What to wear?
Figuring out what weather will be like in the Sierra Nevada is neither an art nor a science. It's more like looking into a crystal ball and making your best guess. In order to make the task of figuring out what to wear on your adventure out there we have compiled some helpful tips.
Layering is Key
If you have spent anytime in the outdoors you can agree that the tried and true way to enjoy the most out of your experience is to layer your clothing. Layering is the practice by which we put on multiple layers of clothing to maximize personal comfort.
There are three basic layers. In order to make it simple we will go from the outside in. This means we will start with the outerwear ( sometimes referred to as a shell). Then we will go down to the insulation layer. Finally, we will discuss the base layer.
The easiest way to imagine this is a little bit like a house. On the outside you have your outerwear (walls and roof). This keeps the brunt of the weather outside and the creatures/stuff inside free from the harsh elements.
Next you have the insulation. This keeps your house warm, but is sort of worthless without the outside layer stopping the brunt of the weather. This is effectively the middle layer that keeps you warm.
Finally, we have the base layer. This is the stuff inside your house that makes everything comfortable. Plus, you touch this stuff regularly so you want it to be comfortable.
The goal of outerwear is to keep the elements out so the rest of your apparel can keep you comfortable. The important consideration here is whether it will be wet or dry during your stay.
If it's wet you're going to want something that is completely waterproof. Otherwise, you will be soaked for the stay and nobody wants to go to bed cold and wet. Features like sealed seams and zipper guards are important. Variability is key. So, look for something has variety built in. A good example of this would be armpit zips and draw cords on the waist and hood.
If you're pretty sure it is going to be dry you can get away with something as simple as a wind proof shell. These are usually very breathable because it's probably hot or you are going to work up a sweat. The added advantage of these types of jackets is they are also smaller and lighter that waterproof models.
During most of the summer you will likely only need a jacket to keep you comfortable during the day and night. If you are in the early (March-early June) or late (September on) you might consider looking into pants to block the colder winds.
Types of Outerwear (Shells)
Waterproof and Breathable Shells are absolutely the way to go if you can shell (see what I did there) out the money. These are the most functional and expensive of the options out there. They are especially good for wet and cool conditions in alpine environments. These shells use a laminated external membrane. Chances are you have seen the different types like Gore-Tex and eVent.
Soft Shells are all about letting your internal layers breath. This means air comes in and out allowing sweat to evaporate and the air to cool you. Generally, they are made with fabric that stretches. This stretchability is nice when you're moving around and need maneuverability. Most actually combine some sort of insulation layer so you can hope for some increased warmth.
Waterproof and light is the name of the game for non-breathable waterproof shells. These are very simple and perfect for light activity or the outside layer. These are typically made of a plastic esque material like polyurethane and nylon.
So, you've effectively protected yourself from the elements using the above mentioned outerwear (shell) layer. Now you need to keep in the heat you have, you do this by keeping air inside your layers.
Every apparel brand in the world has their special patented method or material, but it basically is broken down to natural or synthetic fibers.
Synthetic fibers are your classic fleece options. They are generally light and breathable which is perfect for camping. They also have the added benefit of keeping you warm even when they are a bit wet. Plus, they dry out a lot faster than natural fibers. The downside is unfortunately it is permeable and this means it lets the wind in to cool you down. Good thing you are layering and brought your shell layer discussed above.
Natural Fibers include those from sheep and birds. These are excellent insulators (hand crafted by mother nature). Wool and goose down are the two most common for keeping you warm. Goose down (feathers) is great for conditions where you know it will be cold. Plus goose down is really compressible which makes it ideal for packing away. Unfortunately the downside is both of these loose a lot of their value when they are wet.
This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. That is this is where the skin to clothing contact is made. The key here is get liquid (perspiration) off your skin. Getting liquid off the skin is important if you're a fan of avoiding hypothermia in the winter and overheating in the summer.
So, what you are going to need is a good moisture wicking fabric. This is not cotton, cotton retains water. So, find a merino wool, synthetic fabric, or silk.
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