Covering the bod

Carry enough extra clothing to get you through the worst weather that may happen that time of year. Don't listen to the weather forecasters: they lie all the time. On the other hand, if the forecast is for snow to 4,000 feet, don't convince yourself that the storm will stay at bay just because you want it to. I have had people offer me money for my wool pants or my rain parka.

I have been snowed on in the Grand Canyon on Labor Day, Memorial Day, and every fall, winter, and spring month in between. If you are hiking in March, say, planning on hot weather, and get caught in a blizzard, your shorts and tee shirt can get you into trouble.

We are dealing with the rule of threes. You can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, and three hours without warmth. If the weather turns bad and you don't have sufficient clothing, you can die from hypothermia. If you don't die, you will be really, really uncomfortable.

Fabrics have come a long way since the Western Expansion when everyone wore cotton, wool, waxed cotton, or leather. I asked a Lewis and Clark living history guy about the efficacy of leather clothes in the rain. He told me it is a lot like wearing a wet chamois.

Silk is a luxurious inner layer. Expensive and doesn’t last long. Collects body odor.

Wool is versatile. Persons who are sensitive to wool (as am I) may wish to try merino. I love my merino wool clothing, even next-to-the-skin layers. Wool wicks, or carries the moisture from the skin to the outside air. It is warmer when wet than most fabrics. Wool tends to not collect body odor.

Synthetic wicking fabrics wick moisture from the skin. Some are better than others at avoiding body odor.

Cotton is desirable IF the temperatures are above 90, and IF the weather is dry. Summer in the Grand Canyon springs to mind. Cotton stays wet. If one is trekking about the desert when it is hellish hot, it is desirable to have wet clothing next to the skin. In other circumstances, not so much. The watchword is, cotton kills. Wet cotton contributes to hypothermia.

Think about doing the laundry. What items are the absolute last to dry? Cotton tee shirts, cotton sweatshirts, and levis. What do most people wear when they go hiking, even in mid-winter or in the rain? Cotton tee shirts, cotton sweatshirts, and levis.

The layers consist of next to the skin, insulation, and wind/water protection.

Next to the skin can be tee shirts (but cotton only in summer: see above), long johns (long janes?), and light pants.

Insulation can be down, fleece, or synthetics. Down is light and expensive. Synthetics are heavier and cheaper, also they hold up better in the wet. Fleece is heavy and bulky, but good in wet weather. Cotton insulation is a waste of time.

Wind/water can be nylon, waterproof nylon, breathable waterproof nylon or plastic. Water resistant nylon is just that: it won’t keep one dry during a heavy storm. Non-breathable fabrics or plastic will collect sweat.

Hot weather layers:

Next to skin:

  • Light tee shirt (long sleeve protects from sun)
  • Shorts or pants (long pants protect from sun) OR nylon hiking skirt.


  • Light parka or vest, or sweatshirt or sweater


  • Light shell, preferably waterproof.
  • A sun hat with a wide brim that protects the neck.

Cool weather layers:

Next to skin

  • Wool or synthetic tee shirt.
  • Wool or nylon pants OR nylon hiking skirt.


  • Medium parka or vest, sweatshirt or sweater


  • Shell, preferably waterproof.
  • Sun hat with a wide brim, a light hat and gloves.

Cold weather layers:

Next to skin:

  • Wool or synthetic long johns
  • Wool tights or long johns under pants OR wool tights under nylon skirt


  • Heavy parkas, vest, sweater, sweatshirt


  • Shell and pants, preferably waterproof
  • Fleece or wool hat, gloves, baklava or scarf.
  • Note: always add rain pants if rain is in the forecast.
  • A hat and gloves takes your comfort level down at least 10 degrees F.

So far as changes of clothes, forget it.

When a person is working hard (i.e., hiking uphill with a pack) after about 20 minutes most of the calories burned come from fat. This lends itself to an acrid body odor. Everything you wear will smell like a goat.

New clothing put on the next day, will very soon smell like a goat. So just wear the same clothes and glory in a light pack (and your outdoor woman goat smell).

The exception is underwear. I do like a change every day. And perhaps a light tee shirt to change into at camp. This is luxury.