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How to Layer for Summer Backpacking


Dressing for adventure is all about the layers, and the warm summer months are no exception. Even hot summer days can turn into chilly summer nights; weather in the desert can be unpredictable; and temperatures into the mountains are prone to fluctuation. That’s why when you’re packing for a summer backpacking trip, it’s important to have all the right layers so you’re prepared for any situation. The number of options out there can overwhelm even the most seasoned of backpackers. And though the best options for you depend on a wide range of factors—including comfort, weight, climate, and cost—there are a couple of key factors everyone should keep in mind. So, here’s how to layer for summer backpacking:

Base Layer

Let’s start with the base layer. This layer is all about moisture-management. Chances are, you’ve heard the term moisture-wicking before. Well, we’re about to let you in on a little secret. Wicking moisture is actually not the key to staying dry and keeping warm; effective evaporation is the key. Rather than a fabric that merely pulls moisture away from your skin, you want a layer that allows moisture to effectively evaporate around it. This will allow you to stay cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather—perfect for transitioning from warm summer days to cool summer nights.


All-Paca as a Base Layer: Alpaca doesn’t absorb much moisture— but it does allow moisture to effectively evaporate around it. This makes the fabric an ideal base layer for backpacking. And because alpaca resists the growth of bacteria that cause odors, it won’t get that usual ‘hiker stink’ you find in most well-loved based layers.


Mid Layer

Alright, now that we’ve got the base layer down, let’s move on to the mid layer. This layer is all about temperature regulation through insulation. Mid layers are crucial to retaining body heat, even in the summer. Perhaps the most popular options are: a puffy jacket, a fleece top (check out what Backpacker just said about the environmental downsides of synthetic fleece), or a natural alternative. For summer backpacking, look for a garment that is lightweight and compresses down easily. And make sure your mid layer slips easily over your base layer and fits comfortably under your shell layer...


All-Paca as a Mid Layer: Want to know one of our favorite things about alpaca? Alpaca has the ability to insulate even when it’s wet. This makes the fabric an ideal mid layer for backpacking. Plus, alpaca only absorbs 11% of its weight in moisture. When it’s soaking wet, you can wring it out by hand to the point that it almost feels dry. By comparison, merino wool absorbs 30% of its weight in moisture.

Shell Layer

Time to finish it off with the all-important shell layer. This layer is all about protection: from the wind, rain, snow, you name it. Though it’s no secret that we love natural fibers here at App Gear Co, there’s a time and a place for high-performance synthetic fibers. The shell layer is that time and place. Waterproof shells offer the most protection, but less breathability. However, if you’re on a budget, water-resistant shells offer less protection, but more breathability...and a lower price tag. No matter which way you go, look for a jacket with pockets for convenience and an adjustable hood for greater visibility. 

Don’t Forget

Now that you’ve got the basic layers down, don’t forget your accessories. Hiking socks with plenty of cushioning are crucial for keeping your feet comfortable after many miles. Consider layering a pair of thin liners under a pair of thicker socks to help prevent pesky blisters. A billed cap or wide-brimmed hat are crucial for protecting yourself from the sun, especially in the desert. And a bandana, buff, or gaiter have many uses: from sun protection to added warmth to hair control.


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