Archive for March, 2016
Serious hiking requires a more thoughtful approach to clothing, including an accurate assessment of the conditions you’ll be encountering, and a thoughtful layering system that will not weigh you down. Weight is an especially important issue for hikes that extend over multiple days. You can’t bring a suitcase filled with half your wardrobe on this type of excursion – you will need to pack very lightly.
Importance of Moisture
One of the most crucial things to consider when deciding on your hiking wear is moisture. Moisture can come from outside, like rain, or from inside, usually from perspiring. Being wet all the time is no fun, and can also be very dangerous. Water on our skin traps heat, and when the water evaporates, the heat goes with it. This means that, if you are wet in windy or cold conditions, the evaporating moisture could cool you down faster than your body can expend energy to keep itself warm. It’s a recipe for shivering discomfort, and can lead to hypothermia, in extreme conditions.
To stay dry during long hikes, it’s a good idea to have, at minimum, a water-resistant outer layer, like a rain jacket. This will help keep you dry, by repelling most of the moisture that comes from the outside. Water-resistant jackets are usually also breathable, which means that, they let air pass in and out. This is a good thing, because it can help regulate your temperature if it’s warm, and can help keep you dry, by letting your perspiration evaporate efficiently. Unfortunately, breathability also means that the jacket will be less water-resistant. A waterproof garment or poncho, which is not breathable at all, can be totally waterproof, but that’s when moisture on the inside can become a problem.
If you wear a waterproof jacket or poncho, you are almost guaranteed to stay dry if it rains. If you sweat, however—and you will sweat if you are exerting yourself on a hike—that moisture will have nowhere to go. There are several problems with this. First, it’s uncomfortable. But this is the least-important problem. More importantly, if you are soaked with sweat, you could lose more heat than you need to, leading to chills. In warm conditions, the opposite problem occurs. The purpose of sweating is to cool your body down, but if the sweat can’t evaporate, the heat it contains will stay against your skin, and you could overheat. You’ll be producing more perspiration to compensate, which could lead to dehydration.
Waterproof and Breathable Layers
Some products claim to be both waterproof and breathable, but many experts argue that this claim doesn’t make sense, and that waterproof garments are, by definition, not breathable. Still, waterproof, breathable clothing is very popular among people who go hiking for long distances in wet conditions.
Another way to manage moisture from the inside is to choose base layers appropriately. A base layer is the first layer that you wear while hiking. Casual hikers on short outings might simply choose a cotton T-shirt as a base layer, but experienced hikers know better. As is the case in most sports, synthetic fibers like polyester are the best base layers for hikers. Synthetic fibers can be very lightweight, and they absorb very little moisture. A cotton shirt is very absorbent, so it traps wetness against the skin. Synthetic base layers do not have this problem, and are an important part of the equation for staying dry.
Choosing appropriate clothing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. All you need to do is ensure that you’re making the right choice, instead of the easy or uninformed one.
Let’s not mince words about it-one of the most difficult things about hiking in humidity is the sweat. I’ll admit that Texas Hill Country has lower humidity than some places I could have chosen, but by the end of the day, I was feeling very, very swampy. Do yourself a favor and bring along a towel or old T-shirt to keep yourself dry. I would also recommend that you carefully think about what type of fabric you’re wearing before you go. Not only are some fabrics, like denim, more absorbent than others, not all clothes are equally friendly to the skin when you’ve been out in the sun all day. I’ll spare you the detail, but let’s just say that I would not recommend denim. My hiking partner wore a pair of lightweight, moisture-wicking pants, and I wish I had done the same.
An issue related to perspiration is hydration. Some people think that you do not actually produce more sweat in humid climate, but the slower evaporation makes it seem like you do. This is a myth. In fact, most people do perspire more in humid climate. The reason is this – it’s true that sweat takes longer to evaporate in humidity, and evaporation is the primary reason that perspiration cools us down. When our sweat evaporates, heat goes with it, and the air can reach our damp skin to decrease our body temperature. In humid weather, the lack of evaporation means that sweating is a less efficient way of cooling off, so you produce more sweat to make up for the reduced efficiency. So what does all this mean for hydration? It’s simple – bring extra water. You’ll be sweating more, and all that moisture has to come from somewhere! Make sure you pack enough water to replenish yourself.
Since your body has a harder time cooling itself down in humid climate, take extra precautions to make sure you’ll be cool enough. Dressing lightly is one good way to stay cool, but remember that snakes, plants, and insects can be dangerous to bare skin. Wearing a hat is essential in humid climate, to keep cool, and storing water out of the sun inside a pack can help keep it cold. Most of all, check the weather in advance, and don’t plan a long hike for an exceptionally humid day.
Humidity and Altitude
It is important to distinguish between humidity and altitude, but the two are not totally unrelated. At high altitude, the air pressure is lower than it is at sea level. This means that, the air is thinner and can’t hold as much water. That’s why higher altitudes tend to be dryer, while low altitudes are more humid. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, dense but dry air is often found in deserts at low altitudes. In general, though, if you are in a climate that’s more humid than you’re used to, chances are good that the altitude is also lower than you’re used to. Hiking at low altitude is different from altitude hiking, because the denser air can deliver more oxygen to your body. This might make the hike feel easy to you, but remember not to overdo it!
With a little advance preparation, hiking in humid weather can be a wonderful experience. If you’ve thought about the unique aspects of humidity hiking ahead of time, you are sure to have a good hike.