There’s an infinite amount of ways to get info about dressing for backpacking. Many articles, magazines, and guidebooks have loads of good tips and advice for dealing with the elements. But many of these pieces vary with the season – you’ll see articles like: ‘The Best Fabrics For Summer’ or, ‘Winter Layering’. I could get into the many sub-sects of dressing for the outdoors; instead I’ve picked the clothes that I continually use throughout the year. I found it much easier to pick the essentials – the pieces I find myself using on the majority of my trips. Obviously, you’ll need more than just these to be completely prepared (I didn’t include baselayers, or mid-layers, really – it’s pretty much understood that you’ll be wearing these). But the ones I’ve listed here are always great to have. All in all, these are pieces you want to have stashed in your pack at all times.
The Shell: armor for the elements
Besides my boots, my shell is probably my most-used item. The great thing about this piece is its versatility; you’ll definitely need it as a raincoat in the spring and summer for the wet weather, but in the colder months, they’re great to throw on top of your insulating layers as protection from harsher weather. Lots of down jackets and sweaters are soft-shelled, thus vulnerable to mixed conditions such as rain, snow, wind, and whatever else mother nature throws at you. This hard shell protects those layers from any exterior damage. Always have this thing handy – you never know when you’ll want to stay dry!
Durable Hiking Pants: unless you’re cool in underwear…
Have you ever come across a hiker wearing nothing but his boxers? Completely nude perhaps? Unless you’re hiking near a nudist colony, most hikers you’ll come across will be wearing some type of durable pants, shorts, and/or convertible pants. The most important thing about the bottom half of your clothing is it’s fabric. You’ll want something that’s mostly waterproof and preferably moisture-wicking. You won’t want to hike in jeans – a rookie mistake I’ve made. That being said, steer clear of cotton – (ever heard the phrase “cotton kills”?) instead, shoot for the polyester and polyester/spandex combo. Get something that will repel the mud, puddles, and grime that you’ll find on the trail. It’s always nice to have a clean and dry bottom half.
The Lightweight Windbreaker / Jacket: for the lighter days
Sometimes you’ll come across days where the weather is more forgiving: instead of gale-force winds, the forecast calls for breezes at 56 degrees. Now’s the time to pull out that windbreaker, somewhere packed away under your water bottle and granola bars. Besides serving its function of blocking (breaking?) wind, a lightweight jacket like this serves as a good midlayer. Layer this before your outer shell on super wet days – your shirt will stay dry (unless it’s wet from sweat). I use this jacket in the summer for windy days on the beach and in colder fall months for day hikes. Definitely one of my favorite types of jackets.
Wool Socks: those furry things on your feet
No one likes blisters. Wool socks help prevent this by keeping your feet dry and warm. Above are three different types of wool socks I like to use: The first is plain wool – thick and durable. I use these whenever I’m on the trail. The second wool sock is thinner; I use them as liners for the thicker ones: on longer hikes, where my feet are getting more abused, I wrap these around my thicker socks for extra cushioning. I also use them on runs where the weather isn’t necessarily dry. The third sock is thinner than the first and much thicker than the second – a kind of “best of both worlds” type. These are the most “every day” socks I use – great for any adventure. The bottom line: wool, wool, wool.
Boots: better tires for your car
Ah, last but not least: the boots. Often you’ll see people hiking in running shoes or work boots. All of that is fine – for dayhikes. You won’t seriously injure or hurt yourself by doing that. But, if you plan on backpacking, definitely invest in a pair of boots. Here’s why: 1. Weight – with the extra weight of your pack, tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc, you’ll be coming down much harder on your feet, and as a result, your knees. You’ll want better support for all of this (they make hiking boots for a reason!) – running shoes aren’t meant to take on this type of weight. Nothing’s worse than a sprained ankle because of weak support. 2. Durability – A very reassuring thing about a good pair of boots is the ability to stomp through crappy trail conditions. With, say, running shoes, your feet would get soaked and muddy when trekking through a post-storm trail. Invest in the boots!