Because people will look at you strangely if you forget it.
;Clothing can be divided into two very loose categories, what you intend to wear while walking and what you intend to wear in the evening. You have to carry much less clothing than you think; you really only need to carry two sets, sometimes less! The basic idea is that in the evening you want warm, dry clothes to change into. During the day you want clothing that breathes well and dries quickly. The idea being that when you get to the hut/campsite, you change out of your wet clothes into dry ones, and let the wet ones dry over night (if you're lucky). Therefore, the faster drying your day clothes are the happier you'll be the next morning; getting into wet clothes in the morning is a singularly abhorrent experience, albeit one you will experience a lot. Why not bring more than two sets of clothes I hear you ask. Well, first off clothing adds a lot of weight. Secondly, it is likely that whatever change of clothes you bring to walk in will just get wet as well.
You will also often hear talk of the 'layering system'. This theory rests on the idea that many thinner layers are better than one thick layer, as this allows you to adjust more responsively to the conditions. This theory underpins almost all outdoor clothing design; most outdoor clothing is designed to fit into one of the 'layers'.
The layers in the layering system are:
Base layer - this is the layer that goes against your skin. It includes underwear, tops and bottoms and thermals. Its primary purpose is moisture management. All base-layers are designed to wick perspiration away from your skin through the fabric so it can evaporate off the surface of the material. This keeps your body cool and dry in Summer and helps to prevent hypothermia in Winter. This is why cotton makes such a poor base-layer. Cotton just retains moisture in the fibres instead of moving it out to the surface. Wool and many synthetic materials on the other hand are designed to move moisture away from your skin, through the material, so it can evaporate off the outside of the fabric. Note, many brands use the words thermals and baselayer interchangeably; so 'baselayer' is a category but can also be a specific item.
Mid layer - this is the layer that goes on top of your base-layer. Examples include fleeces and insulated jackets. Its primary purpose is insulation. Mid-layer garments are designed to trap warm air close to your body.
Outer (shell) layer - this layer goes on top of everything else. It includes things like raincoats, over pants and soft-shells. Its primary purpose is protection from the wind and rain. This layer is discussed more in the rainwear section.
Here is an example of how the layering system might work: it is early Autumn, you start walking around lunch time, it is warm-ish so you are just walking in a base-layer. As you climb higher it gets windy with just a little bit of rain, so you put your rain jacket on. You stop for a late lunch; it has stopped raining but it's cold in the shadow of the mountain. You take off your raincoat and put your mid-layer on while you are stopped. The temperature drops sharply as you are leaving, so you keep your mid-layer on and put your rain jacket over the top to keep the wind out. What I bring in warmer weather:
Quick drying top
Quick drying shorts
Windproof top (if I am going into a very windy place. In warmer weather it is often too hot to use a rain jacket as a windproof)
Jumper (I usually use fleece)
Lightweight Buff (beanie)
Change of shorts (sometimes, if I the weather looks wet or I want to go swimming)
Underwear to sleep in (it is a good idea to let the underwear you walked in dry out, this reduces the chance of chaffing)
Spare pair of socks - not really a spare pair for walking in, these are just to keep your feet warm at night. Therefore they should be warm and fluffy, bed socks in other words. Though if they can serve as backup walking socks that is preferable.
What I bring in cooler weather:
Usually a merino or synthetic thermal top
Quick drying shorts
Windproof over-pants (a lot of people use thermal leggings instead)
Some form of lightweight mid layer (something that has good breathability, like merino or some synthetic fabrics) I use a Macpac Hybrid Jacket.
Jumper (usually a fleece)
Down Jacket (many people use synthetic-insulated jackets instead)
Thermal top and bottoms (acts as a change of clothes).
I would consider the above the minimum, some people add more clothes on top of this. Just remember that taking less clothing is one of the easiest ways to save weight.
Below I often draw a distinction between wool (merino) or synthetic fabrics (synthetic material is made of very cleverly designed plastic). However, synthetic fabrics encompass a huge variety of different materials offering different levels of performance. That being said, the majority of synthetic fabrics have broadly the same strengths and weaknesses compared to wool, though they may differ in how pronounced they are.
Wool v Synthetic
Wool is generally pricier and less durable, but is warm when wet, breathes very well, is very odour resistant and fire retardant. Synthetic fabrics have a much broader price range, and a corresponding band of quality. Most synthetics will not sap heat out of you as fast as cotton when wet, more durable than wool (at a similar thickness), and quick drying (how quick varies with design). It used to be said all synthetic materials had low melting points (so couldn’t be tumble dried), got very smelly after a while and did not breathe very well. This is no longer strictly true, a lot of high quality synthetic are around now which reduce these weaknesses significantly. However these weaknesses are still very true of the cheaper options.
For example until recently I only used merino for my walking tops because synthetic tops just started to smell awful after a while (even after repeated washing). However, recently the science behind synthetic fabrics has taken leaps and bounds and there are now synthetic materials on the market which offer similar levels of odour-resistance, along with vastly improved drying times.
This is the top you will be tramping in during the day, and there is a huge variety to choose from. For many years I tramped in a merino base-layer, now I often I use a long sleeve synthetic top which has been fantastic. General characteristics you may want:
Warm-ish when wet (mainly not cold when wet, i.e. not cotton! Seeing a recurring theme yet?)
What you need in tramping shorts/pants:
Won’t absorb a lot of water.
Won’t suck the heat out of you when wet (so not cotton or denim)
Optional recommended extras:
Denim and cotton shorts are the complete opposite of the above, they absorb a lot of water, are slow drying, very cold when wet and are not stretchy.
You have a choice between shorts and pants. The most common choice in New Zealand is to wear shorts, because the skin dries faster than fabric, and they are cooler to wear. However, pants have their advantages: they offer protection from the bugs, sun and wind. The choice is entirely down to personal preference; many hikers from the northern hemisphere prefer pants, kiwis tend to prefer shorts; there are arguments for both.
Thermal top and bottoms
The primary purpose of thermals is to keep you warm and to wick moisture away from your body. People commonly underestimate the usefulness of these items.. These must absolutely not be made of cotton. They can also double as your change of clothes.
When to bring: Autumn-Winter-Spring and it is often preferable to bring them in Summer as well on more remote trips. When combined with a good mid-layer, they provide excellent warmth at the end of the day, or as a backup if you fall in a stream. On colder trips it is very common to walk in thermals. If this is the case, you should carry another set in your bag to change into in case the others get wet. Always make sure you have something dry to change into.
What you need in thermals:
Relatively thin and skin tight – their primary purpose is to wick moisture away from your skin and keep you warm.
Warm when wet
Either wool (merino), polyester, polypropylene or similar.
There is a relatively large price range for thermals. You can pick some basic ones up very cheaply at places like the Warehouse. These will work fine but are usually made of low quality polypropylene which has the weakness described above to a large extent. So it really is dependent on how much you want to spend. If you think you’d like to get more into tramping, or just want to have the best, consider buying some nicer ones; otherwise warehouse ones are fine (as long as they’re not made of cotton!!). However, if you are buying ones to walk in, I suggest investing in good quality synthetic or merino ones as the breathability, oder-resistance and how fast they dry becomes a lot more important because you will be sweating in them and getting them wet.
When will you need one: I tend to bring one all year round, though in winter I bring an insulated jacket as well. In summer a nice light weight fleece is perfect to take the chill out of the evening.
This layer is primarily intended to keep you warm when you stop on the trail and at the end of the day at the campsite/hut.
What you need in a fleece:
Wool or synthetic fleece
I tend to recommend fleece (fabric) over merino, as it is generally cheaper, slightly warmer for its weight, and dries faster. You can pick up a decent fleece from any outdoors store. There is quite a price and quality range in fleeces. As the price and quality goes up they generally get warmer and faster drying. That being said, any one will really do; for colder months you’ll want something thicker, for warmer months something a bit lighter. The only thing is some really cheap fleeces will have the same problem as cheap thermals; i.e. they will melt in the drier, so be wary of that. Most ones from outdoors stores (as opposed to the warehouse) will be fine. On colder trips, many people bring an insulted jacket as well.
Buying advice – fleeces usually go down massively in price when on sale, never buy one full price. Don’t feel the need to buy the expensive one with all the frills on it that the salesperson will try to sell you. The basic ones in a store are fine, they’re usually lighter as well. Check the fabric weight, thicker fleeces will be warmer but also heavier; don't buy something heavier than you need. Merino is usually less well priced, but do wait for the sales anyway.
Finally, I don't think it is worth buying a heavy fleece. Fleece is not very efficient in terms of the amount of warmth for their weight. If it's going to be cold, I suggest bringing a light-weight fleece, and an insulated jacket instead, as that is going to be a lot warmer and light.
When should you bring one - I bring one all year round, although in summer I use a lightweight Buff.
What you need:
Wool or fleece
Beanies are important because if you get cold they are one of the most effective ways to warm back up; humans lose a lot of heat through their heads. As an alternative, consider a Buff or a similar knockoff as they are more versatile. Buff's are essentially a long tube of fabric, usually wool (for winter) or synthetic. In winter I often carry a Buff and a beanie, one for my lower face and one for my head.
When you should bring a pair: when you are going on cold-weather trips or when you will be walking in exposed places with high wind.
What you need in tramping gloves:
Wool or Fleece
Nice features to have:
Grip on the palm/fingers
Waterproof – only if a very wet trip or a trip in snow, for the vast majority of trips waterproof gloves will be overkill, you really only need them if there is a lot of snow. So don’t go bringing those big heavy ski gloves, you won’t use them.
These are not spare shoes to walk in. These are shoes to wear at the campsite/hut in the evening, particularly for walking to the long-drop and back. A lot of people have misconceptions about what we mean here, these are not spare shoes to walk in. These are shoes to wear at the campsite/hut in the evening, particularly for walking to the long-drop and back. Most hikers use lightweight jandals.
Gaiters protect your legs and keep debris out of your shoes. It is entirely personal preference whether you wear them or not. For example, see here.