Hyperlite Administrator Posts: 23
edited March 2022 in ESSENTIALISM 101

The right clothing setup can make or break your pursuits – simple as that. The wrong ensemble can absorb sweat and water, restrict movement, make you vulnerable to bug attacks, and smell like the contents of a fish monger’s laundry hamper cooked on high in a microwave. With the technological advancements available in today’s outdoor apparel market, it’s entirely possible to put together a wardrobe of super-versatile clothes that will do none of the above. But some of the oldest fabrics – like wool – can achieve the same outcomes. It all comes down to preferences, and our people in this Shakedown have theirs.



I prefer a well-fitting pair of convertible pants from a more core company than mainstream brands like Columbia or Timberland, etc. I say this as these are the primary convertible pants you see on the trails. My go-to pants are the Marmot Transcend Convertible Pant. I’m 5’8” and have a 30” waist in most pants, but I purchase these in the next size down which is a 28” waist. I also buy the “short” version, so the legs aren’t so baggy. The other convertible pants I like are Outdoor Research’s Ferrosi Convertibles. I’ve either purchased and returned or tried on over 20 to 30 pairs of pants to find these two options. Every pair of convertible pants out there other than these is way too baggy and that is accentuated when they get wet and start to sag more. Hiking in baggy pants sucks, and wet baggy pants are even worse. You tend to catch the pant legs on branches or rocks, and in places like the desert or Grand Canyon, this creates more of a snag potential as the rock out there will shred them. In Summer, the majority of the time I only use the pants as shorts, but I do bring the legs with me in case bugs or mosquitoes are really bad, or if it gets colder than expected. We consider the mosquito the state bird here in Maine. In shoulder seasons, I tent to wear long pants all the time. Again, these should be well fitting and not baggy at all.

Other than that, I usually carry a pair of the lightest weight running shorts I can find. I mean, just shorts, no mesh liner, maybe one pocket and a drawstring at the waist. Anything more than this is too heavy.

There are two primary jackets needed for backcountry adventuring; a waterproof shell/rain jacket, and a puffy insulating layer. I prefer a down puffy as it’s much lighter than fleece or the synthetic filled puffies. Ensure your rain jacket fits over your puffy for those rainy days when the temps are in the mid 50’s and below. In temps from the 60’s-low 70’s, I may only wear the rain jacket. In rainy weather when temps rise above 72-75 degrees, I don’t wear a jacket as it’s just too hot and you end up sweating inside it. In these temps, plan to hike in the rain in your t-shirt and dry off and change into your camp clothes when you get to camp.



One of my absolute favorite pieces of gear is the Montbell Ex-Light Down Anorak. Coming in at just 6.88 ounces for a large, this is one of the lightest hooded jackets on the market. Stuffed with 900 “Fill Power EX Down” and constructed with 7D nylon, the warmth to weight ratio is unmatched. The Anorak style cuts down on weight by only having a quarter zip design and a large kangaroo pocket. With all of the weight savings comes a price, and some of the functionality is lost. The kangaroo pocket doesn’t have a zipper to close it and causes some heat loss there. The quarter-zip minimizes the ability to allow airflow while being active, the hood has no adjustments but is roomy enough to slip over an alpine helmet, and there are concerns over the durability of the 7D nylon fabric. I did not buy this piece to be a regular active piece though, so each “complaint” is well worth the weight savings.

Too much clothing is a common unnecessary weight in many people’s packs. To be able to embrace the ultralight life you need to embrace your stench, and so does everyone around you! I don’t believe in town clothes or even camp clothes. The only duplicate clothes I believe are necessary are an extra set of socks and underwear. For the majority of the hiking season, all the unworn clothes I bring are extra socks (Injinji – 1.66 oz), extra underwear (Exofficio Briefs – 2.1 oz), thermal weight long underwear (Patagonia Capilene Thermal – 4.2 oz), thermal weight top or fleece layer (Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody – 6.9 oz), puffy jacket (Montbell Ex-Light Anorak – 6.88 oz), and a rain jacket (Outdoor Research Helium II – 6.4 oz). These are all the extra clothes I would have to keep me comfortable on a thru hike, and it totals only 28.14 ounces.

When it comes to the clothes worn, I have a few major suggestions as well. The first is the most obvious; trail runners are better than boots and not waterproof is better than waterproof. I prefer Altra or Salomon as I have used both brands extensively and I think they make great products. That being said, the only person your shoes matter to is you, so wear whatever the hell you want as long as it takes you where you want to go. I have tried wearing multiple kinds of shorts, and my favorite is running shorts with roughly a 5-inch inseam and front pockets to store items while I am in town. The five-inch inseam allows full mobility while still giving me enough protection to glissade without getting skinned alive (I’ve seen it happen).

I happened into a recent discovery when in Jackson Hole over the summer, and that was hooded shirts. I had been getting cooked alive by the high elevation sun for the first couple weeks of the Greater Yellowstone Traverse – an issue I never had to face on the Appalachian Trail. While going through Jackson Hole, I stopped in a used gear shop and bought a polyester shirt with a hood. I don’t think I’ve hiked in another shirt since. The polyester helps wick moisture to keep me cool when I sweat and somewhat warm on chilly mornings, and the hood helps protect me from the sun. Before that, I had found myself hiding from the sun by using a buff to cover my whole head and neck, which is not a very comfortable practice.



There is no one gear list to rule them all, and that is important to note here. While the Pacific Crest Trail did reach temperatures of 115 in Northern California, it was far more humid in the summer on the Appalachian Trail. Thus, we would sweat buckets on the East Coast while out west we needed to be more careful with our clothing – especially when hiking at elevation. On the AT I wore a basketball jersey every day but since have invested in a button up short sleeve and long sleeve shirts which are a lot more useful when hiking while exposed. On the PCT, I invested in a lightweight puffy from Mountain Hardwear called the Ghost Whisperer and I loved it. Unfortunately, I lost it in Nepal and had to buy a new one for the Continental Divide Trail. However, I wanted to try something different and ended up going with the Feathered Friends EOS Down Jacket. That has since become my favorite jacket, and it’s much warmer and more comfortable than the Ghost Whisperer.



Thin Cashmere Sweater. Mine happens to be Patagonia, but the brand doesn’t matter.

Though this started life as a nice sweater for casual wear, I started bringing it on bikepacking trips after it took on holes and age. Effective clothing has to be multi-use, and cashmere performs in spades. It gets packed as the sole warmest thing for tropical weather adventuring in Laos, or as an insulating layer in colder climes like the mountains of Nepal. I pull it on in the late afternoon when there are kilometers yet to go. I’ll often pedal the first hours of the day with it on. Its softness makes it a cozy next to skin layer for sleeping. And it looks normal and low tech—not like a piece of gear—so that I wear it over a collared shirt or base layer when I head into a pub or check in at the airport.

As far as cashmere’s reputation for dainty fragility, this sweater has been on dozens and dozens of long trips. (I don’t wear a backpack while bikepacking so I don’t face strap wear.)

Really, everything is going for it as a performance fabric: It’s genuinely lightweight for the warmth it gives. It rolls into a much more compact bundle than, say, merino because the fabric can be lighter for the same achievement. It’s warm if it gets sweated through, it gets hand washed once a year but not because it smells (because it doesn’t). And I feel good about reusing something that was expensive when I bought it and this gives it a new life. It’s nice to have some clothing with me on trips that isn’t petroleum based.

Gore Bikewear Gore-Tex Socks. I pull these on when the rain starts as part of the system that includes a shell, rain pants, and heavy duty nitrile gloves under merino. But that’s only a fraction of the usefulness of gore-tex socks. I’ll wear them all day when there are frequent river crossings. Instead of taking off shoes and socks and putting shoes back on for the crossing, these let you charge across. In fact, if I expect that to be a significant part of an expedition—as it was in Norway and in Kyrgzstan—I’ll wear a pair that go up my knees (those are made by Klim, and are marketed to adventure motorcyclists).

On a big trip where I might encounter conditions that range from tropical humidity to freezing rain at altitude, I don’t want to have to bring different kinds of footwear. These let you wear versatile shoes or boots that breath and drain water. I’ll wear them all day in wind conditions to keep the chill off my toes.

In contrast to waterproof socks that try to combine the padding and insulation of socks with impermeability, these are thin like a gore tex shell. I wear them over Darn Tough merino socks and inside my shoes. They therefore don’t interfere with my touch on the pedals, or, if I’m running clipless pedals, obviously there is no issue there. They won’t get shredded on a hike a bike like booties will. When things warm up, I roll them up to the size of an eggroll. They’re a little fragile when pulling them on, as the seams can tear, so be gentle. Barring that, this is perfect gear.



My biggest concern when picking out shirt/underwear is that they would dry easily. I ended up with the UnderArmour HeatGear T-shirt and UnderArmour Sheer Bikini underwear and they did just that! So convenient for when it was wet out or if I wanted to wash my clothes at the end of the day! They dried out FAST. For shorts I rocked UnderArmour HeatGear compression shorts- super comfortable but took a while to dry. DARN TOUGH SOCKS ALL THE WAY! Durable, warm, tons of different styles (I recommend full cushion— I never got a blister!) and Darn Tough has a 100% guarantee so, if you get a hole or something, they’ll replace them for free! For base-layer/sleep clothes I used the Columbia Mid-weight stretch base layer top/bottom. Wasn’t super necessary in summer, but nice to have anyway for something clean to sleep in or town clothes. I used North Face rain gear- rain gear is useless in torrential downpours (which happens a lot on the AT), so I guess it’s up to you if you want to carry it anyway. The rain jacket doubled as a windbreaker/extra layer though, so it did come in handy. For warmer layers, I had a women's Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody. Definitely loved having this extra layer on cold days. I would wear it hiking (instead of hiking in a puffy) or wear it under my puffy at night for extra warmth. Could’ve gone without in the summer, but personally I always wanted to have extra clothes available— I get cold easily. For my puffy, I had an EMS Women’s Feather-pack Hooded jacket. Hood is clutch. Packs down nicely/folds into its own pocket. Great dual-use as a pillow. Lightweight. Essential, essential, essential. I don’t care if it’s the dead of summer, I used it OFTEN.



It is important to invest in high-quality clothing when going for a long-distance trip. I have found that having just a few pieces can make or break your everyday comfort on the trail. ExOficcio makes great clothing all around, but their boxers are a standout for me. Each pair I’ve owned has performed flawlessly for well over 2,000 miles. They dry quickly, don’t smell too bad, and are tight and loose in all the right places. Darn Tough socks have been my favorite since the beginning, and when compared to other brands, none hold up for more miles. I like to have four top layers: a wicking hiking shirt, a fleece which stays in the backpack until camp, a lightweight insulated jacket like an Arc'teryx Atom LT, and a rain jacket. From the waist down, I have thermal long johns, shorts, and sometimes rain pants if conditions are unusually cold. I also always carry lightweight fleece gloves and a beanie.



Pro-tip: like when selecting a pack, if in doubt, go smaller rather than larger. Clothes will stretch out after a few days of not being washed, and if you are heading out for a longer hike, YOU will also likely end up smaller. I also like to check for double seams on high tension areas such as the crotch of pants.



While this is not necessarily apparel, one piece of gear that I usually alway bring on adventures and to work in the summer, is an umbrella. The umbrella I use is basically a rebranded Helinox Umbrella. Several backpacking gear companies have rebranded the Helinox umbrella and stuck their own logo on them. Having the umbrella gives me portable shelter against precipitation and the sun – especially in the summer desert environment I work in. I’d often get more wet from my perspiration wearing my rain jacket during a storm on the Appalachian Trail vs. wearing just my base layers and using the umbrella to stay dry. The umbrella is ideal for warm, humid, and wet conditions, and for sun protection in desert climates.