Intro

We've come a long way since the bad old days when tramping clothing was heavy, pretty much all the same and struggled in marginal conditions.

These days garments are highly technical, work brilliantly and are umbelievably light.

Plus there's a bewildering array of options to choose from.

Of course, some will empty your wallet big time, specially the more technical pieces.

So what should you wear and be carrying on a multiday tramp?

We've put together a few ideas and opinions to help you answer that question - click on the tabs at the top of the page.

Clothing Layering

A comprehensive list of what one experienced multiday tramper wears and carries in his pack - layer by layer.

Start here, it's invaluable reading. You're bound to get some great clothing ideas and this big takeaway: Don't believe all manufacturers' claims for water repellency or durability.

Advice about rain jackets

Essential info on choosing a rain jacket.

- The truth about waterproof breathable materials and the importance of ventilation

- The 3 big mistakes to avoid in buying a rain jacket

The humble windshirt: a hugely underated garment

Unckle Wacko reckons a windshirt is the single most useful piece of clothing a tramper can have,

That's one very big claim!

Find out what possesses him to say that, and if you think it's the way to go for you.

Hint: they're amazing versatile, and unbelievably light!

The wonders of Polartec

The garment every tramper should own - more Wacko wisdom to ponder.


And be sure to check out the clothing in our multiday tramping gear list.


Layering for Muti-Day Trips

by Andrew Murdoch

Base Layer

I go for briefs and a short-sleeved 150-weight merino T. 

Why? Wool resists odour far more than the polyester or polypropylene alternatives (manufacturers’ promises of durable anti-bacterial treatments on synthetics are lies IMO). 

150-weight merino wicks moisture (the role of a base layer) and dries quickly. Heavier 200-weight merino takes much longer to dry. 

Modern polyesters are superior at wicking moisture (don’t absorb moisture, unlike wool which absorbs 30% of its weight) so if odour isn’t an issue for you, or if your trip is short, go synthetic by all means.

Second Layer

In Summer, nylon shorts and wind shirt. In my case, Cordura nylon cargos with pockets for map, phone/GPS, snacks and Marmot Driclime vest or jacket. 

Why? Nylon is durable and quick-drying. Marmot Driclime garments are windproof, great at wicking moisture, lightweight and lightly insulating. Breathability and wind protection can be hard to find in the same garment. Breathability is key.

In Winter, above the snowline, Marmot Scree softshell pants and Outdoor Research Ferosi softshell jacket. 

Why? Both of these garments are as light and breathable as softshells get, consisting mostly of nylon with a small amount of elastane. They offer more warmth and toughness than the Summer combination with the joint benefits of breathability and wind protection. Again, breathability is key.

In general, though, softshells are of very limited use in the NZ outdoors, certainly for longer trips. 

Most softshells have additional insulation to the above models which makes them not very (or not at all) breathable. 

Manufacturers’ promises of Durable Water Repellency are lies IMO, the face fabrics always wet out under heavy rain. 

The softshell concept is designed for cold dry climates, we have a wet one.

Insulation Layer 1 (active)

A long-sleeve light weight thermal synthetic top (often used) and three quarter length bottoms (so they can be pulled over boots, seldom used). 

Why? Generally sufficient warmth whilst on the move with a pack on your back, lightweight, breathable. Stops the cold clammy feeling of a wet hard shell on bare skin if it’s raining.

Insulation Layer 2 (active)

A light weight breathable polyester fleece (eg 100 weight polartec, grid fleece, polartec alpha), breathable and quick drying. Optional layer but I generally carry it. Check out this Polartec top

Insulation Layer 3

Also optional, depending on time of year etc, but generally carried. Synthetic puffer jacket, in my case Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody. 

Why? Warmth when stationary: 

as a layer for cool evenings around camp

as part of a sleep system allowing a lighter sleeping bag to be carried

as a Sh#t Hits the Fan layer when someone in the group breaks an ankle on the tops in a gale... 

Personally I prefer synthetic over down because it still offers some insulation when damp/wet and can be used as active insulation if things are really bleak.

Down fails when wet (manufacturers’ promises about modern ‘dry’ treatments to down making it impervious to moisture are lies IMO), and if worn under a shell for any length of time it will get damp through condensation. 

If buying synthetic, look out for garments containing modern Continuous Filament Insulation (eg PlumaFill, Coreloft Continuous, Climashield Apex) which have better durability and performance when wet than traditional Short Staple Insulation (eg Primaloft Gold).

Hard Shell Layer

Light weight OR Foray gortex pack-light jacket, Marmot Precip full lenth zip overtrousers (they go on without having to take your boots off). 

Why? Outdoor Research jackets often have ‘torsoflo’ side zips which can effectively turn a jacket into a poncho. This means much better venting than pit zips, and it is venting rather than a jacket’s ‘breathability’ which determines condensation levels and therefore comfort. 

Manufacturers’ claims about the long-term breathability of their traditional hard shell garments are lies IMO. The breathable laminates clog up with dirt and body oils fairly quickly after first use and while it is worthwhile cleaning your jacket with specialist non-detergent cleaners, those pores never come up like new. 

Likewise the ‘durable’ water repellence of a jacket’s face fabric wears off pretty quickly and while it’s worth retreating with something like Nikwax, it will still wet out which destroys breathability. 


Rain Jackets

These two articles first appeared in the Uncle Wacko’s Gear Corner column of Wanderlust, our ATC Club magazine, in November and December 2019 respectively.Uncle Wacko

They are repeated here as a potential tramping gear resource for NZ conditions.

Warning: Uncle Wacko has strong views and may challenge tramping assumptions and sensibilities!

Quick link to 2nd article: The 3 biggest mistakes when buying a rain jacket

A bit about rain jackets

Here’s a couple of things you need to know about buying a rain jacket.

‘Waterproof breathable materials' is an oxymoron

If you’re scratching your head over that one, let’s just say it’s bollocks. A contradiction in terms. Like an easy 1000m climb, a gentle gale force wind, a harmless avalanche.

Sure, waterproof materials can be a bit breathable, and breathable materials might keep out a bit of moisture. But if you want something to be waterproof, don’t expect it to breathe much. And if something breathes well, it’s not going to keep a decent downpour out.how waterproof breathable materials work

The idea you can have a jacket that somehow keeps all the rain out and at the same time miraculously ships all your pent-up body heat to the outside is a massive con by the garment manufacturing industry. Don’t believe a word of it.

Sure, they might manage it in ideal conditions – just the right temperature, minimal exertion, easy terrain. A gentle winter stroll on a beach in your flashy Kathmandu urban wear, maybe.

But as soon as you chuck a pack on your back, get a sniff of a hill, up the pace, or start flailing about on a gnarly bush track, she’s a different story.

In practice the exertion of normal tramping will quickly overwhelm the breathability of a waterproof jacket.

A rain jacket isn't just about keeping rain out 

If you think it is, big mistake!

Uncle Wacko’s mum used to say horses sweat, men perspire and women glow. Yeah right! Trampers are all horses, then. 

Trampers sweat. Some not so much, others buckets. For us, managing sweat is a big deal.

Why?

Moisture isn’t the problem. Skin is waterproof, after all. We don’t bloat up like a puffer fish and start blobbing down the track when we get wet.

No, the tramper’s enemy is cold - that’s where we can get into strife. 

Which means you need to think of your rain jacket as part of your system for not getting cold. And a sure fire way of getting cold is to retain moisture next to your skin in cold weather.

There are two aspects to avoiding that. Firstly not letting water in from the outside – so waterproof rainwear.

Secondly, moving sweat away from your body to the outside. That means using wicking base and mid layers to draw your sweat to the outer surface of those layers.  

But it ain’t much use if your rain jacket then traps all that moisture inside the jacket. As you continue to sweat you’ll just get wetter and colder. Nek minnit you’ll be hypothermic, which won’t make your mum very happy.

So you don’t want your jacket acting like an iron lung or Fort Knox. 

You need ventilation, and plenty of it. Uncle Wacko wouldn’t even consider buying a rain jacket without pit zips – ever! And he’s constantly amazed that otherwise good gear manufacturers keep churning out jackets without them (we’re looking at you Macpac – what are you trying to do, become a Kathmandu clone fashionista supplier!?)pit zips in rain jacket

You also want storm flaps over front and pocket zips. They’ll let you unzip for extra ventilation without letting the rain in. 

Pit zips and storm flaps do add a bit of weight. But the extra control they give over your body temperature in the rain is way more important than a few extra grams.

And a final thing – don’t buy a jacket with a liner. Not unless you’re heading into genuinely cold temperatures. A liner just reduces the already minimal breathability of your jacket and makes you warmer and so sweat more. Use layers if you need more insulation.

So you want a 2.5 layer jacket, not 3 layer.

That’ll do for now. Next month, more pointers on buying a rain jacket that’ll do you proud in the back country.

Spot ya.

Uncle Wacko


 

The 3 biggest mistakes (mug) trampers make when buying a rain jacket

1. It's not actually (fully) waterproof

Driving rain will always get through a suspect jacket’s defences. You only need one small weakness, and she’s all over, rover – you’ll be soaked.

The problem is not all jackets touted as waterproof actually are. Here are the main problem areas.

Zips

Zips have to be laminated to be waterproof, but the coating wears off over time. So not having storm flaps is pretty daft – it’s just a matter of time before your jacket leaks.rain jacket without flap over main zip

But manufacturers often omit storm flaps to save weight. Some will even freely acknowledge the zips aren’t waterproof on their “fully waterproof” (but no storm flaps) jackets (Macpac!). Well what bloody use is that then!

Uncle Wacko reckons you’d be mad to fork out for a rain jacket without storm flaps over all zips - front and pockets. Besides, storm flaps give more venting options – a rather major consideration for any energetic (sweaty) tramper. 

Seams

Seams join sections of fabric together, so have zillions of tiny needle holes that water will surge through if not sealed. So you’d kinda want all seams sealed, right? 

BUT … some jackets are only seam-sealed at hood and shoulders, which manufacturers charmingly call “critical seam sealing”. It’s critical all right - you’ll end up soaked!

Check inside the jacket - you’ll see if it’s tape sealed. The tape is glued or heat-bonded over the seam so won’t peel off, and is a very effective seal.

But seams can also be welded and that’s not so easy to see. You’ll need to check the manufacturer’s description.

Hood

A loose-fitting hood will let water in, or worse a decent blow will whip it off your face and water will cascade down your torso. Nice!

You need a rear volume adjustment plus side cord adjusters to get a snug, secure fit around your noggin. Test the fit before buying.

And test that the hood really is waterproof! Uncle Wacko’s missus once bought a reputable brand jacket whose hood seams leaked like a sieve. You’d want to know about that before you’re out in the hills in a storm. 

Test for waterproofness at home, first!

Hose your jacket down vigorously or string it up and fill it with water.

Make sure nothin’ gets through. Take a real close look at hood, sleeve seams and zips.

2. It's too warm

Trampers overheat in rain jackets, many of us big time. So you don’t want a jacket with a liner – unless you’re going into very cold temperatures. Use more layers if you need more warmth.

And you need effective venting options. That means pit zips, a full front zip and zipped pockets, all with storm flaps.

Now the best venting jacket Uncle Wacko’s ever had is a Paramo (English brand) with upper arm zips instead of pit (under arm) zips. They’re amazingly effective and way better than standard pit zips. Sleeve ventilation zips on rain jacket

It’s a mystery why other manufacturers haven’t followed suit. Maybe they’ll catch on one day ... 

3. Crappy hood

Your hood has to stay tight and snug in a howling gale. So effective rear and facial adjusters are a must.

But watch those facial cords – make sure you can get ‘em out of the way. Having them whip about in a blow and slice up your face ain’t much fun.

You’ll also want a peak to keep water out of your eyes – apparently it’s helpful being able to see where you’re going when tramping.

Having a decent hood is crucial for your tramping comfort. Check the fit works for you in the shop before parting with your dosh.

We could add a 4th mistake:

Crappy construction 

Uncle Wacko was on an ATC tramp once where a bit of a blow on the tops ripped the sleeve seam apart on some lightweight invention one of the party was wearing.

Best to stick with tried and trusted brands, eh.

That’ll do you for now. Spot ya.

Uncle Wacko

The Amazingly Versatile Windshirt

This article first appeared in the Uncle Wacko’s Gear Corner column of Wanderlust, our ATC Club magazine, in November 2020.Uncle Wacko

It is repeated here as a potential tramping gear resource for NZ conditions.

Warning: Uncle Wacko has strong views and may challenge tramping assumptions and sensibilities!

What is it about windshirts?!

Any tramper worth their salt knows a windshirt is the single most useful piece of clothing they can have

So why the hell don’t more of youz wear them?! 

Uncle Wacko can only conclude nobody has yet enlightened you as to how brilliantly practical they are. So let’s set about filling that particular gap in your knowledge shall we?

First, what is a windshirt? They’re a freakishly light, super breathable nylon jacket with no liner.

Windshirt 1No wonder she’s smiling – she’s wearing a windshirt!

And here’s what windshirts aren’t:

  • they’re not waterproof. They’ll handle clag and a bit of drizzle but won’t keep out prolonged drizzle or rain.
  • they’re not an insulating layer to add warmth like a fleece.

So what the hell are they good for then?

Glad you asked. It’s simple really: 

They’re the simplest and most effective piece of kit for adjusting your temperature as your exertion levels and weather conditions change.

In other words, they’ll keep you more comfortable across a much wider range of tramping conditions than other clothing combinations.

That’s because they do two things superbly well:

1. breathe – so let excess heat out

2. block the wind – so stop the cold from coming in

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • it’s too cold for just a base layer but you get too hot with a fleece. So the fleece keeps coming on and off, and you’re often just a bit too cool or a bit too warm. A windshirt will delay that overheating, and may just keep you comfortable the whole time.
  • you sweat uphill then chill on the downhill. A cinched up windshirt will get your temperature back where you want it and your sweat dried out way quicker than a fleece or rain jacket.
  • there’s light rain about but you’ll overheat in your rain jacket. A windshirt is perfect here.

Often you can continue wearing a windshirt, just adjusting for warmth or ventilation, where others will be regularly layering and delayering.

And hey, if it’s too cold, just chuck a fleece or puffy over the top.

Windshirt 2Windshirts are ideal for changing exertion levels in cooler conditions

Windshirts also have these other advantages:

  • they dry quicker than a fleece or rain jacket
  • they’re super light and packable
  • they’re relatively inexpensive
  • they can replace a backup fleece (so help reduce pack weight)
  • you’ll wear your rain jacket less, helping preserve its water repellent surface

Windshirt 3Super light and packable!

Now because Uncle Wacko is always fastidiously fair and balanced, he’ll also list all their disadvantages:

  • errr ... none we can think of

 

What to Buy

You’ve got a truckload of options, ranging from the basic, super light with minimal features, through to fully featured masterpieces. 

Weights go from under 50 to about 140 grams - told you they were light! 

And prices range from under a hundred to a couple of hundred dollars.

Uncle Wacko recommends splashing out on one with a full length zip, adjustable hood, and cuff and hem adjustments. The extra ventilation and cinching options means they’ll work like a dream across a wide range of conditions.

Major brands known for good windshirts include MontBell, Montane, Patagonia, RAB and Arcteryx. See what you can find and pick what suits.

So, we’ll be seeing youz all sporting one soon, then. Spot ya.

Uncle Wacko

 

The Garment every Tramper should own

This article first appeared in the Uncle Wacko’s Gear Corner column of Wanderlust, our ATC Club magazine, in October 2020.Uncle Wacko

It is repeated here as a potential tramping gear resource for NZ conditions.

Warning: Uncle Wacko has strong views and may challenge tramping assumptions and sensibilities!


Polartec top 1It’s fair to say a certain individual copped a bit of flak for wearing one of these on a recent ATC trip:

- "Did your nana crochet that for you?"

- "Who cut off the ears?"

And various other snide remarks about pixies and elves.

Which just goes to show what cheeky buggers trampers are.

And also how grossly ill-informed those cheeky buggers were.

After all, the Macpac Nitro Polartec Alpha Pullover (what a friggin name!) is simply the best warmth for weight ratio garment Uncle Wacko reckons you’ll ever get – unbelievably warm for a ridiculously low weight.

Which you might not initially expect given it’s full of holes. But the lofted fibres on a mesh base do an amazing job of trapping warmth.

This little beauty has other advantages too:

·      it’s super breathable (pretty obvious given the holes) so does a brilliant job moving excess heat away from your body

·      it’s warm when wet (it’s 100% synthetic)

·      it’s super fast drying

·      it’s highly compressible

And of course it’s unbelievably light – just 140 grams.

Wear it over your base layer on the move, or for warmth in camp. Combine with a windshirt if it’s extra cool or a light rain jacket when it’s wet.

Polartec top 2  Polartec top 3

So sharpen up your jokes – you’ll be seeing a lot more of these around. And do try to be original this time …

 Spot ya.

Uncle Wacko