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Backpacking Gear for Beginners: Midlayers

This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.

Why do you need middle layers? 

On top of your base layers you’ll have midlayers, often called insulation layers. This is where you can set your temperature, keep warm, and continue wicking moisture.

Middle layers can be a thin merino shirt, a thicker fleece, a large puffy jacket, or any combination of these. If it’s warm enough you might just be wearing base layers, or a base layer with a shell on top. The benefit of using a combination of a few smaller layers is you can mix and match to deal with cold, cold/wet or warm/wet conditions.

Plan for 3 different temperatures on your trip: daytime resting, daytime moving and camp at night. Daytime resting will be cooler times early in the morning and resting at breakfast and lunch. Daytime moving will be warmer, carrying your pack, moving along the trail. Night will be the coldest time with the most insulation required.

No cotton

As with base layers, cotton clothing will hold on to moisture and suck heat from your body. The only time you might want to wear cotton is when you’re trying to cool down intentionally.

Hood or not? 

Do you want a hood on your middle layers? This is entirely personal preference. Some like it, others don’t. It can be uncomfortable to wear a thin hoodie, thick hoody and shell jacket with a hood.

Test your layers

Test the layers you’ll be using close to the 3 temperatures of your trip: moving, resting and camp. Spend some time outside in the layers you’ll be wearing during the day or at night and see what it feels like. If you are going to be at a higher altitude or near the ocean, temperatures will be cooler. 

Some fabrics work better in layers. Merino can stick to other layers of merino. Test your layers at home to make sure they feel good together and you can still move when they’re stacked up.

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