Gear Check

11:07 p.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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Hello, I am a avid hiker who once used to go backpacking about 10 years ago and gearing up to jump back into it.  It seems the gear has become a lot more diverse then it was, or maybe I just wasn't in the "know".  But, I was hoping someone could look over my layering system and see if it's adequate, over kill, or just plain not going to work.

The destination is the Guadalupe Mountains, the highest elevation in West Texas, a little over 8k.  I've backpacked through here a few times, only once in our version of winter.  The temps are around high 40's in the day and low 20's to high teens at night.  Usually a bit of snow on the ground, some mist, but usually dry with moderate wind.  I'm going back in late January, and I expect the weather to be more or less the same.

My first time there, my layers were a basic long lightweight synthetic base, fleece vest, and rain/wind jacket.  Lightweight synthetic base bottoms, convertible pants, and insulated pants just in case of snow.  I remember being a little bit colder then I wanted to be, but nothing terrible.  This time around I'd like to be more comfortable and after a bit of research I've came up with the following:


Base:  Arc'teryx Phase SL Crew Top

Mid:  Montane Prism Insulated Jacket

Shell:  Outdoor Research Mithrilite Softshell Jacket


Base:  Marmot Lightweight Bottom

Mid/Shell: Mountain Khakis Granite Creek Convertible Pant

To me the insulated jacket + the soft shell seems overkill.  But, everywhere I've been reading is saying that insulated jackets are better than fleece as your mid-layer.  I understand while I'm moving, all I will need is my base and insulated jacket.  And while stopped I might want to toss on the soft shell.  So, I'm hoping to gather some insight before pressing the buy button.

12:12 a.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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Well, from your post I am not 100% certain what if anything you have bought(other than what you said you wore on your last trip). That all being said here is my take on your situation:

I think, like you that you were "almost" there but a little on the chilly side. When moving its alot easier to stay warm, the real trick is when you stop for rest breaks and to make camp.

Lets talk about your torso first.

IF you were cold while actively moving while wearing a l/s synthetic shirt, a fleece vest, and a rain/wind shell and the temps were lets say between 20F-40F. I would first ask if you were wearing a hat? were you wearing gloves? were you wearing a balaclava or buff? You can easily get chilled if your extremeties are cold(head,hands,feet, and neck). Even if they didn't "feel" cold they can still be the root cause. I personally think that you could fix your torso situation by simply adding a hat, gloves, balaclava or buff, and changing the fleece vest out with a full fleece pullover or fleece jacket. You can get a wide range of selection by going to a local thrift shop such as a Savers, good will, salvation army etc. I do alot of my outdoors clothing shopping at such places and get some nice gear. I have found many name brand outdoor clothing items for only a dollar or two each.

For your legs I am just guessing that you were fairly comfortable? IF you wern't you may want to consider going to a thicker pair of pants in the winter time. I don't use convertible pants in the winter, i switch to the BDU pants personally.

For in camp, you just want some insulating layer to put on in addition to your other DRY layers. If you are sweating during the day you are doing it wrong. It is better to be slightly cool and dry, than slightly warm and soaked in sweat. A cheap puffy jacket(down, primaloft etc) works great for camp. You can also find these cheap at thrift stores. If you cant find any, check out places like llbean, eddie baur, or even old navy, they tend to have cheaper basic down jackets and vests. In the temps you describe I would probably be find with a fleece jacket under a wind shell. But i also always have a pantagonia nano puff with me to put on during rest stops and in camp, which layers nicely with my other items.

This is my layering system for my while actively moving. For temps lets say 0F-32F I layer as needed:

Head: Smartwool thin beanie, Mountain hardware wool beanie(thicker) with a built in balaclava.

Neck-balaclava from the 2nd beanie

Torso: Capaline 3 l/s, columbia l/s hiking shirt, WW2 SAS wool sweater, Stoic Vaporshell

Legs: Capaline 2 long johns, Winter weight BDU pants, ECWCS gortex shell pants. **95% of the time I only wear the BDU pants unless it is bitterly cold out.

Hands: fingerless ragg wool gloves, OR flurry gloves, OR endeavor shell mitts

Feet: smartwool or darn tough wool socks, insulated TNF Arctic pull on boots, OR croc gaiters.

I add and remove layers as needed, but typically dress very light if i am actively moving. Unless it is bitterly cold or REALLY windy i usually only have on my capaline 3 l/s and my columbia shirt, smartwool beanie, and bdu pants.

In camp the only changes are i put on dry baselayers if needed, and I have a pantagonia nano puff or a llbean waxed cotton down jacket depending on the temps that trip, and a pair of cabelas down long johns. Those down long johns from cabelas are the best item i ever bought! They also have a down long john top as well, and both are on the cheaper side.

In summary I think you are pretty close to target, and see no need to go droping major cash on new clothing when you only need some very minor changes/tweaking.

Hope that all made sense and helps some. By all means ask questions!

12:27 a.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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Forgot to add:

On those cold days/windy cold days i like to either carry a small thermos with some coffee, or just stop and make a hot cup of coffee/tea on the trail. Nothing helps warm you up faster and make you feel better than a nice hot beverage trail side!

10:49 a.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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I like West Texas and have backpacked in Big Bend.  At the risk of being flippant, I would submit that those conditions are not that severe.  Your current "system" is adequate, and it would be possible with some care to find the right stuff at any outdoor store.

High tech equipment becomes really useful in difficult conditions like 34 degrees and wet, or extreme cold and wind.

It is interesting to work with outdoor people that are outside for a living, like cowboys, loggers, fishermen, etc.  They usually don't have a lot of fancy clothing and equipment, but a lot of experience and rarely get in trouble.


6:58 p.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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Thank you very much for the critique and suggestions.  I apologize for not providing a more complete description of what I had before.  I did have gloves and my head covered with a beanie at the time.  And I never over-heated or got sweaty.  If I got warm I would just lose the jacket.  I think it was the vest that wasn't providing enough layering when I was feeling chilled while hanging around camp.  

Since it's been over a decade I don't have any backpacking clothes, just the rest of the gear.  I was just trying to piece together a list of layers to get based off review and gear sites.  And that is the list I came up with.  I just wasn't sure if it was over-kill.  The insulation + soft shell and convertible pants were the only things I was not sure about.  I'll be sure to check out some local stores this weekend when I have some free time and see if I can find some simpler items as well as adding in a hat and gloves.

7:25 p.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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don't forget warm socks! I use smartwools or thorlos. your feet are another one of those extremities you need to keep warm.

8:59 p.m. on January 8, 2013 (EST)
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To save some money I find that Columbia and marmot almost always can be found at a tj max or Marshall's , it's all past season stuff typically but you can still get some great deals on baselayers, fleece items, and down jackets.

I would definitely hit up those thrift shops every few weeks too.

11:49 a.m. on January 13, 2013 (EST)
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Layering system (torso) good to -25°C:

  • wicking layer
  • fleece with full-length zipper
  • hardshell with hood and pitzips
  • oversize w/b shell with hood
  • toque/balaclava, fleece gloves
  • cheap down sweater in pack for stops

Most of the heat loss is around your head (see thermal imaging) so the easiest way to control heat while hiking is to add a hat or pull up your hood. 


Pants: Old, worn out ski pants from Goodwill (more breathable) and poly long johns. 

Merino wool socks with chemical toes warmers. 

Obviously overkill where you're headed, but the principles are the same wherever you are. 

2:33 p.m. on January 13, 2013 (EST)
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+1 on heat loss from your head espescially if your follicly challenged like me, haha who am I kidding bald like me!!!!

3:43 p.m. on January 13, 2013 (EST)
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definately need a warm hat - I use a balaclava because it covers your whole neck and head, warmer if its windblock fleece. mine has a drawstring around the face so I can really cinch it up and be nice and cozy with just my glasses sticking out :P

May 24, 2018
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