Layers: years in the making
Back in the Alps, and to anyone who has spent time hiking in mountains at altitude will agree, the experience of fast-changing weather and how to deal with it won’t be unfamiliar. Many times, the weather is seasonal at the start of a hike – mild but manageable – and then the sun drops, or the rain sets in. Because you’re at altitude, the air temperature can drop instantly, sometimes by 10 degrees or more.
From that time in Nepal, I learned two things about layering: not all base layers are built alike, and to choose your base layer carefully.
Every next-to-skin layer should effectively do the following: regulate your body temperature and draw moisture away from your skin. That is the effective definition of a base layer. But the weight of that all crucial layer – particularly when hiking – and the material from which it is made - is what differentiates one layer from the next. This is easy to deal with it in summer, when the temperature is more consistent, but less so in autumn or spring, where it can be sunny, then cool, then rainy all in the same day.
Back in Nepal, I eventually figured that out with a lighter weight base layer, a 150 grams per square metre merino. The advantages were clear. It was natural. It was anti-microbial, meaning I could wash it less and it didn’t smell. It also did a better job at doing what I needed it to do which was to regulate my temperature even when I was hiking uphill, downhill, or just generally moving fast.
I had options with me on this trip, which helped. But here lies the key when hiking, even if only for the day, for experienced hikers and beginners alike: expect conditions to change. Along with routes and group pace, it is the single biggest factor that can affect your day. To manage it, always pack one or two layers of different weights.