The choices and selection in hiking and camping clothing is quite mind-boggling with price ranges to match. In spite of this wide array, there is a basic principle of “layering” that has been proven to work in the conditions that scouts will be in. Layering works because multiple layers of clothes insulate better than 1 bulky layer, and layers can be removed or added depending on the current weather conditions. Garments used as inner layers (polypropylene underwear) and mid-layers (fleece jackets, down jackets, etc) serve to insulate, while outer layers (nylon or Gortex® windbreakers, breathable raingear, etc) serve to protect you from wind, rain, and snow. These all combine to keep your body, legs, head and hands warm and dry.
Base Layer/Insulating underwear
- This layer cannot be cotton
- These are close-fitting layers that provide the first layer of warmth. They are usually made from the following materials:
- Polypropylene (most expensive)
- Polypropylene, and polyester blends
- Lightweight Fleece (polyester) (least expensive)
- This layer will dry quickly if it gets wet, and dries quickly having perspired in it thru the day.
- Most popular layers are fleece (Polartec®), but can be wool or similar – they should no be cotton
- They are usually jackets, pullovers, sweater-like and should have some pockets, a full collar, and you may wish to have a hood.
- This layer provides the majority of your warm
- If more insulation is needed you can add a second fleece layer, or add a layer with Down insulation
- What works for the upper body with jackets, works just as well with your legs via fleece pants(fleece pajama bottoms are usually the cheapest).
- Most popular layer is a Gortex® jacket. Unfortunately it is also very expensive.
- Gortex® is a multi-layered membrane that provides wind resistance, adequate rain protection, and breathes so that you don’t saturate your inner layers while wearing it.
- Gortex® is challenged by 2 things – heavy driving rains, and cold temperatures. The membrane will not keep out heavy rain and it tends to “seal up” in cold temperatures (-5F)
- Nylon jackets are an excellent windbreaker and are not expensive – note that they do not offer much waterproofing in rain or wet snow.
- In cold temperatures, Nylon is the preferred windbreaker, as it will breath at lower temperatures, compared to Gortex®.
- Coated (sealed) Nylon jackets, or other sealed, waterproof materials will keep rain and snow off, but it will not breath and you’ll perspire and soak your inner layers, resulting in significantly lower warmth.
Hiking Footwear and Socks
- There are no “most popular” hiking boots. Boots must fit your feet comfortably while allowing for 2 layers of non-cotton socks.
- Boots fall into about 5 categories: hiking shoes (sneaker-light), lightweight hiking, medium weight backpacking, heavy-duty backpacking, mountaineering boots (for when you do Mt Everest). Backpacking boots are stiffer, possess aggressive treads for traction, accept crampons, and tolerate wetter and snowier conditions.
- Growing scouts may use a pair of boots 3-4 times before outgrowing them, and they are rather expensive. It is not necessary to buy your scout heavy-duty boots, as they are generally carrying lighter loads in their backpacks. That means they should provide reasonable support to mid-ankle, possess a “deep-cleated” tread for traction, and offer reasonable flex for comfort. Older scouts will use the boots longer and be carrying heavier loads, so they should have medium weight to heavier-duty backpacking boots.
- I’ve seen where leather boots hold up better, especially in wet conditions and snow. I haven’t found where boots with Gortex® liners, or ventilation “patches” are cooler or more comfortable. Leather boots can be waterproofed, while the Gortex® and fabric boots cannot. Many backpacking articles, from prominent outdoorsman, write that “keeping your feet dry, warm, and blister-free” is one of the most important ways to be comfortable and have fun in the outdoors.
- At least a medium or heavy-weight boot is needed for use with crampons
- I do not recommend using leather work-boots as backpacking boots.
- Layering with socks keeps feet comfortable and can decrease the incidence of blisters.
- The inner layer is a close-fitting liner of a non-cotton material. A polyester material are fine. The close fit means it will not slide against the skin and will offer a “barrier” between the boot, out socks and skin.
- The second layer is a thick polypropylene, or wool, or blend (SmartWool®) sock for comfort, cushion, and warmth.
Headlamps & Flashlights
- When camping or hiking, most people need to be using both their hands and cannot be holding a flashlight while attempting to complete tasks. Therefore, a headlamp is the only way to go. The newest of LED lamps provide a lot of light, use small batteries that last for >50 hours, are lightweight, and not expensive. I prefer those headlamps that offer 2 or 3 levels of lighting.
- Generally, the smallest lamps provide the lowest lighting levels but are very lightweight, while the largest provide the most lighting levels, but are heavy.
- Lightweight LED flashlights are available that use AA or AAA batteries and provide good light. I bring a small one as a back-up
- Flashlights that use C or D batteries are too big, too heavy, and are not practical for hiking given the choices referenced above.