How to Dress for the Outdoors

When you go out into the great outdoors, it doesn’t take very long to realize that you are not the only one at the top of the food chain nor are you in control of the weather. I can’t help with either, but I can offer some suggestions on how you can survive the latter.

Gettin’ out sometimes means that you will encounter weather that you really don’t like. But this should be a factor to keep you in if you are prepared. My favorite time here in New England is the fall with its crisp nights and warm days… and no bugs! But these times are also a little tricky. I have been out in the mountains in short sleeves and round a corner into a white out. To survive you just have to be ready and not carry your whole wardrobe with you.

I learned over the years that the best way to dress is to dress in layers. That way you can add or peel away as the temperature demands. Layers is not a new notion. Animals have been doing this for years- they call it fur or feathers. Unfortunately for us, we lost our fur many years ago so we have to substitute. There are many materials to choose from, but I prefer one that is easy to keep clean, is warm and stays warm when wet. Layers of polypro and other wicking materials do the job. When I walk, I have a pair of nylon pants, which have zip off legs. These are fairly inexpensive (ie- cheap) and are very light and durable. I layer with a wicking undergarment of polypro with a button shirt (or Henley) on top. I do carry a loose sweater if it gets real cool. In my bag of tricks, depending on where I am going or what the ambient weather is like, I will carry a nylon windbreaker/rain shell and maybe a down vest. As a hint, if it gets real cold all of a sudden and you aren’t ready, the shell will cut the wind, trap warm air inside, and keep you warm. If you really want to go the cheap route (and minimal) bring a large trash bag. It is light, you can wear it as a shell (if you don’t mind looking like a raisin) and in an emergency you can crawl in (hence the large size) and it will act as a shelter from the elements.

Even though there are many, many new synthetic materials out there, I am a firm believer in two things… one is wool is wonderful- it is fairly light and stays warm even when wet and, two, cotton kills. Don’t get me wrong, I own many cotton shirts and pants. But the outdoors is no place for the blue jeans or cotton Tee. The basic reason is that cotton does not allow the moisture to wick away from your body. The only way it leaves is by evaporation and when evaporation takes place, heat is lost. That heat is from you! I have seen many hikers who just came out of a sudden thunderstorm in the middle of July who had blue lips and were shivering (a good sign).


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