’s products vs. another manufacturer’s. I like them and I use them—mostly the very light ones like THE SHELL! It’s just the reality of the technology. And some of my best loved jackets have remained mostly leak free for a good amount of time. I am hoping the the SHELL joins this group.

Finally, I leave it up to the reader as to whether all this functionality, roomy fit and low weight justifies the $450 price tag…


Manufacturer’s Specifications

WEIGHT

Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

X-Small 0.32 lbs | 5.16 oz | 146g
Small 0.34 lbs | 5.46 oz | 155g
Medium 0.36 lbs | 5.80 oz | 164g
Large 0.38 lbs | 6.14 oz | 174g
X-Large 0.39 lbs | 6.20 oz | 176g

FEATURES

  • DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema® and eVent® materials technology
  • Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr
  • Waterproof Rating: 10,000mm
  • #5 YKK VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper
  • Polartec® Power-Dry® chin guard
  • VELCRO® adjustable cuffs for additional weather resistance
  • High collar zipper for additional weather resistance
  • Front and rear hood shock cord adjustment
  • Bottom hem shock cord adjustment
  • Low-profile stuff pocket with waterproof zipper and clip-in point; ideal for climbers
  • Helmet compatible hood; ideal for climbers, canyoneers, skiers
  • Stiff hood brim
  • Performance fit allowing a full range-of-motion for all outdoor activities
  • Unisex sizing

Disclaimers

Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with loaner of this product. I was/am under no obligation to write a review or otherwise promote this product. And this post represents my own independent opinion.

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.

Efficient Backpacking Tips

Efficient Backpacking Tips – Easily Increase Mileage & Fun

Any hiker can use these Efficient Backpacking Tips to get more time to do what they love best outdoors. Whether it’s covering more miles, extra time to enjoy the views, take photographs, fish, get some extra swimming in a lake or even (gasp!) a mid-afternoon nap.

Lead photo: 15,000 ft afternoon nap and photo time—Peruvian Andes, Cordillera Huayhuash

Efficient Backpacking Tips – Thru hiker tested

While some of these Efficient Backpacking Tips are my own habits, most are common sense tips that accomplished thru hikers have been using for years. Many thanks to my world-class thru hiker friends Andrew Skurka and Flyin’ Brian Robinson for insights on how they achieve the most miles every day.

Help to Better Hike Your Own Hike

Luckily, these tips work for all hikers—even mere mortal hikers (myself included) who are not focused on making 40 mile days. All of us can can use these Efficient Backpacking Tips to spend less time on mundane tasks and get more time each day to do what matters most. To Better Hike Our Own Hike—whatever that means to each of us.

This post is in the following sections

  1. On Trail – Efficient Backpacking Tips
  2. In Camp – Efficient Camping Tips
  3. Efficient Clothing Adjustments

1) On Trail – Efficient Backpacking Tips

Efficient Backpacking Tips

Author hammering out some long miles on the Southern Sierra High Routea superb alternative to the John Muir Trail. Efficiency (minimize stopping) is just as important as hiking speed to get enough miles before dark each day. [photo Don Wilson]

Spend less time on mundane tasks and more time having fun

You likely spend far more time than you realize on trail stops for mundane tasks—making clothing adjustments, collecting and treating water, putting on sunscreen, accessing maps/trail guides, etc. By doing necessary tasks most efficiently and eliminating unnecessary ones, you might get most of that time back to do the things you love be it hiking a few more miles before dusk to reach your favorite campsite, or stopping midday to meditate on the glorious view from the rim of a canyon.

Why “short” stops rob you of time for fun

Perceptually, the time spent on “short” stops to do mundane tasks seems inconsequential. But it isn’t! When you tally up all those stops at the end of the day (say, with a GPS), you’ll likely find that you’ve spent at least 1 to 2+ hours stopped for various reasons. I have also done some observations of hiking with clients, and an average stop to take a pack off, find something, fiddle with it, put it in the pack again and start walking is around 4-6 minutes. And many people stop 2 to 3 x per hour.

If you do the math over an 8 hour hiking day, that’s 1.1 to 2.4 hours of stopped time—and that’s likely a conservative estimate.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend the time taking photos or getting a few more miles down the trail, than fiddling around with mundane tasks.

Organized Pockets. The more the better.

Well organized pockets are your best timesaving friend. The goal is to access everything you need during the day from your pack or pants pockets. This minimizes stopped/fiddle-with-gear time for mundane tasks and maximizes fun time.  To do this, keep all the gear you need during a normal hiking day organized in pants and pack pockets where you can quickly find and access it.

Where I store my gear to save time

My goal is to access most of my essential gear while I walk—and if possible, even do tasks while I walk. For example, accessing food and eating it while I walk is pretty simple. Here’s my strategy for storing gear I may use during the day:

Backpack Pockets

I like BACKPACKS like these with lots of pockets.

PACK*Gear Stored
L shoulder strapCamera on a quick release bracket. I can take the camera off, shoot a photo and put it back in less than 10 seconds. Not only do I save time, I find that I get more photos and better photos vs. other camera storage methods. See my Best Backpacking Cameras and in particular the video of the bracket in action.
R shoulder strap(when taken) Tracking Device, Garmin inReach or SPOT,  in a shoulder strap pocket. This keeps the antennas free of my body for good reception and I can use it without stopping.
Rear lg. pocketTP and hand-sanitizer, headlamp, rainwear, North Face 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip light fleece shirt, gloves, warm hat, larger 2 liter water bottle (full if I need additional storage), sunglasses case, spare maps and guidebook pages, stored flat in a gallon Ziplock freezer bag. Sometimes a small ditty bag with 1st aid, foot repair stuff, camera battery, etc.
R side pocket1 Liter Platypus (or Sawyer) water bottle.  I can grab it, drink & put it back while walking.
L side pocketDay’s food in a quart Ziplock freezer bag, my Sawyer Squeeze water filter, alcohol stove fuel in this great Twin Neck Fuel Bottle (I don’t like to keep fuel inside my pack!).
R hip belt pocketSome snack food like a bar and a small bag of gorp. See my: Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious for more info on backpacking food and recipies.
L hip belt pocketSunscreen, bug spray in pocketable 0.5 oz bottle, water treatment tablets along with a knife or scissors. (I can collect and treat water in a matter of seconds without taking my pack off. 20 to 30 minutes later it’s ready to drink.)

*Note: Gear in this post is excerpted from my 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List

Efficient Backpacking Tips

Getting some High Sierra Fishing in a remote lake. [photo Alison Simon]

Cargo Pants Pockets

I like CARGO PANTS like these with lots of pockets:
Of particular note is that this is shaping up to be a big tick season. For those that are worried about Lyme, Zika and other tick/mosquito transmitted diseases, insect repellent cargo pants like ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Pants, might be an attractive option. These when combined with gaiters or tucking your socks into your pants legs, should provide a good below-the-belt deterrent against ticks and mosquitoes. This is per the US CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) section on “Maximizing protection from mosquitoes and ticks.”

And, while applied insect repellents only last 8-14 hours at best, factory treated clothing has near-permanent effectiveness (clothing treated before purchase is labeled for efficacy through 70 launderings). Finally I’ve listed a shirt since it adds two pockets for gear storage, and gives the option to have top to bottom insect protective clothing. (Tuck your shirt into your pants.)

ItemDescriptionComments
Pants stdREI Sahara convertible pants (14)Great pants, good pockets, readily available. Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
Pants bug repellentExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa Pants Men’s and Women’sFor ticks. Continuous insect repellent. Avail in both M’s and W’s. Light, cool, sun protection. Great pockets. Also available at REI 
Shirt bug repellentExofficio Bugs Away Halo Long Sleeve Shirt Men’s and Women’sCompletes insect repellent clothing. Light, cool & widely available via Amazon, and REI.
GaitersDirty Girl gaiters (1.2 oz)
REI Co-op Activator Gaiters
Optional, but does seal ankles against tick entry. Tucking pants into socks also works.

What I put in my cargo pants pockets

PANTSGear Stored
L hip pocketiPhone 6 Plus in a pint Ziplock freezer bag (great!). I access it for a multitude of uses.
R hip pocketDay’s map, guide pages, milage sheet, and Fisher Space Pen in a quart Ziplock freezer bag. Possibly my gloves, if I’ve taken them off (they stay warmest in hip pockets if it’s cold).
Front cargo pocketsIf my pack doesn’t have hip belt pockets, I store that gear here. Otherwise these pockets are free for “as-needed” storage for gear that needs quick access.
Rear pocketsDuring colder weather hikes these hold my gloves and hat when not in use – e.g. hiking uphill and getting hot. Otherwise they are free for “as-needed” gear storage. But these are usually the smallest and least useful of pants pockets.
Zippered pants pocket of choiceMy ID, cash and credit cards in a plastic bag. Especially on trips where I might need to take it out to buy stuff, like a small store along the AT. (And in general I like to have my iPhone, ID, cash and credit cards on my person at all times.)
A shirt pocketCompass if I am using it frequently. (or on lanyard around neck)

Efficiency gains for two hikers

  • Obviously, pocket access becomes faster and easier if you can get some help accessing pack pockets
  • In addition, you can share items like sunscreen, bug spray, and water treatment. E.g. your pack holds the water filter, while your partner’s pack has the bug spray and sunscreen.
  • This makes even more pockets available for gear storage. And it should be fairly simple to get everything needed during the day into an easily accessible pack pocket.

Case Study – “A place for everything, and everything in its place”

Hiking one spring morning in a cold rain I had a fairly pressing bio-urge. I stopped, took my pack off and looked for my TP and hand-sanitizer in the usual place. Not there! After nearly 10 minutes of rifling through my pack, the bio-urge far greater and with damp gear strewn around me, I finally found the TP in one of my cargo pants pockets. (I had moved it there before leaving camp because I had expected to use it soon.)

Moral of the story: even with good intentions, it’s best to keep putting the same stuff in the same place every time! Deviate from this and suffer the consequences. While the above story is amusing (at least in the retelling) not being able to locate your wind-shell, warm gloves and hat when on a windy ridge, late in the day with temperatures dropping to near freezing, is a lot less fun and possibly more serious.


2) In Camp – Efficient Camping Tips

Camp on the Wind River High Route, mile for mile, the finest non-technical Alpine route in North America

Evening Camp Routine – ideally 20 to 30 minutes

Having a well thought-out routine to set up camp and cook dinner saves time. It also makes for a far more relaxing evening, leaving enough time to enjoy sunset across the lake while sipping your hot chocolate.

Before making camp

  • My evening camp routine starts with opportunistically collecting enough water to cook dinner about 30-60 minutes before arriving in camp (unless I know that good water will be quickly available in camp).
  • Usually I prefer to cook with treated water as I don’t have to worry as much about a complete boil or boil time. And evening hot drinks only require 140° to 160° F water.
  • If it’s late in the day, I locate my headlamp and hang it around my neck so I don’t have search around for it as evening turns to dark.

Arriving at camp – first tasks

  • If cold: I immediately put on warm clothes and especially get on dry socks and warm footwear. (my hands and feet run cold). Down Booties are fantastic!
  • Then my first task when arriving in camp is to get my cook set out and start the right amount water boiling for both meal and hot drink. (For maximum efficiency your stove/pot combo should be able to boil all dinner water at one time.)
  • Tip: Avoid stove/cooksets combos that are tippy, non-wind resistant and need tending. You want to put water in a pot, light your stove and leave it mostly unattended to boil water while you perform camp chores.  The two best systems the Jetboil, and the Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri bundle. I discuss these in detail in my post, The Best Backpacking Stove Systems.
homeSlide_cook

An airy dinner on a ledge high above a remote canyon in Southern UT.

While waiting for the pot to boil I start my other camp chores:

  • I collect additional water in both my 2 L and 1 L squeeze bags.
  • Put Chlorine Dioxide water treatment tablets in my 1 and 2 L squeeze bags—it’s faster and easier than squeeze filtering. This gives me enough water until mid-morning the following day.
    (Then I am done with this chore—no hand numbing collection and treating of freezing water is needed the next morning.)
  • I setup my shelter and unstuff my down. This allows plenty of time for the down to fluff up and hopefully dry out if needed.
  • Tip: Down fluffs up faster in the evening when it’s not super-compressed. And in the morning, with cold fingers and frost on your sleeping bag, it’s a lot easier and faster to stuff it back into a larger stuff sack. If necessary, I size up in backpack volume to accommodate my preference for larger down stuff sacks.

Once the water boils:

  • I pour some water into my dinner in a Ziplock bag and set it aside to re-hydrate for at least 10 minutes.
  • I pour the rest into my mug for my hot drink (usually homemade hot chocolate mix).
    See my: Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious – veggie and omnivore friendly for more info on backpacking food and recipies.
  • I consume my hot drink while my meal rehydrates, possibly doing more camp chores as necessary.
jetboil-vs-caldera

Two of the Best Backpacking Stove Systems – Trail Designs Caldera and JetBoil. Both are stable, fuel efficient, wind resistant, and don’t need a lot of tending. This is a plus for doing camp chores while you boil water for dinner and a hot drink.

Prep for the next day’s hiking

It’s a lot easier to do next-day prep the evening before when it’s warmer and you are more awake. With your camp and gear in order, you can break camp quickly and efficiently the next morning.

  • I organize food for the next day in a Ziplock baggie and locate breakfast food and coffee at the top of food sack. Last, I appropriately store food per park reg’s.
  • I organize maps and guide pages, etc. for the next day.
  • I look at maps and guide book pages, and mileage charts, and figure out my goals for the next hiking day. Miles, water sources, navigational difficulties, stores along they way, etc.
  • I make notes on what went well today and what I could do better in the future.
  • Constantly assessing, learning and making adjustments is a key to efficiency and meeting your goals.

Morning Camp Routine

  • Like dinner, in the morning the first thing I do is light the stove to boil water for coffee.
  • While I wait for the water to boil, I start my morning camp chores.
  • Sometimes I leave the most hand-numbing tasks until I have a warm cup of coffee to wrap my hands around.
  • I usually do a light wipe-down of cookware in the morning. It’s faster and doesn’t freeze hands. (I do a more thorough cookware cleaning in the evening).
  • Last thing before leaving camp is to strip down into your hiking clothes. You’ll likely need to set out at a brisk pace to get warm. But if you’ve got your clothing right you’ll be warm in 5 – 10 minutes and can settle into your normal hiking pace.

For those that have cold hands (like me)

Mornings can be tough if you have cold hands. Temperatures are the coldest, your metabolism is still in sleep mode, and you’re handling a lot of cold gear. Here are a few tips to keep your paws warm.

  • In cold weather, fingerless gloves (Glacier Glove fingerless fleece) are great for manual dexterity and speeding up camp chores. They save time from taking gloves on and off, and keep your hands warmer.
  • I usually put my gloves on inside my sleeping bag and warm them up a bit before getting out. That way I get out of my bag with super warm hands and gloves. I find this gives me the best chance to keep my hands warm while handling cold gear.
  • If it’s cold, wrapping my hands around a hot mug helps me warm them between spells of handing cold gear. Stuff sleeping bag. Warm hands around mug. Put away shelter. Warm hands around mug…
  • Per above, I avoid collecting, treating and handling water in the morning. This is best done the evening before.

3) Clothing Adjustments

In colder weather, you can spend a lot of time adjusting clothing especially if you are consistently getting sweaty and hot going uphill, and freezing on ridges and downhills, all conditions common on the trail.

The layering system sounds attractive, but it takes a a lot of time to stop, take your pack off, put-on or take-off a layer, put your pack back on and start hiking again. In addition, stopping inevitably makes you colder! Moderate but consistent movement (it needn’t be at all tiring or strenuous) is the key to keeping warm when it’s cold.

xxxx

Late winter conditions, windy and in the 20s on the Appalachian trail: I’m warm and comfortable hiking at my own pace for almost the entire day, wearing just a 6 oz base layer, a 7 oz fleece shirt (mid-layer) , a 2 oz fleece hat, and 2 oz gloves. I can hike in this outfit from the mid-20s to around 50; up and down hill without needing to stop for a clothing change.

Here’s how I keep warm with a single set of clothing, without stopping

  • I put on just enough clothing to keep me warm when moving. Overdressing, getting hot and then sweating out is a great way to get wet and then really cold. It’s very easy to get clothing wet, but it takes a long time to dry it out in cold and damp weather. Wet clothing is cold clothing and unhappiness.
  • I only add warmer clothing when I can no longer stay warm walking at a comfortable pace.
  • Of special note: I find that for the same weight of a windshirt, a light fleece shirt (like the North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip) has far greater temperature range for comfort. It’s far warmer than a windshirt, does an OK job in wind, and is far less clammy and more breathable than a windshirt. (By the time it’s cold enough and windy enough to warrant a fully windproof barrier, my rain jacket does a fine job—and it’s cold enough that condensation is not a huge issue.)

Here is my go to clothing system for hiking in the cold (excerpted from my 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List )

ClothingItemOzComments
ShirtIbex Indie Hoodie 1/4-Zip (8.8)
Patagonia Capilene Zip-Neck T
8.0Neck zipper key to warmth management
Mid-layer topNorth Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip7.9For use as a mid-layer (and as a “windshirt”)
RainJacketOutdoor Research Helium II 6.4 Use as “windshirt” only when very cold
PantsREI Sahara convertible pants (14)Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
UnderwearPatagonia briefs Mens or W’s2.0Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days
ShoesAltra Superior Trail-Running
Brooks Cascadia Trail-Runners
 18.0Altra: Light, huge toe room, super comfortable!
Brooks: tried and tru trail favorite.
SocksDeFeet Wolleators or
SmartWool PhD Light Mini  or
Darn Tough 1/4 UL w cushion
1.8Key to keeping feet warm is to keep moving.
Warm hatOR Option Balaclava (1.8)1.8Warmer than a hat
GlovesDuraGlove ET Charcoal Wool (2.5)2.5Great liner glove – light, warm, durable!
Rain MittsREI Minimalist Mitts
MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2)
1.2Wind protection and warmth
Warm jacketFeathered Friends Eos Down Jacket  (hooded)10.5For rare rest stops. Moderate/consistent movement is key to keeping warm when it’s cold

How I use my clothing system

  • I regulate my temperature by making clothing adjustments without stopping. Too hot: take off hat and gloves (put in rear pants pockets), also can unzip fleece shirt and base layer, and possibly push sleeves up. Too cold: reverse the procedure.
  • If it’s extremely cold and windy, I will use my rain jacket as a windshell. (unzipping your rain jacket all the way is a major cooling force.)
  • Finally, if I really do need to stop, my warm down jacket comes out mighty fast! I store the jacket as the topmost item in the main bag of my backpack.

Enjoy Your Hike!

pack-snow-1200

MLD Prophet Pack with pockets jammed full of gear.

Lightweight Down Jackets

Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets and Pants for Backpacking

Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.

Nov 21 2017: Just added a down jacket that blow the hubcaps off of previous ultralight contenders! It’s the puffiest most insane Michelin Man look of ultralight down jackets. The GooseFeet Gear – 1/2 zip Custom Jacket: At only 9 oz, and with 61% down, this jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.

See jacket comparison table below for full spec’s. And to see many other high value off-the-shelf down jackets and pants that will save you $ and keep you warm!

 

Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets

  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
  • And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
  • *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.

Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers

If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.

What’s in this Guide

I own, or have extensively field tested the vast majority of the jackets (and pants) below.

  • Down Jackets
  • Down Pants and Down Booties
  • Note1: All garments below use Ethically Sourced Down (or something very close to it)
  • Note 2: We only include garments where the manufacturer provides oz. of down fill. Unfortunately, some major mfrs have stopped providing oz of down fill even upon request—essentially stating “trust us, it’s warm enough.” We are from Missouri…
Lightweight Down Jackets

Sometimes you need down and lots of it. Like jacket, pants, and booties. Author on a winter backcountry trip in Montana and Wyoming’s Bearthooth Plateau.

Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide

* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.

The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.

  • What’s the lightest?
  • * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
  • What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
  • What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
  • How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.

Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets


new GooseFeet Gear – Custom Down Jacket – $330  (as shown)

The new warmth to weight king. At 61% down for its weight, the GooseFeet Gear Jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer or Montbell Mirage. Pictured is a custom 1/2 zip jacket made for me by Ben at Goose Feet Gear. Weight is 9 oz with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down. It has a deep kangaroo pocket that is great for warming hands and has shopping basket size room for storing stuff in camp.

This is custom work so expect 6 weeks or so wait time. The upside is you get exactly the size and features you want! Note: that I purchased this jacket with my own funds and receive no commissions from sales.


new MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket – $249

At 44% down for its weight, it’s second only to the GooseFeet Gear Jacket for warmth to weight. The MyTrail HL Hooded is one of the best values in a super warm, fully featured UL down jacket. At 10.5 oz it’s light for its warmth with a generous 4.6 oz of 850-fill-power down. But best of all, it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth and you can get it on the shelf.

Pedigree:  This jacket was designed by Demetri Coupounas (Coup) founder/owner of GoLite, creator of the legendary GoLite Bitterroot down jacket, likely the best, high performance UL down jackets of its time. And until the closing of GoLite it was the best value on the market! And while the MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight is short of the amazing loft of the Bitterroot, it’s still a super warm and light jacket.


feathered-friends-eos-mens-ultralight-down-jacket_1-1Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290

This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz, it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down. That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.


Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded  – $350

Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.

 


new My Trail Co – Men’s 800 Fill Ultralight Hooded Down Jacketd Down Jacket – $149

New this year or possibly an improved version of the the “Down Light Hooded Jacket.” Either way it’s filled with a generous 5.1 oz of 800 fill power down (up 1.5 oz!) but at 12. 5 oz, weighs less. At 40% down for its weight the this jacket is close on the heels of its more expensive brother the 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket. Best of all, like other MyTrail products it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth.


Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers - ExpensiveMontbell EX Light Down Anorak – $269

At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as WARM as it gets!  The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.  It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a hood and a kangaroo pouch pocket! These great pockets let you really keep your hands warm by putting them in the same space against your abdomen. Truly lightweight warmth, this is a perfect puffy layer to bring on high alpine adventures like the South Sierra High Route, or Wind River High Route. The only downside is that there isn’t a Women’s version yet.


Gift Guide for Hikers and BackpackersMontbell Mirage Parka – $379

Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled (a warmer but more expensive construction method) jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters in much of the country (although you may need more in the deep north, see the Helios below). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version.


 image_feathered-friends-helios-hooded-down-jacket-ash_1Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340

If you need ultra warmth, this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm with 3x the down (warmth) of the lightest jackets here.

The Helios packs 2 oz. of high-fill down over the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.


 b0a7e9f1-e647-468c-8432-750385958f5a REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a down jacket, REI has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 10.2 oz (in a non-hooded version). And while the jacket sets no records for warmth to weight ratios with 650 fill power down, it likely has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and children’s cuts. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because all jackets are substantially warmer with one!


Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry

The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).

  • Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
  • Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.

Montbell Superior Down Parka – $209
8.5 oz, 2.5 oz 800+ fill power downAt under 9 ounces this is another great value in an ultralight, fully featured jacket. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.” While not the warmest jacket in the group, it should be more than sufficient for 3-season use.


Patagonia UL Down Jacket or Hoody – $349 at REI

This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years. My wife and I both own one. It’s not the cheapest jacket but it’s light, and uses a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions for a little more money. The hooded version is hands-down our favorite!


11fee0b4-6278-410c-9113-09fe0348dc27
Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket – $230 at REI

At $100 less than their UL jacket, this is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s reasonably light (2.8 oz, non-hooded), and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service  are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $375

Western Mountaineering has been making some of the finest and lightest down products since forever. And they are legendary for their immaculate construction and their long term durability. This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years! Made in the USA.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $375

This is a warmer version (3.5 oz of down) of the Flash Jacket with a highly water-resistant shell. This jacket was my choice for a climbing trip to the Andes in Peru. I summited a couple of 20,000+ foot peaks in this jacket. And yes, that’s a steep price tag but it’s made in the USA.


Lightweight Down Pants and Down Booties


image_featheredfriends_black_heliospant_1_3Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants – $240
13 oz, 4.4 oz 850+ fill power downThese pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.

Montbell Superior Down Pants – $169
8.4 oz, 1.9 oz 800+ fill power downThese are one of the best values in insulated pants on the market. They are warmer and more windproof than fleece pants. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.”

wmflashpants1Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – $250
6.5 oz, 2.0 oz 850+ fill power downThese are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.

 feathered-friends-assorted-down-booties
Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99
9.3 oz, 4.0 oz 800+ fill power downThese booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes, then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep  your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!

Disclaimer

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

Hiking Skirt

Why Would a Man Wear a Hiking Skirt?

I’ve wanted to wear a skirt for a while. My wife will back me up on this, but not for the reasons you think. And to be clear, I have Scottish blood (clan Dixon) so I get to wear a kilt which is pretty much a skirt. But the main reason I wanted to wear a hiking skirt/kilt was for comfort and hygiene hiking in the hot and humid summers on the east coast.

Hiking Skirt

As a man, I had some concerns about people’s reaction to me wearing what is essentially a skirt—especially from other men. But it turns out other hikers are pretty chill about it. I’ve had zero negative comments and more than a few compliments.

A Man’s Take on Wearing a Hiking Skirt (er, Kilt)

I guess I’m at an age where I am comfortable with who I am. I am not going to let societal stereotypes deter me from checking out a possibly more comfortable and efficient way to hike.

And it’s clear that there are many women hikers kickin’ some ever lovin’ ass on the trail—like my fabulous wife and the record setting Heather (Anish) Andersen who is besting the men. If they see benefits and efficiencies in hiking in a skirt, I am interested.

It took a lot of courage to take those first steps on a public trail

As a man, I had some concerns about people’s reaction to me wearing what is essentially a skirt—especially from other men. But it turns out other hikers are pretty chill about it. I’ve had zero negative comments and more than a few compliments on my kilt (all women) but that’s just fine!

Bottom line: I liked my hiking kilt enough that I’ve added it to my most popular  9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List. Both “men’s” and women’s versions are listed.

 

The Breaking Point – My Decision to Try a Skirt

What finally made me man-up and wear a hiking skirt, was a late spring section hike on the AT. My wife and I were covering 25+ miles a day in the first sweltering heat-wave of the season. It was so hot and humid that the rocks on the trail were sweating and slippery even in the heat of midday. It had been a cold spring and we were in no way heat adapted. So, if the rocks were sweating, us warm-blooded humans were gushing the stuff. Alison was literally wringing sweat out of her hair.

Our main complaint was with our sweat drenched underwear. By day 2 our soggy underwear had become so unpleasant we stopped wearing them and went commando (fairly common practice). We washed as frequently as we could, but even not wearing underwear, our light nylon shorts trapped too much heat and moisture below the belt to give us complete relief.

By day 3, we vowed to buy hiking skirts. So when we finished the section hike I emailed Mandy at Purple Rain Adventure Skirts, a hiking clothing company. I ordered an Adventure skirt for Alison and an Adventure Kilt for myself. We are both very glad we did.

Hiking Skirt

Hiking skirts work in cool weather too. Alison wearing her Purple Rain Adventure Skirt on a crisp fall morning.

What’s Good About a Hiking Skirt or Kilt

Hiking skirts have advantages over shorts. Heather (Anish) Anderson, who currently holds the unsupported records for the PCT and the AT hikes in a dress or skirt most of the time.

  • Bio breaks are faster with a skirt. Dramatically so for women who also use the “pee rag system.” But even for men, bio breaks are faster and more convenient.
  • They are more comfortable than shorts. In warm weather, there’s a ton more ventilation.
  • Hygiene. There’s a lot more below the belt ventilation and drying going on. This equals better hygiene. When used without underwear there’s even more ventilation and less environment to breed bacteria.
  • There’s far more range of motion that you might expect in a skirt. Neither of us had any problems taking huge strides over large trees blown down on the AT.
  • A very nice pocket arrangement. Two on each hip (one Velcro security pocket, one drop in pocket) with the drop in pocket being the perfect size for your smartphone.
  • For women, you can look more upscale for a town visit and/or at a restaurant. (Men maybe not so much)

For all these reasons, Alison and I have added the Purple Rain Adventure skirt and kilt  to our 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List.

Hiking Skirt

Bio breaks are faster with a skirt. Dramatically so for women who also use the “pee rag system.” The red cloth on the right side of Alison’s pack is a pee rag drying out.

Downsides for Hiking Skirts and Kilts

  • Men only: Depending on the local town, you may need to change into light shorts to be “socially acceptable.”
  • Little mosquito protection. But then that’s true for shorts too. Unless mosquito pressure is insanely bad, you can usually get by with a skirt in the middle of the day while you are moving. But you’ll likely need some light legging or pants for evenings in camp. Alison and I have sometimes used our light rain pants to save the weight of carrying pants just for this purpose. If mosquitoes are horrendous even midday you’ll likely need to abandon both skirts and shorts.
  • For Purple Rain skirts: get the correct fit. If the waistband is too loose, heavy objects in the pockets may cause it to slide down a bit. (But once the waistband is secured under you pack hip-belt, this is not a problem.)

Conclusion

So yes, I guess I can now say that I’m man enough to wear a skirt (er, kilt). And am better off for it.

Hiking Skirt

A new trail look for me