Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fall Gear Layering Guide - 4 "Must Have" Top Layers for Hiking for Adults and Kids

Insulating Layer at Sea Ranch on the coast of Northern California.

It’s time for cooler days and crisp nights. Apple cider smells tease our taste buds and cascading, colorful leaves make irresistible piles for our footsteps to crunch through. 

Ah, yes, Autumn is in the air and fall hiking is always a favorite. 

Big temperature swings within a fall day means layering is key. Here are the basics for our tops for what we all need to have in our packs ready to pull on, pull off, and repeat. This will keep our body temperatures comfortable so we don’t get either the shivers or, worse, bake & broil and thus become pains in the snizzles for everyone else on the trail.

It’s all about layers, layers, layers.

Base Layer performance shirt by Icebreaker in Zion National Park, Utah.
1 – Lightweight or Base Layer: “The All Rounder”
This is one of my most vital layering pieces. In the fall yes, but also year round. This is the layer that can be worn on a hot day to keep the sun off of us. And it can be an important part of building warmth on cooler or cold days. I basically live in this layer all year long. My favorite material is polyester or the relatively newer variation of merino wool. This is not your grandma’s scratchy wool sweater wool. These natural merino fibers straight from the bodies of New Zealand sheep can actually keep us cooler on hot days and warmer on cold days. A win win. This piece is a must have as a layering essential. Look for @ 150-200gm weight.

Mid Layer by WoolX on Muir Beach Overlook in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California. Aspen the dog.
2 – Mid Layer: “The Quick Warmer-Upper”
The mid layer is just that much thicker than your base layer. Lots of these come in ¼ zip from chin to chest and are like a lightweight sweater for when the first chill comes on. Great to wear hiking up the mountain on a cool day allowing our bodies to breathe and still feel warm. Again, more and more I’m a sucker for the Merino Wool version of this layer. The fiber material is natural so there’s no yuk plastic smell when it first arrives in packaging. And the natural fibers don’t trap our body odor as much so there’s much less body stink. A HUGE bonus on a sweaty day. Your hiking neighbors will thank you. Also comes in polyester fabric. Look for @ 250gm weight.

Two types of Insulating Layers at our campsite in Mt Tamalpais State Park, California.

3 – Insulating Layer: “The Sleeping Bag for Your Torso”
Now we’re talking about a jacket. Usually a full zip. This is the sleeping bag for your torso. There are high-performance fleece fabric jackets, though my favorite are the cozy down or “synthetic down” jackets. Many brands have a special synthetic material similar to down that isn’t as puffy as the old, giant, goose puffers. This material is convenient because it stays warm when wet from weather or sweat and the jacket fits more easily and sleekly underneath layering pieces. Think cozy. Reminder that natural down gets cold when wet and can get too hot during active sports.

Outerwear Layers at the summit of Killington Peak, Vermont.
4 – Outerwear Layer: “The Weather Beater”
This final layer determines whether you get to continue your epic hike when the rain storm or snow storm or wind storm rolls in, or whether you lose it and start bawling in misery on the trail miles from home ‘cause you’re wet to the bone and frozen. One word we should always look out for with this layering piece is the word “breathable” for outdoor activity. The old yellow slickers that gnarly fishermen still wear on the high-seas should probably be left on the boat, as a more flexible, breathable, water-resistant or water-proof jacket is more practical for the trails. And, final note, always make sure that the size is large enough so that the other layers can fit underneath it as well.

These four layers work for adults and kids. I carry a variation of all of these in my backpack basically all of the time, and definitely during colder and less predictable weather months. An example of fall unpredictability? Hiking in Boulder, Colorado in early November. Last year on on a hike it was 70 degrees when we hiked the Flatirons one day. The next day there was 40 degree temperature drop and we hiked in a massive, pelting snow storm. 

So much fun! Go figure. Remember, you're only as happy as you are prepared with the right gear. Fall hiking.

-Outdoorsy Mama

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. Hike and adventure with care. Icebreaker and Woolx products were sent for product testing and review. Get dirty.

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