Backpacking for Beginners: Clothing

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Clothing is obviously a very personal choice, so I’m just here to share what we wear and love. It doesn’t matter what the weather report says; if we’re going out for a night or more we pack clothes for all temperatures and conditions.

The number one clothing item you pack should be a waterproof jacket. Greg and I both hike in waterproof pants, too,  if it’s raining, and gaiters depending on the conditions. I generally don’t take gaiters unless I know we’ll be trudging through snow, because rain pants and tall hiking boots seem to keep water out of my socks just fine. Keeping precipitation off our clothes and out of our boots is our number one clothing priority.

In the mountains it’s always safe to assume there will be rainy afternoons and cold nights. I am a chronic over-packer when it comes to clothes, but there’s only one thing I hate worse than being cold, and that’s being cold and wet. I forgot my gloves and stocking cap when we did the Teton Crest Trail last summer, and while I obviously survived, there were nights I was pretty dern cold. I try to remember all of the following:

  • 2 t-shirts or tanks. I prefer tanks, and typically wear whatever is cotton and cheap. However, when my cheap tanks wear out I’m making the switch to wool tees and tanks because they never stink and pull sweat away from my bod. 
  • 2 pairs shorts, zip-off pants, or a skirt. I like running shorts and my skirt because they allow me to actually move my legs. I only take zip-off pants in case of really cold days. Greg only wears zip-off pants and he loves his stretchy Prana
  • One pair wool long underwear. Greg and I only use wool for undergarments, and we prefer Icebreaker. Wool is warm and moisture-wicking, and doesn’t hold body odor like polyester. We are not fans of polyester. And p.s. if we’re sleeping in down bags, we only wear our true skivvies to bed. Down is warmest when it’s next to your skin, but synthetic bags get cold spots so we wear our long undies for sleeping. Jamie’s top and bottoms. Greg’s top and bottoms
  • One pair wool socks per two days, plus one extra for ‘camp socks’. My favorite hiking socks are SmartWool Saturnspheres. They’re not marketed as hiking socks, but are medium cushion and so comfortable Greg wears mine sometimes. Blisters come from damp feet. Again, wool wicks moisture where cotton absorbs it, so cotton socks = blisters. Greg wears whatever wool socks are on sale at Sierra. 
  • One pair undies per two days, plus one extra for ‘camp undies’. We wear Ex Officio for men and women while hiking, but I sometimes wear SmartWool thongs depending on my pantaloons, and I always wear Icebreaker wool undies to sleep in. They are amazing. Once you go wool you’ll never go back.
  • One sports brassiere. You can always rinse it out and let it dry overnight. 
  • One pair camp pants. These are purely for pleasure, definitely not a necessity. I found a pair of fleece-lined soft shells at a North Face outlet last summer and they are just delightful, my favorite piece of clothing outside my down vest and jacket. With a pair of long undies underneath, they’re as comfy and stretchy as sweat pants and as warm as insulated ski pants. I couldn’t find my exact pair online, but they’re similar to these North Face Apex pants. Greg takes a pair of running shorts and wears them over his wool longjohns. 
  • One light jacket. I wear this Icebreaker hoodie or a this Patagonia fleece. Greg sticks to a flannel shirt because he’s North Dakotan and loves the cold. 
  • Vest. I wear this Patagonia down or an Arc’teryx synthetic depending on how cold it is and whether we’ll have fires. You know, to go over my hoodie or fleece, and under my jacket. Greg wears this Mountain Hardwear down vest
  • Down jacket. Nothing makes Lady Campfire so happy as her Mountain Hardwear Kelvinator down parka. I take that back, nothing makes me so happy as when I have my down vest over my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket,  under said Kelvinator. Greg wears a Patagonia down sweater.
  • Waterproof rain jacket and rain pants. I wear this Marmot Gore-Tex jacket and these Red Ledge men’s pants because I can put them on and take them off without removing my boots. Greg wears a Mountain Hardwear Dry Q jacket and Gore-Tex pants that zip all the way up both legs which he loves. But his pants were made by Moonstone which no longer exists, so…  
  • Gaiters. Gaiters are especially helpful when post-holing. To “post-hole” means to post new holes in snow when you’re hiking (sink into the hole). It’s exhausting and not much fun, but sometimes a necessity. I don’t think gaiters are worth a huge price tag. Something like these should be just fine. 
  • Headband that covers my ears, or a stocking cap. I love my multi-purpose Buff.
  • Gloves. I have fleece lined windproof Marmots. Greg wears some Mountain Hardwear similar to these
  • Ballcap. Go Cubs. 
  • Camp shoes, sturdy enough to cross rivers if need be. We both wear Crocs. They’re super light, they dry quickly, and they’re extra comfy around camp. And I’ve hiked a couple of miles in them between river crossings and have been just fine. 
  • Boots. Waterproof boots. Again, we prefer Gore-Tex and we only hike in Asolo. I wear fabric shoes, Greg wears all leather. I’ve tried all leather, I’ve tried boots over my ankles, and I could never stop getting blisters so now I only wear low hikers. I wear these now and love them, Greg always wears the Asolo TPS 520 GV. The 520s aren’t cheap, but there are always coupons to be found, and they last for years.

 

I use compression and stuff sacks to divide everything in my pack. Greg isn’t a huge fan, but I love dividing my clothes between ‘everyday’ and ‘cold weather’ and ‘sleeping’ and ‘dirty’, and my pertinent gear from my emergency gear and you get the picture. I like to know where everything is. And I like having an extra layer around my clothes in case we get caught in a rain or snow shower so nothing gets wet.

Important side note: Down insulation does not retain its warmth if it gets wet. Do not let your down jackets, vests, or sleeping bags get wet! This is practically a death sentence in the backcountry.

That about sums up all our hiking clothes. Greg’s clothing list isn’t too terribly different from mine, though I’m sure he packs one less of everything than I do. I also pack deodorant where he does not, but I’ll be honest, a little deodorant along the thighs/groin goes a long way in the backcountry.

Happy shopping, and happy hiking!

 

Packing List:

  • Backpack and rain cover.
  • Tent (don’t forget poles, rainfly, and footprint!).
  • Sleeping bag.
  • Silk sack.
  • Sleeping pads.
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner per day, plus one extra day.
  • “Bear rope” to hang smelly stuff from trees.
  • Water filter.
  • Water bottle or bladder.
  • 2 t-shirts or tanks.
  • 2 pairs shorts, zip-off pants, or a skirt.
  • One pair wool long underwear.
  • One pair wool socks per two days, plus one extra for ‘camp socks’.
  • One pair undies per two days, plus one extra for ‘camp undies’.
  • One sports brassiere.
  • One pair camp pants.
  • One light jacket.
  • Down vest.
  • Down jacket.
  • Waterproof rain jacket and rain pants.
  • Gaiters.
  • Headband or stocking cap.
  • Gloves.
  • Ballcap.
  • Camp shoes.
  • Waterproof boots.

 

See our other Beginner Backpacking posts:

Backpacking: Tent, Sleeping Bags, and Packs

Backpacking: Food & Water

Backpacking: Other Pertinent Gear

See our full Wind River Range – Lizard Head Loop trip report:

  1. Big Sandy to Cirque of the Towers
  2. Cirque of the Towers to Valentine Lake
  3. Valentine Lake to Big Sandy

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