You are an Onion: How to layer in the mountains

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When dressing for outdoor adventures in the mountains, think of yourself as an onion—you smell bad and you make people cry. Just kidding; but I like to use the onion reference because onions have many layers, and of course because who doesn’t enjoy a Shrek reference?

Having the appropriate clothing when outdoors in the mountains is imperative as we are prone to getting weather from all seasons in one day: sun, wind, rain, snow, hail (and yes, it’s a day in mid-July).

Always be prepared for any weather, especially in the spring, summer and fall when you never know what the mountains will throw at you. Winter is a bit more predictable, unless you count those chinooks (or as Leo would call it, global warming).

No matter the season, these are the layers I always wear/carry with me:

  • Tank top/t-shirt
  • Long sleeve
  • Fleece
  • Wind jacket
  • Rain jacket
  • Buff/toque/earband
  • Mittens/gloves

It may seem ridiculous to carry a toque and mittens in the summer, but believe me, the mountains are don’t care that it’s supposed to be summer. These items are so light to carry it would be an instant regret not to have them when bad weather blows in.

All of the upper body layers I carry are usually of the dry-fit sort. They keep you warm, wick sweat away and are quick drying. They are all light weight and easy to throw in a backpack without weighing it down (that’s what water is for).

In terms of lower body layers, I look at the forecast for the morning and use my judgment to decide what to wear—shorts, crops or pants. You can never go wrong if you wear zip-offs.

It’s never bad to start the morning in full pants as it can be quite brisk out; you can layer down into your shorts later. Depending on the activity you’re doing, sometimes pants can help you avoid nasty scratches on your legs from trees, bushes and rocks. The downside: shin sweat; absolutely the worst. And since chicks dig scars you might as well avoid the sweaty shins and just wear the shorts.

Keep a change of clothes in your car for afterward in case you are wet (due to rain or excessive sweating). Trust me, it can make the drive home far more comfortable, warm and dry. A pair of sandals can also be a relief from hiking boots.

In summary, think of yourself as an onion. Bring layers so you can layer up or down. Always expect the unexpected.