View Full Version : Seeking Advice: Proper use of clothing layers

01-27-2009, 06:35 PM
Hey all ..

In prep for a March hike, I've been slowly accumulating the gear recommended by REI (see "Gear List" tab here: http://www.rei.com/adventures/trips/weekend/mww.html). The problem I have is I'm not sure I know how to combine what I've purchased correctly. I'm not just talking about what to wear, but which order as well so it will function at an optimal level as I remove or add layers. I read part of another thread that covered some of this topic, but was hoping to impose upon the experts for some specific examples with my current list:

- WindStopper Tech Pant
- Verglas Gaiters
- Butter Balaclava (will be purchasing a Patagonia R1 as well)
- Wool cap
- The North Face Ruckwell Crew Shirt
- Columbia Sportswear Omni-Dry Mountain Tech T-Shirt
- REI Switchback Gloves (I?ll get mittens as well ? prob OR Ati)
- Sportif Tamarac Trail Half-Zip Pullover
- Gordini Midweight Underwear Zip Top
- Gordini Midweight Underwear Crew
- Gordini Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms
- Marmont water/wind shell
- Sierra Design water/wind pants
- Heavy Fleece jacket

I know I need a down parka and mountaineering boots.

And, my question on the shells isn?t where (obviously, outer), but when? From the start or only when the snow and/or winds make it necessary. Pull them over the gaiters or remove gaiters and put them back on over outer shell?

For hiking up Mt. Washington in winter (or any of the Whites), what am I missing?

The root of all these questions is that I felt over clothed on my last trek, yet got very chilled when I stopped to rest (despite adding layers). I also became frustrated with the issue of a pack. My layers would be perfect for my front, but my back would sweat. Or perfect for my back and my front would be chilled. You?d think they would have invented dual insulation wear so there was less on your back when carrying a big pack. ;-)

I am open to better equipment suggestions if it is truly a necessary item, but I?ve already gone over my initial budget so if what I have will work, I?m ok with it.

Thanks guys/gals ? let my education commence ?

01-27-2009, 07:35 PM
Corey - I'm not familiar with the specific items you own, but a good layering system can be boiled down to a few basic necessities: starting from the skin out like this: Your skinlayer (or wicking layer) for high aerobic activities like climbing mount washington should be either light or medium weight, top and bottom, synthetic. On the top I prefer a zip-t - so you can regulate your ventilation. On top of the wicking layer comes one or two insulating layers(which are also synthetic and therefore wicking - i.e - fleece pants on the bottom, and possibly a midweight zip-t top and a fleece zip top. Next would be your windproof layer - i.e goretex shell jacket and pants. Remember that soft shells and fleece will ventilate better than a hardshell or goretex - so the hardshell/goretex layer is usually only worn when it's windy/wet or very cold. Lastly - your parka which should be sized to go over all your layers for rest stops. Think of every piece of clothing as part of a system - they can all be layered and worn together if needed, but more than likely you will mostly be using only some of them as conditions warrant. There should also be no redundancy - don't bring 2 of the same thing if you can't layer them - the only redundant piece I carry is my upper skin layer, in the event it becomes soaked with sweat - which should not happen if you pay attention and make adjustments. Regarding the pants - unless they are full side-zip, they will be difficult to put on once you are above treeline - you want to avoid having to take off gaiters and crampons to put on pants - best to commit to using them or not down lower. If they are full side zip then you can put them on anytime - but you might want to practice that before you climb - it's tricky putting full side zip pants on in the wind.
Hope this helps. - If it's not windy - you may be comfortable with just a skin layer or two on top - it's surprising how much body heat you generate when climbing.

01-27-2009, 09:14 PM
Corey - I found most of the items on your list at the rei site - seems like you have a lot of shirts and tops that are very similar. A good combo might be the Columbia omni dry t shirt as a first skin layer. The gordini midweight zip-t might be a good next layer - followed by your fleece - then wind shell - then parka. On the bottom - the midweight long john - followed by the mountain hardwear windstopper tech pant is a good combo. It's unlikley you would need more on your legs, but bring the goretex just in case. You only need 1 balaclava - preferably one that is windproof for above treeline - the idea is to have no exposed skin in case of high winds - don't forget goggles as well.
For gloves you should be fine with the switchback gloves and the OR alti gloves as a backup. Chemical heatpacks are a great idea as well. Use the wristleash on the gloves above treeline - if it's windy and you are forced to take off your gloves - you don't want them blowing away - thats why a backup pair is essential. Regarding sweating and getting cold at breaks - here's an excerpt that I typed in an earlier thread:

"If you are doing just the one day trip... - you should be able to get your pack weight to around 30lbs +/- a few lbs. You'll become better at minimizing your sweating, by paying close attention to your clothing. A little seating is normal as long as the synthetic fabric can keep up with wicking it away from you. It's not unusual to be comfortable hiking in 15-20 deg weather in just an upper base layer, provided it's not windy - so you may have just had too much clothing on.

At your rest breaks, think of them as personal maintenance breaks - as you are approaching your rest break, before you stop, take note of how you are feeling(hot or cold or just right?). As soon as you stop, drop your pack and put on a layer or two - a fleece and a parka is usually my choice. You worked hard to build up that body heat - it will be gone in a minute or two if you don't layer up immediately, and I mean immediately, BEFORE you pee or do anything else. Then take care of any bodily functions, then sit on your pack and eat and drink something, even if you don't feel like it.

The digestive process will aid in keeping your core warm as will the liquids - even slight dehydration speeds hypothermia. Regarding the sitting, theres an old saying, "never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can laydown". But place your pack with the side thats against your back face up, so you don't get snow on it and the pack will insulate you from the cold ground.

Once the break is over, think back to how you felt coming into the break and decide accordingly if clothing adjustments are needed. Best to always start a little cold and warm up rather than start warm and begin sweating.

One last note - I usually carry a spare top base layer with me (they only weigh 5 or 6 ounces), so I can change into it in the unlikely event mine becomes soaked. I wouldn't try to change into it in a 40mph wind above treeline, but a couple of times below treeline it came in handy. You're miserably cold for a minute while your skin is exposed, but that dry shirt helps warm you quickly. Doing that more than once usually makes you pay close attention down low to make adjustments BEFORE you become soaked. Hope this helps."

Good Luck,

p.s. - you seem to have picked out some top quality gear - you just need to select just one of each type of item from your list, save the extra gloves and possibly top skin layer for reasons listed above. Boots and crampons and ice ax can be rented in North Conway.

01-28-2009, 09:22 AM
I think this is an area in which personal experience and a lot of trial and error over different trips can make a great deal of difference, because people are so different in their tolerance for frigid temperatures. I have a lot going against me as a winter hiker: I get cold easily, I have Reynaud's syndrome (a circulatory problem that makes your fingers turn white), and (I must confess) I sweat a lot even though I'm quite fit, which means my inner layer always gets wet, no matter what. But despite these problems, I have managed to complete the Winter 4000 Footers. Climbabout's advice about layering up immediately when stopping is very true. When I stop for an extended break, I immediately put on a down vest under my shell. I also put activated charcoal handwarmers in my mittens before my fingers start getting cold, because it takes them forever to warm up if I wait too long. I find that liner gloves don't work for me for things like dealing with snowshoe straps. Fingers get too cold. But I can actually manage straps, buckles, etc. with a pair of fleece mittens on, without the shells. It took a while to figure out what works for me.

01-28-2009, 10:15 AM
One quick word on redundant pieces and thats your hat.

I've gotten into the habit of carrying 3 hats plus a balaclava. I find like a lot of people I tend to sweat when I'm climbing. I usually wear one for the bulk of the ascent but as it gets wet it starts to freeze from the outside in. It always feels good and warm to put on a nice dry hat. I also carry one that fits over my balaclava. The last one I put on while at the summit and for the descent.

01-28-2009, 04:30 PM
Thank you climbabout, krummholz and billysinc! :D

I was feeling a bit like I didn't know what I was doing. Its good to hear others had to do some trial and error before getting comfy on their hikes as well. And, yes, I think I bought too much stuff. :-( Well, at least I have backups.

I really want to go back and summit Adams. I kinda feel like I left something undone. Better boots and I'm back.

Good advice and info .. I'll be sure to use it on my next winter trip to the Whites.

01-28-2009, 05:07 PM
Here he comes again! Heading north.

01-28-2009, 09:57 PM
Here he comes again! Heading north.

*Waits on the side of I-95N for Corey to pass by*

01-29-2009, 11:30 PM
*Waits on the side of I-95N for Corey to pass by*

The only problem with this plan is I usually end up snagging Brad at some point on his trip. Last time, I flew ahead and he grabbed me in Manchester. My wife usually finds out Brad is headed north and shoo's me out of the house.

Depressing note on equipment: My "wish list" on Google Shopping now exceeds what I already spent (remember, I went over budget). What have you guys/gals gotten me into?