Before setting out on a hike, and whatever the season, you must set yourself a single objective: stay warm and dry! This is the best way to make the most of your outing. So, what should you wear when hiking? Find out all about the 3-layer technique, your best bet for a smooth hiking experience!
Build your hiking outfit in 3 steps!
Whatever the terrain, the intensity of your effort or the season, there is one golden rule before you go hiking: always carry (or carry in your bag) 3 layers of clothing: this includes a t-shirt, a sweater or polar fleece and a rain jacket. This is what’s called the 3-layer technique.
A breathable first layer to keep you dry
Too often neglected, the choice of a good first layer is nevertheless essential. This first layer is what keeps you dry by ensuring that perspiration is drawn away from the skin to the other layers.
You should therefore choose a breathable, quick-drying fabric (made of so-called "hydrophobic" fibers). Go for polyester T-shirts to limit moisture absorption. With short or long sleeves depending on the season, they allow you to stay dry during your hike by quickly wicking away perspiration.
Some of them also have polyamide inserts. Without going into a technical (and boring) jargon remember that polyamide, thanks to its technical properties, helps to trap odors. The ideal partner for a long-distance hike!
A second layer for added warmth and breathability
To feel warmer, you need a second layer to insulate you from the cold. This is the role of sweaters and fleeces (but also down jackets).
When it comes to fleeces, synthetic materials are the most commonly used. They have the advantage of protecting from the cold even when wet, but also of transferring moisture to the outer layer and drying more quickly.
At Quechua, this is also the choice we have made with our fleeces made of polyester recycled from plastic bottles. By recycling plastic bottles or used textiles to produce our polyester, we reduce the use of petroleum-based resources, while preserving the qualities and performance of the material for your mountain hikes.
Tip: be careful to manage your layers of clothing (especially the second layer) according to the intensity of your workout. If you forget to take off your fleece when climbing, you will sweat more. As a result, you’ll be wet even if you have a breathable first layer. You can also choose clothes with ventilation zips (neck and underarm vents) to help regulate your body temperature!
A third layer to protect you from the elements
Finally, remember to take (with you or in your backpack) a third windproof or waterproof layer to protect you from the elements. This includes weather such as wind, rain or snow, but also natural elements that might bother you if you like to go off the beaten track (for example, if you don't want to be tickled by brambles!).
This third layer is also intended to insulate you from the cold. The idea is to keep the air out of your jacket, so you can enjoy your hike while staying warm while still allowing perspiration to migrate outwards.
This third layer is sometimes a dilemma because oftentimes, the more waterproof a jacket is, the less breathable it is. You will therefore need to find the right compromise, based on your needs, between a jacket that is more resistant to the elements and a more breathable jacket.
How to adapt your hiking outfit
Obviously, the 3-layer technique needs to be adapted to the conditions and intensity of your activity. In many cases, you will not use 3 layers of clothing to tackle your hike. Sometimes you will have more, sometimes less. It goes without saying that you must respect the order of the layers: It won't work if you put a t-shirt over your fleece!
However, it is perfectly possible to add more layers between the first and third layer, especially if it is very cold. If you want to add layers, do so only for this middle layer. Because stacking up first layers such as T-shirts or third layers such as jackets will only make you sweat.
And sometimes, you can just use two elements of the 3-layer technique. For example: if you are hiking in autumn and the wind is blowing hard, but it is not very cold: You can just combine a T-shirt (first layer) and a hiking jacket (third layer). This way, you won't be too hot or too cold and your sweat will still be wicked away.
Another example: if you’re hiking in winter, it can be sunny and cold, but not windy. Then you can simply put on a first layer with one (or more) second layers. This will keep you warm and comfortable while ensuring that your perspiration is properly wicked away.
Dig deeper: multi-function hiking clothes
Currently technology enables the use of multifunction materials: a modular jacket, for example, which can be used as either a second or third layer or a technical T-shirt that is both breathable and insulating. Thus, the garment used as layer 2 in winter can be used as both layer 1 & 2 in summer, and so on. It's up to you to put together the outfit that will be the most suitable in terms of warmth, but also compactness.
However, don't forget to cover your legs and feet with the right pants (you can choose modular trousers in summer, waterproof trousers in winter or add tights) and warm, breathable socks. In case of very cold weather or if you tend to get very cold, you should also bring gloves or a hat.
One final tip
To keep your hands and feet cooler, wear a hat! Indeed, 80% of the body's heat escapes through the extremities and our system prioritizes blood flow to the brain. If the brain is warm, it consumes less energy to keep warm and allows the rest of the body (especially the extremities) to be well supplied.