THE ONION STRATEGY
Think like an onion. Think layers. Whenever and wherever you travel this is good strategy but it’s especially important for active travel, where ups and downs and changeable weather make layering really important.
The key to comfort and efficiency is leaving the heavy jacket at home. Unless it’s really cold, with that jacket going up you’ll probably poach in your own (ahem) juice, and get your only outerwear sweaty — that or maybe freeze without any outerwear at all. At the top of the hill or if the weather changes you won’t be able to add anything else if you’re chilly. And if it’s windy or rainy, your problem is even bigger.
So think layers. A light layer next to the skin (maybe technical textile, see below), a somewhat heavier layer next and on top of that a light-to-midweight jacket or sweater; if it’s really cold you might want to add another middle layer or light long underwear under your pants. If you want to go the whole route, a vest (waistcoat in the UK!) is a wonderful layering piece and you can top it all off with a rain-wind jacket. This strategy works for summer as well as winter, just vary the weight of the layers.
The possible combinations are obvious, fewer and lighter layers going up the hills or in the sun, more layers going down hill or on the shady side of the mountain. And if it rains, you can stuff a middle or outer layer in the plastic bag in your pack with those extra socks (you did bring extra socks and at least one plastic bag, didn’t you?) so you’ll be dry after the rain is over — or after the sweating is over.
If you’re thinking of getting something for your active life or upcoming trip, you might consider the technical textiles. These textiles are no longer “new” but are still being researched and perfected; each manufacturer has its own brand name and claims. For “waterproof, breathable” outerwear like jackets and boots, GoreTex was the first — now there are many more. The jackets are pricey but if you do a lot of outdoors activities and like casual clothes for everyday they are well worth the price. For shirts, T-shirts, socks, pants and other clothes there are other textiles that aren’t waterproof but are fastdrying. Most really do what they claim and are great for stop-and-go sports, drying quickly after the big hills, after rain or after overnight washing on multi-day trips. If you’re not sure about these textiles but are willing to try, get a T shirt. Even though the manmade textiles aren’t as cool as traditional cotton, they don’t get as soggy as cotton does, reducing the rest stop shivers from drying sweat. (On the negative side, some of them really retain body odor, making a definite statement after the hike is over!) And who hasn’t tried polar fleece, another fast-drying friend for the active traveller, great for light shirts, vests and light to midweight jackets….
For urban situations, extrapolate these ideas. If you pack clothes that can be layered, you can layer when it’s cold, or wear things separately if it is warmer. This gives you more outfit options, as long as you think a little about what looks nice (or even ok) together: for example, it may be best to not pack too many prints as they are harder to mix than solid colors, and maybe think about colors that go together (blue is a good friend for travelers).
So for your next trip, think like …. an onion.