The best gear for my outdoors course?

11:01 p.m. on November 7, 2009 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
1 forum posts


I've recently started a university course focusing on outdoor activities such as walking, climbing, kayaking.. basically a mix of hot, cold, wet and dry throughout the year. We can borrow necessary kit such as safety equipment and specialised items (for kayaking etc) but there are some things that are required especially for walking/climbing/general outdoors. I've so far bought a climbing harness, walking boots, a Gore-Tex shell and waterproof over-trousers and I still need some more things. So far it's cost me about £320 for those, including discount on some. Money isn't a massive issue when buying, as long as it's justified, but again, I am a student so I want things that are going to be useful for a range of conditions, and year round so that I won't find myself having to buy new things in 6 months if possible.

It's mainly upper body layering that I don't understand. There seems to be massive price differences between various jackets etc, and a wide range of fancy fabric names used. Several shop assistants haven't been able to recommend much more than 'that's a base layer' etc. Are there certain fabrics to aim for for certain layers? Obviously I have the Gore Tex waterproof shell covered, but what about underneath? I was thinking maybe a soft shell, a microfleece and a cheap baselayer?

I'd like a jacket that I could use casually when I'm not out exploring, which is where the soft shell comes in since you can get some pretty good looking ones, then if it gets cold, I can add the microfleece underneath, then the other two if it gets colder/wet.

Does this sound good? Also, is all softshell material the same? There have been some that I've seen online that look like softshells, but don't say explicitly what they are, only a hint of the fancy material being used.

Thanks in advance, and sorry for the lack of knowledge. I may even follow up with more questions if I don't get shunned for my ignorance ;)

11:28 p.m. on November 8, 2009 (EST)
38 reviewer rep
1,902 forum posts

Nope, no shunning here, not from me anyway and here is why--- there is a bewildering array of clothes you can buy for outdoor use and marketing does little to ease the confusion. I have no idea what half of it is, or more accurately, what most of it is. Bill S probably knows more about the various fabrics than the rest of us combined. Most of my stuff I have owned for years, so none of it is cutting edge kit by any means.

I take it you are in the UK judging from the tone of your email, but most of us are here in the States, so keep that in mind, just in terms of brands that may get mentioned.

Let's start from skin out. I wear a synthetic brief made by Jockey, an American company. You can probably find something similar. I wear those because they are comfortable, dry quickly and don't retain moisture if you sweat in them. Cotton is okay in summer, but not in cold, wet weather because if has no insulating properties and takes forever to dry. Merino wool gets good reviews, but I don't own any.

Next, in cold weather, I wear a base layer of Capilene, made by Patagonia. It is a proprietary synthetic material that they offer in 4 different thicknesses. Back in the day when they offered only 3, I bought a medium weight bottom and long-sleeved top with a partial front zipper and turtle neck. I still have them 20 years later.

I have worn these hiking in cold weather, skiing and winter camping. I have also worn the top just as a shirt in cool weather. No one knows the difference except me or someone else who might recognize it.

Next, I have an inexpensive fleece jacket made by Columbia. Not sure if it is 200 or 300 weight, but it's probably 200. I bet I wear this jacket 200 days a year-not hiking, just everyday. It is not a fancy "softshell," just a simple fleece jacket with a front zipper and two pockets. I have it on in my picture.

Rain gear-I have a jacket from REI, the big US retailer and mail order store. It is made from "Element" some kind of proprietary fabric. I have Marmot Precip pants, a lightweight rain pant with full zippers, also seen in the photo. I wear the pants and jacket winter camping. They are not designed for expedition use under difficult conditions, but work fine for me in more or less moderate winter conditions. I won't put the jacket on unless it is raining or snowing.

Insulated layering-I have two down parkas-a TNF Nuptse, a light parka and a TNF Baltoro (now called the Himalayan) which is a bigdeep winter Gore-tex parka with a big hood on it. I have a pair of synthetic insulated pants made by Go-Lite, but since discontinued. Full zips and very warm. I also have a pair of fleece pants I picked up in New Zealand years ago, but those are for milder weather.

I have various gloves, mitts, beanies (wool and fleece) and a fleece balaclava. For socks, I have some Capilene expedition weight socks, some wool/synthetic blend socks and cotton socks for warm weather use.

You can substitute wool for most synthetics. I belong to a Canadian winter camping website and many of those guys go out in really cold weather in surplus Canadian Forces wool gear of one sort or another. I bet you could pick up one of those green British Army wool sweaters for next to nothing and do just as well.

Walk into Cotswald or Outdoorsmagic and you probably can walk out with some fancy softshell leaving behind 150 pounds or so, but I wouldn't do it unless I planned on getting a lot of use out of it.

For kayaking, you will probably want a paddling jacket of some sort. I got one years ago-made by Patagonia I think. A specialty item that isn't good for much else.

If you do a search here, you will find similar responses to others who have asked similar questions.

Keep in mind, my choices were made over time based on what I needed and what I could afford. Other people have far more gear than I do, but I consider my stuff adequate for anything except extremely cold weather and even then, I'm probably good down to about -20C with my big parka and Go-Lite pants on.

12:02 p.m. on November 9, 2009 (EST)
42 reviewer rep
352 forum posts

Welcome flyingarmbar!

I'm also doing a university course in adventure tourism (in Canada), it's tons of fun. What i've noticed here is that most of the beginners in the course spend way too much money on brand new shiny gear that they end up selling or regretting by the end of the course. The thing is, it takes years to evolve a system that fits your needs, and yours will most likely change a lot as you learn during your course. My classmate spent 500$ on a brand new BC ski kit before the skiing course and by the end he swore he'll never ski again. Don't make the same mistake!

So my suggestion would be: unless you have a ton of disposable income, resist the temptation! Being comfortable under adverse conditions is more than just gear, it's also skills. If you already have gore-tex jacket and pants, everything else can be very cheap layers of fleece or merino wool sweaters bought at the thrift store and you'll be just fine. You will most likely burn, poke holes, rip or thrash you gear anyway: experience comes at a price.

BTW a softshell is wondefull for in town, it gives you that sporty look, but you sure do not need one to be comfortable in the bush. A simple polyester or nylon windbreaker and a fleece will do the same fonctions for less weight, are more versatile and cost 3 times less. Don't get caught in the hype: clothing companies are there to make money and their main market is not hard-core adventurers (because were broke anyway) but city folks and week-end warriors.

For example: i used my goretex jacket and a very old wet-suit with a 5$ fleece underneet for our kayaking course. Water temp was 4°C, outside temp about the same. Canoe course and white water rescue, same thing. I'm still alive and had just as much fun as the guys that went and bought a shiny new kit.

So my point is: if you stick with synthetics or merino wool you will be fine, just avoid cotton at all cost. By the end of your course you will have learned from your experiences and your classmates on what gear works best and you will be able to make smart and informed purchases.

I've developed a passion for skiing and winter camping during the course so i'm very happy to have some money left for trips and more specialised gear.

April 20, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Mountain Tent Under 10 Lbs Newer: Jansport or kelty?
All forums: Older: Shell Care Newer: Practice your avalanche beacon skills