Depending on the time of year will determine how much clothing you will bring. Winter will require more clothing and proper layering as the temperature is a big concern. Summer time is different and that is what this guide will focus on. People tend to go backpacking more in the summer time rather than in winter.
What I typically backpack with in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the summer are lightweight versatile clothes. I tend to stick with only one or two pairs of clothing depending on the article I am referring to (i.e. one pair of paints, but two pairs of socks). I will share with you what I bring and why. Let experience and your comfort level modify what I will discuss.
The Basic Set
Hat – I bring with me a wide brim, lightweight hat, with a cord to cinch down if it is windy. The latest hat I use has a built-in neck shroud that folds up and stows away in the rear brim. This keeps the sun off my face, ears, and neck. Other options I have seen others use are as follows;
- Baseball cap with bandanna, baseball cap with sunscreen, or just a baseball cap
- Bandanna with sunscreen or only a bandanna
- Sunscreen only
Sunglasses – Essential to protect your eyes. Get a pair of “cheepos” or “i-shields” if you are worried about losing your expensive pair or buy a pair of Chums for your existing pair. They work great, don’t have a tail, and will keep your sunglasses on your head come rain or sweat. If you have a prescription and want to cut down on weight, get transitional lenses and test them.
Long-sleeve Button-up Shirt – They are lightweight, easily unbutton to adjust body temps, and the sleeves are designed to roll up and attach to the shirt. I do not need to use sunscreen, mosquitoes have a hard time getting at me, and it breathes well. Layer this with a moisture wicking base layer shirt, like a Mountain Hardwear Justo Trek (Men or Women), or something similar and your set.
Hiking Pants (Zipoffs) – Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants (Men or Women) are what I use. They come with a lightweight belt built-in. There are other brands out there and this just happen to be the cheaper one compared to other brands. Whatever brand you choose, check the reviews, make sure the “shorts length” is your desired length, and get some. These are great for “hot days” where you can simply convert the pants into shorts. When the bugs are bad or the temps cool, simply zip the pant legs back on and you set.
Underwear – I bring two pairs of underwear. One pair to wear one day and the other to wear the next. This way you can alternative between both and let one “dry out” while you are wearing the other. Some people do not do it this way and just bring one or even go “commando.” The choice is yours and how comfortable you are. Try to get moisture wicking materials though how ever you decide to go.
Socks – I have used other brands, but nothing beats a good pair of Smartwool socks. They are made in the USA and with the backpacker in mind. They regulate temps well when hiking all day and provide good padding for areas were blisters tend to creep in (i.e. heel, toes). I bring two pairs with me and swap them out the same way I do with my underwear. Another option is to use a sock linear and thin pair of hiking socks. This creates layers and helps reduce chances of blisters.
Boots – Boots can be tricky because, lets face it, people’s feet come in all different shapes and sizes. You’ll find that one boot that preformed well, didn’t create blisters, and was comfortable from day one may not be the case for you. Also the general rule is to go down 1 size when buying a boot. Ultimately the best way is to go down to store and get properly sized. Outdoor stores should be able to do that for you in your area. Some stores will let you try the boot out for a few weeks too. If they give you problems you can turn it back in no problem. Make sure to check with the store though.
Gloves – If you don’t want to use sunscreen at all, then buy a pair of gloves. You’ll want to make sure they provide some SPF protection and breathe really well. You don’t want your hands sweating as you hike down the trail.
Short Sleeve Shirt – If you are going to go the route I did above, then the short sleeve shirt is for camp. You’ll need to hang the long sleeve one out to drive the rest of the day and overnight. The short sleeve shirt will be only used at camp after you cool down from your hike. A fresh shirt after hiking all day is nice. Get a lightweight shirt, like a Mountain Hardwear Justo Trek (Men or Women), so you don’t notice it in your pack.
Rain Shell/Jacket – Get a packable jacket that will block out the rain and wind. Nothing like being outdoors and a surprised afternoon shower to ruin the rest of your day. Important to invest in one that breaths well during hikes and doesn’t cause you to sweat too much if you are hiking through a rain storm. Otherwise it may be best to use walk in the rain…I found that out recently….
Down Jacket (Packable) – Sometimes those temps just get low enough you need something warm. A lot of materials are light, but can be bulky. This is where a packable down jacket comes in handy. The Montbell UL Down Jacket (Men or Women) weighs less than 8oz, is warm, blocks light wind, and hardly takes up any room in your pack. Combine it with the rain shell/jacket and you have a great warm, dry, and windproof jacket. I pack one of these every time I go.
Examples of a “beginners set” on a budget could be found in the link below. It is a list I compiled on Amazon. It helps you get a visual on some of the gear and clothing I am referring to in addition to the links I previously provide. Check out the “Beginners Backpacking Set.”