Tips – Clothing

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought I would share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What? When I first started going out for long walks/short hikes, I would just wear the regular clothes I already owned – cotton T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, etc. I quickly learned that those weren’t the best choices, especially if the weather tended to extremes of hot or cold, so over the years I’ve acquired a walking wardrobe that helps me prepare for most conditions.

When? These tips apply to any season, bearing in mind that the clothing choices you make can vary a lot by temp and weather conditions.

Tips: Where, when, how, and why

  • As Shrek said to Donkey, ogres are like onions because they have layers. Your clothing choices should be like that too. Being able to add or subtract a layer on the fly while you are walking can make a big difference in comfort.
  • Layers with zippers are handy – for example, a zippered fleece sweater under a rain jacket can be enough warmth for a 5-10 C day, and if you get too warm you can just open it up without having to take it off
  • Breathability is key. Look for things like zippers under the arms on rain jackets, or armpit air holes, or breathable water-resistant materials like GoreTex. There’s nothing worse than working up a sweat and feeling that moisture trapped against your body because your clothes won’t let it evaporate.
  • Avoid cotton, it traps moisture as you perspire and that can lead to chafing and blisters. Damp or wet cotton also wicks heat away from your body, which is bad news when it’s cold – you don’t want to work up a sweat while wearing a cotton T-shirt and find you’re chilled when you sit for a rest break.
  • Look for natural fibres like wool and silk. These breathe well, they wick moisture away from your body, and keep you warm even when wet. I like Merino wool because it’s light and soft. Try to use these as your base layers next to your skin.
  • Synthetic fibres like fleece work well too, like the moisture-wicking materials used in exercise gear that also often have some elasticity to allow you to move and stretch easily. Just remember that these materials shed plastic micro-fibres every time you wash them which eventually work their way into water systems creating long-term environmental problems. So yes, they work, but natural materials are best.
  • Try then buy. I like to buy one example of something – socks or underwear or whatever – and wear it a few times on different walks in different conditions. If that works well, then I buy more of the same thing.
  • Remember your pack. It’s important to try on clothes, especially outer layers, with your backpack. You don’t want to find out there are pinch points or chafing areas after you’ve bought the clothing item. Take the pack with you to the clothing store if you can and try on both together. This also lets you fiddle with zippers on jackets and fleecies to see how well that will work while wearing a pack with a waist belt and sternum strap.
  • Especially in summer, it’s amazing how many sets of clothes you can get through over a few days. I usually come in dripping so everything goes straight into the wash, and unless we’re doing laundry constantly I find I need at least 3-4 pairs of underwear, socks, etc. in order to go out everyday.
  • You get what you pay for, in clothes as in anything else. Good stuff will cost more but it will last longer, so over time it’s usually better value.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be comfortable than stylish. I look like a middle-aged guy in hiking gear when I’m out, because I am a middle-aged guy in hiking gear. So what.
  • Start with your feet. Your shoes or boots will make or break your comfort on a walk, and blisters can stop you in your tracks, so to me it’s more important to spend money on footwear and skimp on the other clothing layers if needed. You can always take off a layer of clothing if you get hot or add a layer if needed, but you can’t take off your footwear and keep hiking. I look for wearability and comfort first of all, and style is way down my list of priorities.
  • For a moderate 10 km hike, my clothing choices will be something like this
    • Spring
      • Base layer – workout underwear, top and bottom – moisture wicking synthetics
      • Upper body Insulating layer(s) (the colder the temps, the more layers) – long sleeve work out T-shirt, and/or light merino wool jumper, and/or light zippered fleece jacket
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking pants with lots of cargo pockets. If the temps are above 15 C, then walking shorts, also in synthetic material with cargo pockets
      • Outer layer – water resistant rain jacket, non-insulated if it’s above about 5 C, or a light down jacket if it’s below that. Also light running gloves, if it’s forecast to be below about 5 C.
      • Socks – compression fit, light merino wool
      • Footwear – hiking boots or running shoes depending on weather and terrain
      • Head gear – water resistant baseball style hat, with a backup light toque if it’s under 5 C
      • Optional – if there’s rain in the forecast, I’ll wear or at least carry in the pack a pair of light rain pants
    • Summer
      • Base layer – same as spring. I’ll carry a spare T-shirt if it’s over about 30 C so I have something dry to change into if needed. If it’s especially sunny, I’ll use a SPF 40-50 rated exercise T-shirt
      • Upper body insulating layer – none, unless it’s forecast to drop below about 15 C
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking shorts
      • Outer layer – light rain jacket in the backpack unless there’s about a 0% chance of rain in the forecast
      • Socks – compression fit, synthetic materials. I might carry a spare pair if I’m going to be out for 3-4 hours or more so I have change to dry ready
      • Footwear – running shoes
      • Head gear – baseball-style running hat or a broad-brimmed sun hat, depending on forecast.
    • Autumn
      • Overall, same as spring. Layers adjusted depending on forecast temps, keeping in mind that it gets darker earlier so the temperature drops can hit you earlier than in spring
    • Winter
      • Base layer – usually the same as other seasons, but if it’s below about -10 C and particularly if there’s a significant wind-chill, then add merino wool long johns.
      • Upper body and lower body layers similar to autumn, adding a layer of winter rain pants if it’s wet or below about -15 C
      • Outer layer – down-insulated winter parka + light running gloves with down-filled over mittens if it’s below – 5C
      • Footwear – hiking boots, with gaiters if it’s really snowy/slushy
        • Bonus tip – non-slip crampons for street walking work well over your boots, to give you grip on ice
      • Head gear – toque usually, or else a rain-resistant baseball style cap that fits under the hood of the parka

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.