Outdoors Clothing 101: Layering Guide for the Himalayan Trekker
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
One of the hallmarks of weather in the mountains is that it changes at the drop of a hat. While it may be all sunshine and happiness one moment, a threatening thunderstorm can gather clouds and dampen the weather in no time, ruining your trekking experience. Or it might just snow and leave things very cold and frozen.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Have you underestimated the significance of essential trekking clothes especially on high altitude, long treks?
If so, read on to learn about the appropriate clothing measures for trekking in Indian Himalayas.
Layering is a golden rule everyone should swear by when choosing clothes for trekking in the Himalayas – Pranav Rawat.
Hmm, but what exactly is layering?
Layering is a way of wearing clothes in which one can add or remove layers of clothes with variation in temperature. Much like an onion, one should wear several layers of clothes, reducing overall bulk and allowing one to trap more heat between all the different layers of clothes. This insulates more effectively than a thick jacket. This is the key to keeping oneself warm and comfortable while trekking.
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I want to know more about clothing in layers for trekking. Go on.
Layering involves three parts
Base Layer (underwear layer)
Middle Layer (insulating layer)
Outer Layer (shell layer)
These comprise your essential trekking clothes. To best understand the art of layering for the outdoors, you need to know the function of each layer
The base layer is the one which touches your body directly and absorbs sweat through contact with your skin. Pranav advises against cotton which takes longer to dry and can make you sick if it gets wet. Cotton’s absorptive properties are offset by its lack of quick drying properties. Now on a long trek, when you perspire, the sweat once absorbed by cotton thermal has no way of escaping. Wetness can cause your body temperature to drop, making you violently ill.
A polyester long sleeved shirt which is breathable and light weight makes for an excellent base layer. In cooler conditions, merino wool base layers work best.
This layer helps you trap significant amount of heat and is critical to dressing in the mountains.
That was one, what about the other two?
The next is the mid layer and Pranav advises to pick up something made up of stretchable fleece, Polartech or Thinsulate. The upside of using the latter two, over fleece is that they are lightweight and soak sweat well.
Apart from this, you must wear a down jacket (Synthetic or Goose). Synthetic down helps you keep warm while relaxing, for instance on a chilly mountain evening at campsite whereas goose down should be worn at extremely low temperatures. Down is very light, portable and has excellent insulating properties. The combination of these two layers complete the middle layer.
Last but not the least is the outer layer. During harsh weather conditions, a shell jacket provides substantial protection. Be it snow or rain, shell jackets are your ultimate defence against freezing cold. Pranav recommends investing in a good quality functional shell layer, preferably made of Gore-Tex or eVent which have microporous membranes allowing a stellar combination of breathability and waterproofing. The shell helps the insides breathe while protecting against wind and rain from the outside.
A combination of these three layers complete the ideal layering setup for the outdoors and will effectively protect you against even the coldest climes found in the mountains.
Well that was new! What about lower body clothing?
For the lower body, nylon or polyster thermals, as the base layer, help keep warm and also absorb sweat effectively. One can also opt for shorts of the same material as they allow more flexibility and ease of movement. Lightweight synthetic hiking pants can also be chosen, in case it isn’t very hot or cold as these fall midway in terms of heft and breathability. But on some treks in India, it can get very cold and hence a thermal underwear and water and wind proof pants must be worn above these.
What about my hands and feet? I usually feel very cold in my extremities during treks, why is that?
The head, feet and hands also need protection. The head must be kept warm at all times as it helps to keep the rest of the body temperature under control. Hands and feet can be affected by frost bites if it they get too cold.
The head must be covered with a warm hat made up of synthetic down or fleece, depending on the severity of cold and must cover the ears and back of the neck. The hard shell jacket with a peaky hood can become a top layer for the head which gives protection in extreme cold and windy conditions. One may also wear a snugly fitting balaclava as a base layer for the head.
As far as feet are concerned, merino wool base layer socks can be worn. If it gets very cold, add medium weight socks made up of wool blend to keep feet warm. While trekking in Indian Himalayas, one may also encounter snow. Besides trekking shoes you may also have to use gaiters. Gaiters made of eVent material are recommended during snowy conditions to prevent snow from entering the trekking shoe or boot.
Gloves too are an essential part of dressing and must be selected carefully as they are always a compromise between heat retention and dexterity. Pranav suggests a moisture wicking glove liner made up of either fleece or a thin insulating polyester material be worn as a base layer.
However, if it gets very cold, wear dedicated winter gloves with fleece lining on the inside with a water and windproof layer on top. This outside layer must be made of Gore-tex grade as it allows good breathability and does not compromise on water resistance ability. Pranav advises against very heavily insulated gloves in case you are looking for dexterity as these will restrict movement. Long, full coverage gloves may be necessary if attempting snow sports.
What if it rains?
Besides these while trekking in the Himalayas, Pranav recommends one picks up a good quality poncho tarp which not only safeguards against rain and wind but can also act as rucksack cover or even as a shelter in extreme conditions.
So is this hiking clothing guide set in stone?
Out in the mountains, depending on your level of physical activity, the variation in daily temperatures, expectations of rain, snow or wind and altitude you may choose the constituents of these layers.
This trekking clothing guide is generic and its applications would vary from trek to trek. For example, on a warm low altitude hike, a base layer with a fleece on top might suffice but during summit attempts or very high altitudes, a hard shell jacket would become an important component of your mountain equipment.
Learning to dress up in layers and choosing necessary items for trekking for the right condition can go a long way in keeping you comfortable in the mountains.
If you have any further doubts about layering, let us know in the comments section below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.