Today’s post is the fifth in a series on some of the basics to consider, if you are new to hiking, to help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable hike from the start. This post is also the third, within those five, specifically looking at hiking gear.
OK, as with the previous posts in this series on what to wear when going hiking, the environment you plan to go hiking in is the most important indicator to help you decide on what you need to where i.e. the climate, the season and of course the terrain.
Today we’re looking at Base Layer’s and fleeces. As a general rule you only need these in colder conditions. However, you need to be careful with this one as while it may seem mild enough sitting in your back garden, it may be much chillier when out walking in the open air where the wind could be stronger and so on. As a general rule, keep a couple of extra layers with you to be sure you have something extra for warmth should you need it.
Hiking Base Layer
I’ve grouped Base Layers with Fleeces as although they are two very different pieces of hiking gear, their core function is insulation i.e. keeping you warm and dry.
Let’s look at base layers first. What the heck is a base layer anyway? A base layer is the first, the base, in a series of layers of clothes you wear while hiking. The core function of the base layer is to draw sweat away from the skin while keeping heat in. This helps keep the wearer dry, warm and comfortable. The base layer usually fits tight to the skin and wicks any moisture away.
Again, as a general rule anything made from cotton is out! Cotton will absorb moisture like your sweat or rain and will eventually feel like wearing a cold wet towel, not a good idea! A good base layer will be made of a suitable combination of synthetic materials or certain wool blends which enable all the above functionality.
As with hiking tees, it is very possible you have a hiking base layer type long sleeve top already in your wardrobe for some other activity. If that is the case, you can probably utilize that for your first time out on the trail. If you don’t have something like that, unless you are hiking in very warm weather and you can be pretty certain you won’t need one, it is worth investing in one of these. Even if you decide that hiking isn’t for you, you will always use it again just to keep you warm, especially a merino one, at colder times of year.
Below are a couple of examples of some good base layers. Click on the images to learn more.
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ColdPruf Men’s Enthusiast Long Sleeve Crew Neck Base Layer
This is not meant to be a detailed review but just to highlight a few of the main points in the ColdPruf men’s base layer above. First of it is made from polypropylene so it ticks the synthetic box and has good moisture wicking capabilities. It is stretchy too so should give a snug fit tight against your skin. Ideal for cold winter conditions it can also be utilized when you climb higher up into open space where the wind gets up.
ColdPruf Women’s Quest Performance Base Layer
This ladies base layer is made from 85% polyester and 15% spandex, a nice blend option for a base layer. The ColdPruf Quest Performance base layer provides good warmth and also performs very well in the moisture wicking department. Again, the spandex element in it’s makeup, means it is very stretchy and will give a snug fit with a comfortable feel on hour skin.
Moving up in our layers, a fleece is a mid-layer garment. So if we start from the base layer above, we would then usually have a shirt or tee next. Following that we would then usually have another layer, before an outer rain jacket, whose main purpose is warmth. You can also choose to have an insulated jacket for this purpose but I prefer to use fleeces.
A fleece is usually made from synthetic material like polyester. As with a base layer, a good fleece will be breathable and will have some element of water and wind resistance to it. They are great for keeping you warm and can comfortably act as an outer layer in the right hiking conditions, cool but milder and dryer. I also find them very versatile for day-to-day use too.
As a newbie to hiking, if you don’t have a fleece of some kind lying around, you can maybe look to utilize a woolen sweater or perhaps one made from synthetic materials. Remember, it should be for a short while in relatively good conditions to give you a feel for whether you want to pursue hiking. As soon as you decide hiking will be a regular activity, it is worthwhile investing in a good fleece or another type of insulated jacket whose main purpose is warmth.
Columbia Men’s Steens Soft Fleece Jacket
The Columbia Men’s Steens Mountain full zip 2.0 soft fleece is a top seller on Amazon and with good reason. It is a very functional fleece that does a good job of keeping you warm. The elastic cuffs trap warm air and the elbows, chest and shoulders are reinforced with abrasion-resistant material. This can be used as a mid-layer, as mentioned above, or as a warm fleece outer layer.
Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Classic Fleece Jacket
The Benton springs fleece jacket from Columbia is another very popular option from Columbia. The fleece is made using soft 100% polyster MTR filament fleece, which provides an excellent level warmth for cold Winter days. It features a classic style and fit with a collared neck and zippered hand warmer pockets for bits and pieces. It is of course designed to have more of a slender fit for the female body shape and will work great on our off the trail.
OK, so hopefully I’ve given a bit of an introduction to base layers and fleeces for folks new to hiking. Now, it is worth mentioning again that if you’re going out on your first hikes in warm conditions, you may not need these items. However, as a general rule you should always pack an extra layer or two for warmth in your day pack.
Remember also, that as you go higher up, you will get exposed to higher winds which will make things much colder. As well as hiking base layers and fleeces you need to consider the two main gear areas we have already looked at in this series, namely accompanying hiking pants or hiking shorts and a suitable hiking tee or shirt.
Where possible, when you’re just starting out, you may be able to use substitutes for hiking specific gear but only where the conditions are suitable. Keep your hike safe and short and as soon as you know you want to pursue hiking further afield, invert in the appropriate gear as listed here and in the other posts ion this series.
You will also need suitable hiking boots or hiking shoes for the terrain you will be hiking in and, at the very least, a waterproof hiking jacket to ensure you can stay dry and warm in any inclement weather like wind, rain or snow. A day pack of some kind to carry a few essentials like water, snacks and extra clothing layers is also a necessity. We’ll get to these three areas shortly.
As always, let the climate and season you will be hiking in, be your main consideration when choosing what is best to wear when you start out hiking. There’s nothing like experience, so if you can get advice from an experienced hiker in advance or from someone who knows the hike and route you plan to be hiking on, take advantage of it.
If you want to go to the start of this series of posts on hiking for beginners, please click here.
Next up in this getting started series, we’ll take a look at hiking boots and trail shoes. They are an absolute must for the trail.
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