Trekking is smooth and enchanting but trekking clothes is a completely different affair. If you are someone who is new to trekking, the choice of clothing can be confusing and complicated. You need appropriate clothes to feel comfortable on treks, irrespective of the weather condition. The thumb rule for choosing the best or right clothes for any trek is, to do broad research of your trail and avoid cotton. You will need a few basics to stay safe and comfortable rather than buying a completely new wardrobe before hitting the Himalayas. Many of us face the uncertainty about what clothes to use and how to use them properly layer them, no matter if we are new to trekking or some experienced one.
Break-up with your fashionable jeans, cotton t-shirts and your brand new sneakers. Go for synthetic layer, it will dry quickly and is stretchable and breathable. A good research will offer you to select few clothes yet more appropriate and keep you well equipped for extreme weather conditions and emergencies.
There are some key points when picking up the best trekking clothes. Factors like types of fabric, the weather, and how you’re going to layer each cloth for great adaptability. A good layering of clothes is all about a small number of products that can serve a wide range of functions in all-weather conditions. While purchasing, two products can exactly look the same but there is a big difference between a product of 500 bucks and 5000 bucks. From my personal experience, my advice is to invest in quality gears. It is not only about branding- it is the fabric, design, technical features, durability, and overall quality. Purchasing a new fleece every 6 months is far better than purchasing one quality fleece which last for 5 to 10 years. At the end when we do the calculation, it will turn out that buying a good product in the first place is actually profitable.
LAYERS OF CLOTHING:
The versatile and functional three layer garment system consist of base layer, insulated or mid layer and shell or outer layer. A nature activity like trekking where you cannot control the weather and temperature, it becomes really important to layer up your upper body clothing as well as lower body. But it is important to have proper insulation of the upper body than lower because human body tend to lose less heat in lower part. The activity definitely make you sweat and everybody else. It is the natural body function to any action or activity. A proper layering of clothing will help you choose the clothes which will dry the sweat quickly and let your body breathe rather than leaving you soaked in sweat and sticking it to your back. The classic three layers of clothing are:
The Base Layer of clothing sits next to the skin with or without other layers on top of it, depending on the weather. They are meant to absorb the sweat and help you keep either warm or cool. The base layer should always have wicking properties. Base layer protects your skin against chafing. Wicking property of cloth is actually important for long treks. Base Layer Clothing includes t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops etc. The layer should also manage moisture and protect you against UV rays. Base layer can differ by material, fit and sleeve length. We have discussed about these below:
Worn: Next to the skin
When: With or without other layer on top
Function: Absorb sweat from the body and keep you warm or cool
Material: Polyester or natural fabric like Merino Wool but a strict NO FOR COTTON.
The common Base Layer Materials used are polyester and Merino wool. Although it can be also made of nylon, silk or cotton. But cotton is not recommended for activities like hiking and trekking. Cotton absorb too much moisture and become uncomfortable to wear.
Polyester is actually the best and most commonly used fabric. It is very light, absorb little moisture and dries fast and efficiently wicks away from the skin. But there are few cons, lacks odor resistance and offers less breathability. The advantage of polyester fabric is that it is easily available and relatively affordable. Whenever trekking in India, polyester is the best option for you.
Pros: Inexpensive, quick drying, durable, light weight, absorb sweat
Cons: Odor resistance, breathability
Merino Wool is increasing its popularity in the outdoor clothing activity. It offers great comfort, soft, odor resistance and breathability. The cloth retains warmth even when wet. But this doesn’t suit the Indian market since the product is pretty expensive.
Pros: Comfortable to touch, provide warmth, odor resistant, breathability
Cons: Expensive, Dries longer and less durable than polyester
FIT: The base layer has two types which is tight fitted layers and loose fitted layers. Loose fitted base layers are best for warm temperature since it increases ventilation. On the other side, tight fitting base layers are best for cold temperature.
Sleeve Length: Again in this category we have short sleeves and long sleeves. Short sleeves are used in warm weather. And long sleeved layer in cold weather.
You can visit a Decathlon store or shop online for some good base layers. Here is one example;
MID OR INSULATED LAYER:
The Mid Layer is an insulated layer that retains body heat and worn over the base layer. It includes fleece jackets, down jackets, woolen sweater and fleece sweaters. The main function of this layer is to keep you warm by trapping the body heat in its fibers. Also the mid layer should also be breathable otherwise the moisture will be trapped to your body. The mid layer needs to be quick drying and well packable which means it should not take too much space inside the rucksack. The layer is tight fitted to increase the thermal efficiency. The Mid Layer differs by materials and design including pullover, hooded jackets, zip jacket, etc.
Worn: Over the Base Layer
When: Moderate and Cold temperature
Function: Thermal Insulation
Material Used: Polyester Fleece, Goose Down, Merino Wool
The common Mid Layer Clothing Materials used are polyester fleece, Merino wool and goose down.
Polyester fleece is commonly used fabric for mid layer. It dries quickly, absorb little moisture from the base layer. But it lacks compression which means it takes more space. The advantage of polyester fleece is that easily available and relatively very affordable.
Pros: Inexpensive, quick drying, durable, retains warmth, moisture wicking
Cons: Less compressible, breath-ability
Merino Wool is less popular since it is less thermal efficient. The cloth retains warmth even when wet. But this doesn’t suit the Indian market since the product is pretty expensive and have more cons.
Pros: Retains warmth
Cons: Expensive, Dries longer, less compressible and less durable than polyester fleece
Goose down or also called down jackets. It is the best insulator and comfortable. It can keep a good amount of warmth because of its fluffy clusters. But lose its warmth when exposed to moisture or water. This material is actually best and efficient if used in dry conditions. Consider it the best option for trekking in mid layer and can also be worn casually during winters.
Pros: Compressible, Lightweight and soft,
Cons: Loses warmth when exposed to water/moisture
Below is one good example of the down jacket which is very light weight, durable and comfortable from Decathlon. However you can search online on their website and get more options.
SHELL OR OUTER LAYER:
The outer or shell layer will protect you from water and wind. While it allows the moisture to evaporate from the base and mid layer at the same time. It is worn over the base layer in normal weather conditions or over the mid layer when in cold weather. But it needs to be worn only in windy and rainy weather as it reduces the breathability of the cloth. The more the fabric or layer is waterproof, the less breathable it is. The upper layer consists of rain jackets, soft-shell jackets and insulated jackets.
Worn: Over the mid layer or directly over the base layer
When: During rain and windy conditions
Function: Protects from rain and water
Material Used: Gore-Tex, Gore Wind stopper
However there are a large variety of products available now a days in Mid Layer section which can serve the purpose of Shell Layer as well. The products are water resistant as well as wind resistant. The jackets which are offered by Decathlon, 3in1 Waterproof Jacket. It offers you with 3 layer of protection which can be worn over base layer and mid layer and outer layer comes attached. In this jacket you can remove inner layer as per the weather condition.
Here below is the breakdown of clothing as per the layering and how you can select the best clothes which you can pack on your next trek.
First and foremost thing is choosing what kind of innerwears you need to take. This depends upon your trek’s conditions and duration. For short hikes or trek which are for a day or two, then your normal boxers, briefs, panties and bras will work. But then if you are considering a longer trek then you will definitely need to consider the ones which are exclusive for active outdoors.
The key to select the underwear or bra is to go for the same qualities as base layer because these will be the first to be worn, even before the base layer. Hence they need to be moisture wicking, quick drying, breathable, comfortable and odor resistant. The material used will also be same- polyester or merino wool depending upon the weather conditions. Also during more cold conditions you can use long underwear bottoms as they will provide the warmth. The material will be polyester fleece. Avoid cotton always for both underwear and bras because they trap moisture and is slow to dry. Regular chafing with skin will make you uncomfortable. You can easily find good inner-wear online. If you are not able to find then you can search for running underwear or briefs. Likewise for bras also you can pick the running bras.
When it comes to the upper wear or top wear then a trekker will need three layers in his rucksack namely light weight and quick dry t-shirts, thermal layer and shell layer. You will have to consider the weather and type of trek you are going for.
T-Shirt or Shirt: The primary or basic of top wear is the base layer. It can include either t-shirt or shirt depending upon your personal preference. Yet the material of the fabric should remain the same for both, either polyester or merino wool. Avoid cotton as much as you can. When you are buying a new pair of t-shirts then always check the fabric used and buy the recommended ones only. They will keep your core warm and cool as per the temperature. Study the temperature of your trek because in some, you might need only a couple of t-shirts and a jacket to keep you warm. If you are going for t-shirts then take both full sleeve and half sleeve. In case the weather turns out to be a little chilly then you can go for full sleeve which can provide you with good warmth.
Down Jackets: As discussed before, the mid layer should be the one which should be providing you with the insulation and warmth you need during cold weather. Down jackets have been our personal favorite because of their so many features; durability, light weight, breathability, fluffy cluster to keep warm intact, easy to pack, takes less space and much more. Down jackets are perfect for cold and dry conditions but make sure you keep them dry to keep the insulating ability. Nonetheless if you trekking is mild conditions meaning hot during the day and cold during the night, then probably you can opt for some polyester fleece material which will do the work.
Shell/Rain Jackets: The outer layer will have the jackets which can protect you against the wind and water and also snow. They need to be wind resistant and water-proof. You will need these in extreme cold or rainy conditions otherwise the first two layer will be your best pick for most of the treks during summer and autumn weather treks. Also you can go for 3in1 jackets being offered by Decathlon to cover both the mid and shell layers.
Just like all other trekking clothing, trekking pants or trousers are no different. You will have to consider the weather for sure before choosing to wear them. Trousers protects you from rocks and bushes. During warm conditions you can definitely select shorts but for cold conditions, trousers are best. Many trekkers use trousers as it gives them plenty of pockets to stash their accessible items like granola bars, knife, candies etc. The pants should be lightweight, stretchable and quick drying. The fabric which you can use can be either nylon or polyester for warm weather and woven nylon for cold. Nylon (spandex blend) provides great durability, insulation and better stretch but is less breathable than polyester. But during cold temperature, you should always use woven nylon. It offers better insulation, protection from wind.
During rain, you will need rain pants which are worn over trousers. These are windproof and waterproof and also breathable. If you consider buying them, consider the weight before choosing or buying one.
Many trekking trousers now a days are available in a convertible style, where you can unzip and remove the lower portion, and your trousers turns into shorts.
A good trekking shoe is a very important thing on your trek. They protect your feet and ankles, along with giving support for carrying a heavy rucksack. The quality of a study shoes should be providing you support, protection from rocks and traction on wet and dry trails. Trekking boots are used for multi day trek and a regular trekking shoes are used for couple day trek. The difference between the two can vary from ankle length, water-resistance level, weather conditions which you are trekking in. You can refer to our blog on trekking shoes to select the best.
You can go for mid ankle shoes. They offer protection, traction on dry and muddy terrain, durability, breath-ability, good cushioning and is waterproof. The shoe will actually work for all the treks except the snow covered treks which requires specific shoes, otherwise this shoe will be your best pick.
Socks should transfer the moisture from your feet to the lining of your shoes. Therefore the socks which you will be using should be moisture wicking, quick drying and breathable. In addition a minor cushioning and insulation is good for extra comfort. The fabric or material used in socks is actually a mix of fibers, although merino wool and synthetic fibers are usually used in socks. Just like we have to avoid cotton in all the other layers of clothing, similarly we should avoid the cotton in socks as well. How exactly you can differentiate or choose what type of socks to pack while trekking? It will again be dependent upon the weather conditions of the trek. Cold weather means thick socks to provide the insulation and warmth and in warm weather you should use thinner socks to give your feet the breathability and comfort.
You will be able to find synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon or spandex fiber socks easily available and also fairly cheaper than merino wool. But are more durable and dry faster, however lacks retention of warmth/insulation when wet unlike merino wool socks.
Following are few other categories of layering which is essential but are easy to select and only used in certain conditions.
Just like you are protecting the complete body, similarly it is equally important to protect your head as well. During summers, a hat which can protect you from the sun and sunburn is useful. Moreover you can also use bandana for the same purpose. If purchasing hat then look for material which is quick dry and breathable. Likewise during winters, a fleece cap or woolen cap will provide the insulation and will help in retaining body heat. You can also pair the cap with a scarf just to keep yourself warmer.
Also a normal hat or cap can be used during rainy conditions will keep the rain off the eyes and make your view more visible. Plus items like a hat or a woolen cap does not take any space in your rucksack. Try to keep them always since mountains are unpredictable.
Sunglasses are again essential for a trek or hike. They are helpful if your trail involves walking through grasslands with no shade or walking through ice fields or glacier. Yet you can use them in all-weather because our eyes are so delicate that you shouldn’t be taking any risks. Exposure to UV rays or to dust or sand, all these can cause irritation to the eyes. Try to carry one pair of sunglasses as default in your rucksack. Make sure they are of good quality, UV protected and should cover your eyes completely.
And in case you didn’t get a chance to use them while walking, then you can use it for taking pictures. A picture of yours wearing sunglasses will give you more likes on instagram.
As humans our hands are the first to come in contact with the outside world. Lifting something in snow, setting up the tent in ice field, crossing the glacier using rope, all these activities we use our hands. Thus, it makes our fingers most prone to frostbite and that is why it is essential to protect our hands using gloves. The gloves are used only in winters so you need to make sure that you are using all-in-one gloves. These gloves are best and provide insulation and protection against rain and wind. Gloves are not necessary in all winter conditions, but if there is a risk of frostbite and rough terrain which requires using of hands then you should always reconsider packing the gloves.
I am sure this could be the first time you are hearing this term ‘Gaiters’. Well it is not your fault because they are actually overlooked by most of us. Only the professional trekkers use these, hence makes it less common. But we thought to include it in our list because this is again a part of layering for trekking. Gaiters are strapped over the trekking shoes and around your leg to provide protection from branches and thorns. They prevent mud, snow, water etc to enter into your shoes. They usually are inexpensive and usually one gaiter can last for a lifetime, in case you are not using it on your every trek.
By now you all will have a good knowledge about what kind of clothes you need to carry with you. You can either buy these from many online platforms like Decathlon, Amazon or else visit stores. However you need not to necessary buy all the products because if you are someone who will be doing probably 2 or 3 treks in a year, in that case you do get an option of renting these out. You can try Sharepal or Unwind Life. Carry the clothes according to the trek requirements and after checking the weather conditions and temperature.