The Best Outdoor Clothing in the World!
As I often remind folks, the #1 killer in the great outdoors is not grizzly bear attacks, falling off cliffs, and all the dramatic scenarios that end up in movies and magazines. Rather, hypothermia is the elusive, silent predator that claims the lives of so many. It’s estimated that in the United States alone, an average of 1,300 people die each year from this condition. And, very importantly, it’s not strictly a cold weather danger. Hypothermia can set in and ultimately kill even when it’s as warm as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Choosing and wearing the proper clothing is a very serious issue, and can truly be a matter of life and death.
A common saying in Alaska is, “Cotton kills!” While comfortable, cotton clothing is fine for traveling, doing light work, lounging around camp on a nice day, or wearing during the dog days of summer in hot locations, 100% cotton is not suitable for serious use while in the wilderness, or working outside for long periods of time in cooler climates. 100% cotton clothing is very absorbent, and when one works up a sweat or gets wet from rain, cotton clothing holds the moisture in, close to the body, which combined with a drop in temperature or high winds, greatly accelerates a major drop in one’s core body temperature, resulting in hypothermia and possibly death. As an example, I know of a woman in southeast Alaska who went out for a jog on a warm, sunny day, and just hours after she began her run, she was found dead. Shortly after heading down the trail on her jog, a brief, though substantial rain shower blew through the area…accompanied by strong wind gusts. She got soaking wet, blasted by cool (not cold) winds, and lost body heat so fast that her hands numbed up to the point that she couldn’t get the keys out of her pocket to unlock her vehicle. Unable to get in and warm up, she died right there outside her car. A sad, tragic story, but also a graphic reminder of how fast hypothermia can kill!
Of course, along with providing proper thermoregulation and keeping your body warm and dry, clothing is also your essential barrier from the damaging effects of the sun, from rash inducing-plants, insect bites, abrasions from thick, thorny brush, and everything else you come into contact with that could potentially harm you.
Dress for Success – Use the Layer System
When it comes to outdoor gear, your clothing is the most important equipment of all! And, when planning what to purchase or pack, in regard to clothing for serious use in the outdoors, I highly recommend using the layering system as a guiding reference. Dressing in layers allows you to properly regulate your body’s temperature (thermoregulation) by putting on extra clothes when you get too cold, in order to stay warm (but not too warm) and shed layers when you get too hot. The goal is to keep both you and your clothing comfortable and free from excessive moisture/perspiration. Below, I’ll briefly explain the importance of each layer, as well as offer my top picks for garments in each category.
The Base Layer
The base layer of clothing is essentially socks and underwear (“short” and/or “long” underwear). Your undergarments should regulate body temperature by wicking away sweat and moisture from your skin. So, naturally, a good base layer should be made from non-absorbent, moisture-wicking fabrics. I wear and recommend “mid-weight” base layers. The thin, lightweight base layers don’t do much good, and the heavy-duty, ultra-thick layers get too warm and sweaty…unless you plan on being in subzero temperatures for long periods of time. My favorite base layers, which I have used for countless adventures in Alaska, and elsewhere, include those made by Smartwool, Patagonia, and Under Armour. And, for socks, its darn tough to beat Darn Tough Socks. They are made in America and are simply the best, in my opinion. Below are my top picks. Click on the photos to learn more and order yours today.
The Middle Layer
The midlayer of clothing generally acts as insulation for your upper body’s core area: heart and lungs, which in turn pump warm blood throughout the rest of the body…thus sustaining 98.6 degrees. The midlayer consists primarily of a jacket, although many folks wear midlayer pants as well. Personally, I find that my base layer bottoms, covered by my shell layer pants, is usually plenty to keep the bottom half of my body warm. However, if I’m going to be in very cold climates and moving slow, I’ll wear midlayer fleece pants. The purpose of the midlayer is to essentially trap and hold in your body heat. Wool is a good choice for midlayer clothing material, as it insulates in both wet and dry conditions, but, heavy-duty polar fleece, down, and various synthetic materials are very popular today too. It’s important to choose a midlayer that is not too bulky, as your shell layer will go over top of it, and you don’t want to end up like the kid from the Christmas Story who had so many layers on that he couldn’t even put his arms down or move comfortably. Your layers of clothing should compliment each other and work in unison.
When it comes to midlayers, it’s hard to beat products from Patagonia, North Face, and Columbia. They have been around for a long time and have consistently made fantastic midlayer clothing. Below are some of their most popular and highest rated midlayer products. All products shown here come in a variety of colors. Click on the photos to learn more and order yours today.