It’s howling outside, we’re about to go for an overnight camping trip, and I need to convince my children to bring the right clothes. I think it’s time for a refresher on how to dress for success in the outdoors. There are many tricks I’ve learned wandering around the mountains in New Zealand, so here are some – as a way to remind myself as I teach them to my children.
No cotton. None. That stuff gets miserably cold when it gets wet. We used to have synthetic underwear just for hiking in NZ, and if we were to go winter camping I would insist on those for us now. The problem with cotton shows up only when it gets wet, which it will with sweat, or rain, or melting snow. Cotton becomes cold when it gets wet and can cool your skin to hypothermic levels. So definitely no jeans, no t-shirts, no cotton “thermals” (they got me with those the first year), cotton socks, cotton everything. Leave the cotton home.
Down-containing jackets and pants might seem like a good idea, and they are as long as they stay dry. In NZ there was always some rain during the day, so down jackets were only useful if they got trotted out in a hut. Those jackets are useful in below-freezing snow and ice environments, because it just isn’t going to rain. The moisture that might come from sweat will easily escape out from the body.
Good warm fabrics to bring along are fleece, polypropylene, and if your don’t mind the itch, wool. Even if these fabrics get wet, they will keep you warm to much lower temperatures. So, fleece sweater, pants, jacket, hat, gloves, and polypropylene thermal underwear. My list of clothing items to take camping on a cool, possibly rainy autumn camp is below.
Another trick to getting the most warmth out of your clothing is to wear layers. Your body heat will get trapped in subsequent layers between clothing, with the end result of less of your body heat dispersing. If you can keep your body heat close to your skin, you will be warmer.
The Outdoor Gear Lab has some nice infographics on how to dress based on different expected temperatures.
So when I go out in the above mentioned autumn rain for a camping trip I will wear a non-cotton thermal base layer of thin polypropylene. On top of that I might wear a slightly layer of thicker base layer, followed by at least one layer of thick fleece. If it’s raining, I’ll put on a waterproof outer layer of a jacket and some rain-pants. If it’s not raining I might show off my down puffer jacket. I’ll also have on a fleece hat, and fleece gloves.
Here are my recommendations: