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.

39 replies
  1. Philip Werner
    Philip Werner says:

    Nice post. The Insect Shield treatment applied to RailRiders pants doesn’t last a lifetime but 70 washes max. Bug killing efficacy also drops to 50% after 35 washes. I send out my old RailRiders each year to Insect Shield to have their treatment refreshed because I wash them about once a week. The same holds for all factory clothing treated with Insect Shield, which is just an industrial process for Permethrin Treatment that lasts significantly longer than if you apply it at home

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Thanks Phillip. Yes, you are correct it is 70 washings for the factory treatment. And I say so in a note at the bottom of the table. For me that IS a life time 🙂 But to be clear, I’ve amended each table line to read 70 washings. Best, -alan

      Reply
  2. Scott Wilkinson
    Scott Wilkinson says:

    Great article. And it can’t be emphasized enough that with proper layering, you should start cold in cold weather! That is, you shouldn’t dress to be warm when you’re standing still at the beginning of a hike (lots of people make this mistake). You need to learn how to deal with being cold for anywhere from 20-40 minutes of activity before your body kicks into “high heating mode.” It’s never fun, but you get used to it—and it pays off in the long run.

    Reply
  3. Donna
    Donna says:

    Thanks Alan I enjoyed this. I share your liking for fleece. It went out of fashion for a while but I always carry a 100wt fleece on backpacking trips, so versatile!

    Reply
  4. Richard
    Richard says:

    Alan, thanks for the time you put into this site. Would you discuss the footwear you use when you expect colder temps with rain or snow? I’m usually in the Sierras in late September to early October and often see some precipitation. Can your feet stay warm walking in all day rain when it’s 35-45? And what do you recommend when you arrive in camp with wet feet and aren’t planning to jump right into the bag/quilt?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      In the field right now Richard so a brief response. Short answer is that if you keep moving you feet should stay warm (even in snow). If it’s consistently cold enough you can switch to GTX trail runners (which I wouldn’t rec. for warm to moderate temps). In camp when it’s cold you’ll likely want dry socks and light down booties. Best -alan

      Reply
  5. Blake Wolfskill
    Blake Wolfskill says:

    I always hear to try and avoid sweating in the cold, but have yet to understand how. I can be in a t shirt in mid 30’s, as soon as I start going uphill I’m soaked. Always a big sweater

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Blake,
      If you are only sweating out your T-shirt then you are doing it right! On of the first principals while exercising hard is to sweat out the least amount of clothing (only T-shirt is good!). If you do sweat this much and can’t lower your pace to reduce it… then you are likely someone that may need to doff and don layers when going up and down in cold weather. Such is life. Warmest , -alan

      Reply
  6. Scott
    Scott says:

    Should the layers be more “form fitting” than baggy? I’m between a M and S for the fleece layer, both fit under my rain jacket. The S is fairly form fitting but not too tight while the medium “fits” but is a bit looser. Should I choose one or the other? Or does it not matter that much? Thanks for the help

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Scott, ideally they should fit but not be not snug (with the execution of your base-layer that should be snug but not too tight). For a fleece layer, looser is better than tight, otherwise it’s hard to get over layer under it as it tends to bind and bunch things up, especially in the sleeves. And you might want to put it on over a thin vest so a bit of extra room is welcome. Enjoy your hike. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  7. Nathan H.
    Nathan H. says:

    Great info. I am always trying to learn layering techniques. It’s a challenge for me, because my blood doesn’t circulate well. So I often sweat while my extremities are numb. But my passion for winter hiking keeps me going. Any suggestions? I’d like to get pit zips jackets, but they are just too expensive! I am also on a tight budget. That’s another thing I appreciated about your article. Most of these things are not too expensive

    Reply
  8. Rob B
    Rob B says:

    Informative article, I’m sure it has shifted many people’s paradigms. I hope try some of the ideas out very soon. One item though for me that’s become integral to my 4 season list is the Squamish wind jacket…the reason is b/c it breathes better than any other and allows me to find that sweet spot to prevent chilling but allow drying. Last spring in March used it, a craft base layer, & a smart wool mid at the summit of Kirkwood ski area in 40mph winds @28deg.

    Reply
  9. Andy
    Andy says:

    Noticed that you mentioned a vest in on of your replies, and I am curious to hear your thoughts about vests in general and whether you like them as a layering piece. If you’ve talked about this elsewhere, feel free to just direct me to that. I have been thinking about adding a light synthetic vest as an insulating layer over the R1 and a wool baselayer. Is the vest addition worthwhile in your opinion, or an unnecessary item for three season applications? Thanks Alan…

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Andy, absolutely nothing wrong with layering a vest. Alison and I have used Pat R2 vests like this for years. Works great! The caveat about a vest is that since it doesn’t cover your arms you are more likely to need to layer a wind shirt over it. And layering the wind shirt can take more time since you’ll need to take your pack of to do it. So, you’ll likely spend a bit more time adjusting layers vs. the full fleece which in my opinion has broader temp range of comfort than a vest. But if you don’t mind a few extra minutes to deal with the wind shirt, a vest is an excellent layering option. Wishing you a great year trekking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  10. Andy
    Andy says:

    I actually meant a light vest OVER a fleece, not instead of it.

    So baselayer + R1 + vest + rain jacket would be the system. I think the vest in this system represents an extra layer compared to your overall recomendation ?

    Do I have it right? You use baselayer + R1 (or other fleece) + shell and that’s it? Thanks again…

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Andy. My basic 3-season layering system is

      • a wool or synthetic LS baselayer in the range of 6-8 oz
      • a 100 weight fleece like TNF TKA 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip Pullover or White Sierra Alpha Beta Quarter Zip (100 wt) both at Amazon or if you can’t find a 100 wt fleece use a Pat R1 garment.
      • And then a light rain jacket. To be used for rain obviously. But also as a windshirt if it gets cold and windy. This is where the more wind resistant 100 wt fleece shines as means you can wait longer until having to put the rain jacket on.

      Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  11. andrew
    andrew says:

    I’m sorry man, maybe it’s because I’m not a native english speaking user or something, but I find these threads so confusing!

    I do not understand the rules you are suggesting.
    For instance: I will go to the Alps again this summer, it’s like 20°C in the sun, even more, and -5°C° when it’s night and it’s cold.
    Wind is always there, sometimes it rains too!
    I’d like to semplify my gear and equipment, and I believe I can carry a shor sleeve T, a Patagonia R1 and a 100g ultralight windjacket (wind and very small rain – jacket) .
    My worry is regarding maybe a down vest, no hood.
    What do you think about that?

    I mean, the article is great and everything, but it is a bit chaotic

    Peace, Andrew-

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Sorry for the confusion Andrew. I am guessing that the fairly technical/complex topic does not translate easily to other languages.

      You have an excellent Q about environments that range from moderate (room temperature) temps to very cold (below freezing) with some rain thrown in: I would say a short sleeve, or long sleeve T (or a thin base layer), a Pat R1, 3 oz wind shirt, a rain jacket would be a good set of active layers.

      And then add to that a warm down jacket with a hood. Something in the 300g to 400g range with a very light shell fabric. Take a look at my Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets and Pants for Backpacking. In Europe it might be easier to get a jacket like this from Rab or Montane, etc. My preference is when I moving I’m moving. And when I’m stopped, I’m stopped. Or put in other words, the down jacket is only for when I am stopped. And then I want it to be very warm. Just a few more oz down can make an incredible difference in warmth.

      Oh, and if you could find a denser weave (less air-permeable than the R1) 100 wt fleece you might be able to ditch the wind shirt. Not for the weight savings but for the time saved in layer changes. I and a number of my experience friends feel the denser weave 100 wt fleece had a broader comfort range (less layer adjusting) than a the combo of a more air-permeable fleece and a wind shirt. I will note that some other very experienced hikers don’t agree about this.

      Hope this helps and wishing you some great trekking in the Alps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  12. Zachary Wells
    Zachary Wells says:

    Alan,

    Your website has been a fantastic information resource, and I definitely have run into the same problems you have trying to find lightweight fleece. I think north face is continuing to make their lightweight, but I think they average out the weight across the whole line when they put a stated weight and they sell a XXXL! That’s a lot of fabric!

    Anyway, I was curious if you’d ever tested any of the lightweight Mountain Hardwear gear outside of the Ghost Whisperer jacket? I found one on sale for $170 and picked it up because it was a steal (no hood, but at that price I didn’t care). However, when I was looking at the Ghost Whisperer jacket I came across a few other items that seemed like they would fit nicely into your systems.

    The first being the Mountain Hardwear Supercharger Shell. https://www.sierratradingpost.com/mountain-hardwear-dryq-core-supercharger-jacket-waterproof-for-men~p~306jx/?filterString=s~supercharger%2F#sizingSection On sale for 79 bucks and 6.1 oz claimed weight! Heck of a deal. Curious if there’s anything you see glaringly wrong with it. However, there’s nothing unique about it notwithstanding the current price to weight, but it could very well be not that great of a product.

    The second is a more intriguing item. It is the Microchill 2.0 Zip T. https://www.mountainhardwear.com/mens-microchill-2.0-zip-t-1677261.html?cgid=mens-tops-fleece&dwvar_1677261_variationColor=011#start=1 Normal price of $55 and a claimed weight of 5.9 oz! If this has the same properties as a normal 100 wt fleece, but is just 2 oz lighter and the same price as TNF lightweight fleece, I think it is something worth looking into. Added benefit is it’s a full half zip for better venting! Curious about your thoughts on this product.

    Warm Regards,

    Zach

    Reply
  13. Mark Hurd
    Mark Hurd says:

    Alan,
    I just stumbled on your site the other day and am amazed at the breadth and depth of your blog concerning backpacking and especially the UL end of the spectrum. Anyway, awesome site!

    I just tried out the layering system you suggested and ditched my 2 oz wind jacket for a 7 oz fleece. Now, I am a diehard wind jacket guy, so it was with some trepidation I set out this AM on my usual 10 mile training hike without said wind jacket. It was between 36° and 40° F over the course of my trek with calm winds here in Eugene. Humidity in the 90% range. I was slightly cool when starting, but nothing too bad. 2 miles in I start up a 10% grade. I got ready to sweat like I almost always do, but it never really happened. Usually by the time I get a quarter of the way up this mile long hill I have to stop and strip down. (Cue chill factor), but not this time. I did the whole 10 miles without a pause to take off or add clothing. A first. So I am cautiously optimistic that I have found a new, albeit heavier, layering system. Thanks!

    Happy Trails,
    -Mark

    Reply
      • Alan Dixon
        Alan Dixon says:

        Oh, and within the realm of reason, efficiency usually trumps weight (at least for a “moderate” increase in weight). And you’d likely have a midlayer or other warm garment like it this on a hike anyway. -a

        Reply
  14. Dogwood
    Dogwood says:

    In your winds pic it looks like you have a vest on over a shell. Can you elaborate on those brand pieces and why that layering scenario was chosen?

    Reply
  15. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Hi Alan,

    When you’re bringing ALL your winter layering pieces (puffy pants, rain pants, winter weight sleeping bag, etc.) are you still fitting it all in the HMG 2400 Southwest? Which pack do you recommend for the added weight/volume when including your warmest layers?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I am in Patagonia between treks so short reply. I can fit all my winter gear into a Gossamer Gear Gorilla. So a HMG 2400 should be enough room. Google “winter hammock camping” to find my write up on this. Best -a

      Reply
  16. Montana Gent
    Montana Gent says:

    Great article. I agree on the windshield, especially the clammy part, but I have to share something that changed my life: the wind vest! I do a lot of backcountry skiing and mountaineering, so wind at elevation becomes an issue. But they are high exertion activities, so a full windshirt is way too much. But the Patagonia Houdini Vest weighs nothing and cuts the wind right where you need it while still letting you dump heat.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good find Montana Gent,
      And apologies for the late reply. I’ve been out trekking in Patagonia for the last two weeks. I will need to check the vest out. Warmest, -Alan

      Reply
  17. Karen
    Karen says:

    Do you have an article in which you make a suggestion for ultralight weight rain pants? Doing the Tour De MontB and wish to keep the pack light

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Karen,
      And apologies for the late reply and short reply. I’ve been out trekking in Patagonia for the last two weeks (and am still in Patagonia with crappy Internet). I would definitely look at the Z-Packs Vertice rain pants. They are what I am using in Patagonia right now. Alison is using the Outdoor Research Helium pants which are a bit easier to get on with their calf zips. Both are light and will do the job altho I prefer the pricier Z-Packs ones. They are lighter and a bit more breathable. But also a thinner fabric. Although I have about two weeks of actual wear (rain days) on them and they are fine. Hope this helps. Best, -alan

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *