As anyone who knows me can tell you, temperature is my nemesis. For some reason (maybe the reason is that I’m a big baby), I have a hard time regulating my body temperature. When I’m on the move, I run “hot” and am often fine in shorts and a t-shirt when everyone around me is in pants and long sleeves. But when I’m sitting still or just puttering around, I run very cold very quickly. Because I always seem to be too hot or too cold, the art of layering has been important for me to master. It isn’t so bad when I can run to the car to grab or ditch a layer, but when you are backpacking and every ounce counts (and sometimes hurts), it becomes super important to pack conservatively.
I am by no means an expert in this, and a year from now, I am sure my system will be different. So I am sharing my current plan as we get ready for an upcoming 3 day backpack in the Mount Rogers area in VA.
We hiked at Mount Rogers in May of this year, and I was pretty cold at camp. The temps during the day were warm and great for a t-shirt or tank top, but once the sun went down I had a very hard time staying warm enough. The average temps for that time of year were lows of 50 degrees and highs around 77 degrees. I am not sure what the lows were when we camped, but it sure felt a lot colder than 50 degrees, especially because there was a good amount of wind. I had left some of my warmer clothing behind thinking I would not need it, but I was wrong. I mean, even my dog was cold in the tent, so I think the average temperature people are a bunch of liars. I ended up putting one of my sweatshirts on my dog to keep him warm and we were both still cold.
As you probably know, layering properly consists of the following system:
Base layer (something wicking, either synthetic or wool)
Insulating layer (fleece or down)
Shell (something windproof, ideally waterproof)
I have the base layer thing pretty squared away. Although when hiking in fall and spring, it does get a little difficult, as I am often down to a t-shirt or tank top during the day. I usually wear some sort of synthetic layer (Under Armour or other synthetic shirt). I keep a lightweight Smartwool long sleeved shirt (micro 150) in the beaver tail of my pack for easy access during rest stops. During cooler days, the Smartwool layer becomes my base layer. I also have a thicker Smartwool (mid 250) for when it’s truly cold outside, but in anything other than freezing temps, it’s a bit too much.
Beyond the base layer is where I begin to struggle. I am 100% totally in love with the Outdoor Research Deviator hoody as an insulating layer. It is perfect for when I’m on the move and there’s a chill in the air. It breathes like a champ but keeps me warm without cooking me. It’s amazing. I would marry it if I could.
However, when I’m not moving much (belaying, hanging out at camp, etc.), the Deviator is often not warm enough. That’s where my down layer comes in. The Arc’teryx Cerium SV is what I use. It’s too warm/bulky to use while on the move, but it’s nice and cozy when I start getting cold. It compresses super small (yay down!) and is light. This was an item I left behind on my last trip to Mount Rogers and I regretted it. Then I carried the stupid thing all over Yosemite and only used it once (and really would have been fine without it). But it was nice to know I had it just in case.
Now for the super tricky part (for me). I aspire to pack light and only bring what I need. But I feel like bringing a Gore-Tex shell is a must, especially when the weather is unpredictable. After many false starts and disappointments (will blog about my Gore-Tex adventures in another post), I am currently using the Arc’teryx Beta LT Hybrid. I have yet to test it out, but will definitely do a thorough review when I have put it through the wringer.
Hiking in Gore-Tex can be hot and gross, so I always feel like I need another shell for when it’s cold/windy but not raining. This is where my packrattedness comes out. I have an Outdoor Research Whirlwind hoody that is basically a soft shell that is windproof and water resistant. I haven’t really tested it, but the reviews on it are great and it’s been hanging in my closet way too long without getting any attention. So my goal is to figure out how to add it to my layering system without breaking my back or just being completely ridiculous. It kind of seems like overkill for me to bring two shells AND two insulating layers. Mike can throw on a capilene layer over a t-shirt and he’s totally happy and comfortable. JEALOUS!
I’m curious about how others utilize layering and specifically what items you like. Does anyone else struggle to stay in the comfort zone like I do? I really want to lighten my load, but as soon as backpacking stops being fun (like when my teeth are chattering), then it is just not worth it. So I bring too much to ensure I have a good time and won’t get distracted by being too hot or too cold. Let me know in the comments what works for you!
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