Fall is a favorite time of year for many people, as you still get the warmth from sunny days but not scorching hot temperatures. And even though it might get chilly at times, fall is perfect for doing outdoor activities like walking, running, or hiking. But the key to staying comfortable during fall, especially when the weather changes at the drop of a hat, is to dress properly. That means dressing in layers, as it lets you regulate your inner thermostat by taking off a layer when you’re too warm and putting on layers if you’re too cold. But it isn’t as simple as that. You have to carry everything you wear, after all, and you don’t want to weigh down your backpack. We’re here to help. Here are our tips for layering clothes for a fall hike.
Layering clothing isn’t just about adding and removing layers to regulate your temperature. Each layer has a function. Knowing what those functions are will help you dress and pack for your hike appropriately. Here’s a quick summary:
Regardless of what the weather looks like when you head out the door, a strong breeze or brief shower could surprise you during fall, so it’s a good idea to make sure you have all three layers with you.
The base layer is all about managing moisture. Since it is the first layer on top of the skin, this is important, as wet skin in cold conditions could not only cause you to be cold and uncomfortable but even cause hypothermia in extreme conditions. Typically, your fall-hike base layer will be men’s or women’s long underwear. As for materials to look for in a base layer, there are many options, whether synthetic or natural. In the end, it tends to be more about how you like the feel of the fabric against your skin. Nylon and polyester may have added odor-preventing benefits, while wool will wick moisture away naturally. There’s always cotton as well, which can be added to both synthetic and natural materials for optimal comfort.
The middle layer’s job is to insulate. This layer will help you keep the heat that your body creates trapped against the base layer to keep you warm. You may not need anything over your long underwear besides synthetic pants, but you’ll definitely want something like a fleece jacket or a flannel shirt for the middle layer, depending on the temperatures forecasted for the day. As for materials, again, there are lots of options. Fleece is great because it’s available in different weights and dries quickly if it gets wet. It’s also very breathable, which is nice for preventing overheating. However, because it is breathable, it doesn’t keep the chill from the wind away, which is why you’ll want an outer shell as well.
The answer to this question depends on whether it is raining or snowing. If it is raining or snowing, your jacket will be considered your middle layer. If it isn’t raining or snowing, your jacket will most likely be your outer layer. Let’s say you plan on wearing an outer shell because there is rain, snow, or wind in the forecast. Other than a fleece vest or jacket as your middle-layer jacket, you can choose from down or synthetic insulated jackets.
A down-insulated jacket is great for packability. However, it loses its insulating abilities when damp, so you’ll definitely need a shell. A synthetic insulated jacket, in contrast, doesn’t require an additional shell because it’s water- and wind-resistant. However, it tends to be heavier and bulkier to carry.
Let’s talk more about the outer shell. As we mentioned, this is the layer that protects you from wind, snow, and rain, unless you have a synthetic jacket and don’t need a shell. On a typical sunny fall day with a slight chance of showers and a strong breeze, you’ll probably want to go with a fleece middle layer and a waterproof windbreaker as your shell. And while breathability is ideal, remember that the more breathable it is, the less protection you’ll have from wind, rain, and snow. Don’t forget a winter hat, too, so you can keep your head warm and dry.
Another thing you have to consider when dressing for your fall hike is how active the hike will require you to be. If it’s mostly flat land and you’re just going for a casual hike to enjoy the day, you’ll want to dress warmer than if you were hiking up a mountain exerting yourself. For a moderately active hike that is mostly flat but has a few hills to climb, it’s a good idea to dress in lightweight polyester as the base layer, with a lightweight fleece jacket and a breathable outer shell in case it rains. As for the paints, something synthetic is ideal.
Ultimately, you know the weather conditions and your activity level better than anyone, so you probably have some idea of what to wear for your fall hike. Regardless, these layering tips should help you as you plan for your fall hikes.