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Midlayer for hiking.
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Sean Griffin
Midlayer for hiking. on 02/11/2010 19:21:08 MST Print View

Hey guys,

A noob question: I usually hike/backpack when it is rather nice out. I like to pick and choose my days. However, this coming year I plan to expand my seasons into the cooler/chillier/wetter shoulder seasons. For this, I need to purchase some insulation layer gear.

At the moment, I simply live in my merino wool baselayers, which has been good enough for me thus far. I was curious what type of gear I should be looking for?

Obviously(I think), I wouldn't want down as it would compress with a pack and could cause problems if it gets wet. What are the alternatives? Additionally, I see a lot of people using down jackets as a layering technique inside their bags... do they carry two insulation layers then?

Sorry for the noob question, just curious. Thanks for the advice.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Midlayer for hiking. on 02/11/2010 19:29:35 MST Print View

Read this thread by Richard Nisley:

In essence, the trick is to layer short sleeve, long sleeve, windshirt, puffy vest, puffy jacket. In that order.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Midlayer for hiking. on 02/11/2010 20:48:28 MST Print View

Richard's post is excellent. My experience is that a base + windshirt is plenty warm when it's at freezing during a hike. It really had to be really chilled before I put on a vest. I historically used a puffy synthetic vest, though the last couple of years I have used a light down vest. I haven't worried about the backpack compressing the down, because the backpack provides more than enough insulation. There are plenty of puffy vests on the market. Points to a few of them on my recommended insulated clothing page.


Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Midlayer on 02/11/2010 22:56:32 MST Print View

If, when on the move, I need more than a merino long sleeve, plus windproof with hood, plus hat and gloves then I prefer a 100wt fleece. I have also used a synthetic vest in the past.

Nate Davis
(Knaight) - F

Locale: Western Massachusetts
Midlayer while hiking? on 02/12/2010 04:44:39 MST Print View

Everyone handles temperature differently, but I've hiked more days than not this winter and haven't needed anything other than my midweight merino baselayer and a windshirt. Many of these days were in the single digits, with wind chills below zero. When I move, too much clothing makes me sweat like crazy.

There were a couple days where I took a break more than a couple minutes long and needed to throw on another layer. For that reason, I've been carrying a 9 oz 100 wt fleece with me.

If you're doing more than just day hikes, you'll need more than a 100 wt fleece if it gets below freezing. 200 and 300 wt fleeces will do the trick, but they're heavier than down and synthetic-fill insulated clothing. For that reason, I'd skip the fleece. If all you'll be using the insulated clothing for is around camp, you don't have to worry as much about durability. Unless you only hike in extremely wet and rainy areas, a down top should do fine and will keep you warmer for the weight.

I'll be honest, I don't own a pair of insulated pants -- fleece or otherwise. Same with wind pants. I carry a pair of lightweight long johns for sleeping, and spend the rest of my time in lightweight hiking pants. This isn't a strategy I'd recommend for deep winter conditions, but for temps above 20 degrees, it's worked fine for me.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Midlayer for hiking. on 02/12/2010 09:04:13 MST Print View

Metabolisms vary significantly, but I wouldn't wear anything more than you have been. I used to hike in temps 20*F down to -10*F in nothing more than a baselayer and windbreaker. In that -10*F range I wear a little thicker wool, like a 300-ish weight.

It seems like several people have posted lately about wearing insulated jackets while hiking, and it strikes me as nuts. I overheat in just a baselayer and windbreaker. So I did an experiment a day or two ago, and wore a 260 weight wool (instead of normal 150-ish weight) under my windbreaker. Very thin merino hat, possumdown gloves. Icebreaker briefs and wool 4 tights. Temps around 20*F, winds around 5-10MPH, in the woods. After 0.25 to 0.5 miles I had the windbreaker mostly unzipped, the neck of the baselayer unzipped, the gloves off, and the hat up off my ears. I was sweating and too hot, needed a thinner baselayer. This was a dayhike/easy ski, not with a pack or anything.

I might start out with a thin vest if I'm not liking the thought of starting out cold, but it always ends up coming off fast.

Insulation goes over the windbreaker when I stop...

Edit: Wearing too much clothing and sweating too much can be a dangerous thing, and could perversely make you colder, since you can greatly increase your evaporative heat loss, not to mention soaking your puffy insulation layer. Your metabolism will crank up and put out plenty of heat to keep you warm on the move; it's the stopped time that can be problematic.

Edited by 4quietwoods on 02/12/2010 09:06:23 MST.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Protect your extremities and the rest will take care of itself on 02/12/2010 09:33:37 MST Print View

Gotta agree with most of what's been said. Unless I think it's going to get really cold, I make due with a merino base layer, Railrider Weather Pants, a light long-sleeve shirt (the one available right here at BPL), and perhaps a windstopper vest or the MontBell Ex Light Down Jacket. At only 5.6 oz., it's the best warmth/ weight bargain available, and it's great to supplement my Nunatak Backcountry Blanket at night.

The critical issues (for me, at least at my age) are the fingers and toes, not the torso. In cold weather, I wear woolen toe socks underneath Gortex oversocks. Gotta keep the tootsies warm and dry!

Also, I can't skimp on gloves. I wear silk glove liners, followed by possum-down gloves from BPL), followed by "windstopper," water-resistent gloves over the top. The weight cost is minimal, but earlier experiences with frostbite in my misspent youth (observing with telescopes all night in very cold weather) have left me prone to serious pains in the extremities.

Thus, please heed my advice: Protect your fingers and toes at minimal weight cost. You'll be glad you did later.

Also, carry along a sufficient sleep system to keep you warm at night. If you start out cold (especially in the fingers and toes, but not exclusively), you'll stay cold all day. I often wear my possum-down gloves and socks to bed for that reason.

And don't forget a hat that covers your ears as well as the top of your head. A hat makes up for the lack of a heavier outer layer for the usual cliched reason: You lose most of your heat through the top of your head. Furthermore, your ears are as much of an extremity as your toes.

Finally, keep your feet dry. Cold, wet feet are a recipe for frostbite and hiking misery.

From someone who learned the hard way,


P.S. Why didn't I wear heavy gloves while observing, you ask? There's nothing like a $300 eyepiece hitting the hard ground to remind you of how broke you are from spending all that cash on telescope equipment. Thus, I cut the finger tips off of heavy gloves and wore the silk glove liners underneath. Of course, the finger tips were exactly the part of the fingers I should have been protecting. Stupid.

Edited by nerdboy52 on 02/12/2010 09:38:09 MST.

Sean Griffin
thanks on 02/12/2010 10:00:27 MST Print View

Thanks for the response thus far. That link is very interesting. I've seen another thread by that poster about insulation rating and it was very informative.

Right now I have a 150gm S/S merino baselayer, a 200gm L/S merino baselayer and a lightweight wind/dwr jacket. I do not plan on being out down into the 30's so according to the posts here I should be o.k. with what I have. Although, like was stated above, I probably do need another insulation layer for down time, camp and sleep layering.

I do plan on including a 150gm merino long john and a light weight goosedown or fleece insulating layer into my kit. More often than not I see people mention Montbell (ID, IDP, or vest) and Patagonia (r1 hoody, pullover).

Does this sound like a decent plan? Any suggestions or advice on those items considering I would like to stay on the plus side of 40 (for now) aside from at night?

Thanks for your time.

Sean Griffin
socks on 02/12/2010 10:13:20 MST Print View


That brings up another related issue of footwear. I am very fond of wearing my Vibram KSO's. However, the Injinji wool socks I have coupled with the ventilated top of the Vibrams may not turn out so well. Which wool toe socks do you have? Just curious to know if they would be more insulationg than what I currently have.


Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Toe socks and Vibrams on 02/12/2010 12:22:09 MST Print View

I wear KSO's myself, but only during the warmer seasons. During winter, I like the Neoprene ones. They'll keep your feet warm even when they get wet. I combine them with Feelmax Tundra Toe Socks. They have a Coolmax layer underneath the wool and are somewhat thicker and denser than normal woolen toe socks.

Note also: Take along half a dozen newspaper bags, and keep them handy. The Sunday bags are larger and double layered. I also keep a couple of rubber bands wrapped around my hiking pole.

When you have to cross water, slip the bags over the Vibrams and attach them with the rubber bands as high up on your as they will go.

If you're careful, each set will last several water crossings. (The bags are surprisingly tough. I used to use grocery-store veggie bags, but they tear too easily.)


Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Midlayer on 02/12/2010 15:28:50 MST Print View

Just to clarify I am suggesting a 100wt fleece top/vest for when you are too cold whilst on the move with just the merino wind shirt combo. As I said it has to be pretty cold for this to happen, but cold and wet can make a difference as well. In these conditions obviously a puffy jacket of some kind would be needed at rest stops. I use both down and synthetic insulation depending on conditions or if I am day or over night hiking. Overall I definitely agree it is better to be at the slightly chilled end of the spectrum whilst hiking as opposed to over heating. Finally, there are some great cold and wet weather technique articles on this site for those who encounter those conditions.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Merino Baselayer on 02/16/2010 20:13:31 MST Print View

One of my current combinations for a merino base layer is a short-sleeved Icebreaker zip-top (180wt) called the Chase Zip-Top and DeFeet wool arm warmers. With a windshell, I was comfortable down in the low 40s with a strong Columbia Gorge wind. This could easily push into the 30s.

The arm warmers worked great. I pushed them down to just above the elbow allowing cool air to enter the short sleeves. My hands (with wool gloves) also seemed to stay warmer because of the slightly thicker than normal wool at the wrist. You can even pull the cuff down over the wrist to the first knuckles, like shirts with thumb-holes and forgo gloves in cool weather.

I did have to search for a short-sleeve zip-top though. It didn't seem like many companies are making them.

Weight for top + warmers = 9.50oz