How to Choose the Right Wardrobe for Backpacking

I worked in a backpacking store in San Diego in the 1990’s, selling clothing and equipment. I also taught beginning backpacking classes. These included two in-store lessons where we discussed equipment, food, clothing, etc., followed by an introductory overnight trip to the local mountains in the summer and fall, or to the desert in the winter and spring.

One May, we led a beginning group into the San Jacinto mountains, slowly hiking two miles up the trail which went from 6,000′ elevation at the trailhead to 8,000′ at the summit. It was our first mountain trip of the year. At 6,000′, as we packed our gear, the air was warm and the sky was clear. At 7,000′ we began to notice a chill in the air and a few clouds moving in. By the time we reached the trail summit, at 8,000′, the sky was full of clouds, the wind was blowing hard, and the temperature had dropped nearly 30ˇăF!

Fortunately, all of us were well prepared for this kind of sudden change in the weather. Our group quickly set up camp, pulled on warmer layers of clothes, and prepared a good hot dinner. We went to bed early, warm and dry in our tents and sleeping bags. When we woke up the next morning, we discovered ice in some of the cups and pots we had rinsed out the night before!

backpacking wardrobe How to Choose the Right Wardrobe for Backpacking

The lesson: The only prediction you can make about the weather, is that it’s unpredictable. No matter how nice the weather looks when you start your trip, be prepared to dress for the unexpected.

Buying clothing specifically for backpacking may not make much sense at first. Chances are you already have some comfortable, slightly worn pants, shorts, T-shirts, etc. that will work quite well on the trail. If you’re outfitting fast-growing children, it hardly seems worth the expense to get them new clothes they will soon outgrow or wear out. So why not save for that expensive tent or sleeping bag you’ve had your eye on? Why spend money on new clothing that you know will just get dirty on your first trip?

Well, these are all good questions. It’s true that there are plenty of other things to spend money on as you prepare for the trail, and most of us have plenty of clothes to wear. But the first time you climb over a boulder and rip out the seams in your shorts, or maybe feel yourself becoming chilled after a day of hiking in thick denim blue jeans (which are durable, but notorious for absorbing perspiration and staying damp for hours), you’ll begin to appreciate the double-reinforced seams and quick drying features of today’s rugged outdoor clothing with its lightweight, durable fabrics, if you need to buy some clothes for your next trip, buy from here.

The first thing to consider as you plan your “wilderness wardrobe” is whether or not the clothing you select will keep you warm and dry. Durability and function are a close second. As with all the other items you need to purchase, consider the specific logistics of your trip to help determine what clothing is necessary.

“Of course, depending on where you go and who you travel with, you may not need a swimming suit at all”

Obviously, your needs will be quite different for a summer, compared to a winter trip. You will need to cover up to protect against sunburn while hiking in the desert, but may want to wear a minimal amount of clothing if you plan to go hiking in more temperate locations, especially if you’ll be near water and going for frequent swims.

Also, think of the full range of activities you’ll be participating in throughout your trip. First thing in the morning, you may be warm in your sleeping bag, but if you’re planning an early start you could be getting out of bed while the temperature is still chilly. Regardless of the time of year, always bring a jacket and other warm clothes. Same for raingearˇŞyou never know when a sudden afternoon thunder-shower will appear on the horizon.

Think of dressing in layers. This means you will have a “core” outfit to be used for most trips, with additional pieces (raincoat, parka, etc.) that are added or deleted, depending on the season, location, weather, etc.

And because your body produces a small but crucial amount of heat, plan on using a layering system. This creates pockets of warm air between the layers of clothing, traps your body’s warmth, and helps keep you warm.

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