Hiking the Colorado Trail – Clothing Considerations

In my last post I covered some of the bigger items that you need when backpacking. A backpack, sleeping bag, shelter, water filter, and stove. Today I figured I would cover clothes.

Clothing deserves its own article because there are a ton of things to consider when choosing the right clothing for the environment you are going to be in.

Clothing Rules for the Trail

1. Never wear cotton – The caveat to this rule is that you can wear it if you want to be cold. The problem with cotton is that once it is wet it loses all of its insulating ability and takes forever to dry. This can be inconvenient in warmer situations and deadly in colder situations.

2. Dress one layer warmer than you need – This is mostly a mental or subjective consideration, but you never know when the weather is going to drop 20 or 30 degrees within an hour or two. It can and does happen so always be prepared with an extra layer of clothing.

3. Long sleeves and pants for sunny weather – A lot of people rely on sunscreen to protect them from the sun, but clothes are 100 times better. If you have loose fitting clothes you shouldn’t be any hotter in them than shorts and a t-shirt.

4. Bring proper headgear – Whether it is hot or cold what you wear on your head is probably your main clothing consideration. You should have a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a bandana to wear around your neck to protect you from the sun. If it is cold you should have a wool or fleece cap, sunglasses to protect you from snow blindness, and a balaclava or scarf to keep your neck warm.

5. Layer, layer, layer – In almost every instance wearing proper layers is better than wearing say a jacket that does it all. Layering is a lighter and more flexible solution than an “all-in-one” jacket. Layering also helps you control your temperature better.

These aren’t all the rules but they are a good start to help you think about what clothes you should plan on wearing. With that being said here is my list from the bottom up…

Shoes – Saucony Peregrine Trail Runners. Most hikers seem to be moving toward lighter trail running shoes as opposed to boots. If you feel the need for extra support you can get boots but make sure they are breathable. You may also want to think about using hiking poles. Also a lot of thru hikers talk about Inov-8 shoes. I haven’t tried them yet but I plan on trying a pair in the future.

Socks – Most hikers swear by sock liners for blister prevention and I have to agree with them. You should be able to buy cheap sock liners from any major store. I bought a 4 pack of sock liners for $5 from Kmart and I love them. Sock liners should be ankle length or not be seen when the shoe is on, and should be as thin as you can get. They can be 100% polyester or a blend. I wear wool socks over my sock liners.

I am convinced that wool socks are the best for any situation, and the colder it is the closer to the knee they should reach. I had wool socks on the other day in 40 degree weather where it was alternatively hailing, snowing, and raining, and where I was walking through snow and puddles. My socks were soaked by the end but my feet were still warm which goes to show you how well wool can still insulate even when wet.

Convertible pants – I prefer pants when hiking, but I know some people like shorts in warmer weather. Convertible pants solve this problem. I can take the bottoms off if I am hiking through an open area when it is warm. If it is cold, or if I am walking through some brush I prefer to have pants on to keep me warm and free from scratches, etc.

My pants also serve as a wind pant, and a rain pant. So far they seem to do a good job at both, and I will let you know if I regret not bringing rain pants. My current solution is to use my ground cloth as a rain skirt if I feel the need, but my pants have gotten wet before in cold weather and they still keep me dry.

Underwear/Shorts – As of right now I have a pair of lightweight running shorts that have a liner, and a pair of polyester underwear. The verdict is still out on which is better to wear under my pants, but I like having something decent I can wear while I wash my pants. I think I will take another warmer pair of shorts to sleep in as well. All of these are made our of polyester. As mentioned before stay away from cotton if any cold, wet weather is possible.

T-Shirt – At this point I am still thinking of whether I want a t-shirt as a base layer or not. The reason is that I can take a long sleeve shirt and roll up the sleeves to stay a little cooler. And it is nice to have long sleeves for sun protection and to stay warm. You can find out what I decide in future trail reports.

Long Sleeve Shirt – Currently I am thinking of taking two long sleeve shirts. One will be a polyester synthetic wicking shirt. The other will be a wool shirt. Both have about the same thickness and weight. Seems like the wool stays warmer when wet, but the polyester one dries way faster. Should have a final verdict by the end of the trail.

Jacket – My current preferred jacket is a simple grey fleece insulating layer. It keeps me warm even when wet, and dries very quickly. Again, I want to emphasize that this is a layer than isn’t trying to do too much.

Outer Shell – This might be a good time to say that there are three basic layers. Your base layer, and insulating layer, and an outer shell. An outer shell basically is what protects you from wind and rain. That is it. In my humble opinion, it shouldn’t be part of your insulating layer. I currently use a very lightweight nylon rain jacket made by Burton. It is made for snowboarding, but holds up well to all types of precipitation. Many jackets are made of polyester, but I feel that nylon is much more lightweight and durable, and packs down smaller.

Gloves – I am just not sure if I really want or need gloves for this trip. But I would probably want some wool or fleece gloves for all the same reasons listed above of why fleece and wool are great materials. When it comes to gloves you only really need them to stay warm and do tasks. If I just want to stay warm I can put an extra pair of socks on my hands. Obviously a sock isn’t great for completing a task like lighting a fire, but I think I prefer to go without gloves till I complete the task, then put the socks back on to stay warm. Those are my current thoughts but they may change.

Headwear– I put this all together because it should be thought about together. Your head is your most important body part to be protected. As I mentioned above, I have a wide brimmed hat for sun protections, a wool hat to keep warm, sunglasses to protect my eyes, and a balaclava to cover my nose, mouth, and neck. A balaclava is also known as a “buff” and can be found at most sporting goods stores. I also have a bandana, but I use it for all kinds of things, not just to put on my head or around my neck.

That about covers it. I know it seems like a lot, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple things. Choose the right materials. Choose the right layers. Make sure you can adequately cover every area of your body. With that in mind you should do just fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…