The summer months are an exciting opportunity for avid outdoor enthusiasts and newcomers alike to experience the outdoor spaces the world has to offer. As the snow and treacherous conditions clear at altitude, and temperatures rise to a manageable level above freezing, more and more folks see the summertime as more inviting and forgiving than the rugged and cold winter months. While the conditions in the summer are more merciful than the winter, it is still important to be educated about the environment you will be exploring.
When considering how to layer clothes in the summer for your outdoor adventures, it’s important to take a number of factors into account. How long will you be gone? What are the high and low temperatures during your trip? What are the day-to-day, and overall elevation gain and loss? Do you generally run warm, or are you susceptible to getting cold easily? Are you going to be near sea level, or at altitude? What does the wind look like? Will you be dealing with wind chill? How do you layer without getting too hot? These are all essential questions to ask yourself before you load up your pack, your car, and your body with every layer in your closet.
Another aspect of how to layer your clothes in the summer that you need to think about is how you personally respond and react to layered clothing. Are you someone that For some people, the smallest wrinkle in one of their middle layers or a sock can be cause for immense discomfort during their adventure. If this is the case for you, start with a long skin-tight base layer with a simple long sleeve, or T-shirt, in the middle with an outer shell to keep yourself insulated. This will protect you from any rain or wind, and can be enough to keep you warm during the cool morning of your summer hike. This allows you to take off the outer layer, and the base skin-tight layer if the sun beats down on you and the day warms up.
A common misconception about layering clothes in the summer is that you don’t need to! You might not need quite as much super heavy clothing, but you do need to be prepared for the elements where you are adventuring. During your summer camping trips and hikes, it can get very cold at night around camp and particularly in the morning when you start your day of hiking or climbing. You need to be sure to prepare for the coldest weather, and most treacherous conditions you might encounter, while also having breathable, light layers for when the sun comes out. We will get to the right materials for layering clothes in the summer below, but it’s essential to give yourself options considering the change in temperature at elevation, and in the outdoors.
The types of material you choose for layering clothes in the summer. Make sure to take at least a light waterproof layer, just in case it rains on you. Depending on where you are adventuring, this may not be completely necessary, but it is fairly easy to wrap up and pack a light waterproof layer or poncho in case of emergency. Have this somewhere that is easily accessible, but you don’t have to wear it at all times. You will be thankful that you have this outer layer if the time and weather calls for it.
In the winter, you might need a bigger jacket with a heavier lining, or thick wool or fleece, but when layering clothes in the summer you need a few things to keep you warm in the morning and evening, but during the middle of the day you want to make sure to have breathable, light, comfortable clothes. Polyester and Nylon are two of the most common synthetic materials used in outdoor clothing. While not always breathable, there are lots of breathable, light options made out of polyester and nylon. Merino Wool is another great option as it is not as scratchy as conventional wool and will keep you warm even if it gets wet. This makes it a phenomenal choice in the winter, but it’s inherently breathable and moisture-wicking to allow for an odor-free experience.
Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia were known for pioneering the use of appropriate materials in the outdoors. Before Patagonia started educating climbers about the benefits of performance materials the common practice was to hike and climb in cotton. Patagonia has an in-depth material guide on their website if you want to learn more. It's all Patagonia specific and there's a little bit of self-promotion mixed in, but otherwise, it's a really great guide for clothing materials.
Flexibility is the most important thing about learning how to layer clothes in the summer. It’s really easy to prepare for only one type of weather, or the ideal setting and leave things at home to avoid extra weight. However, it can be extremely annoying to carry around lots of heavy warm clothing to prepare for every worst-case scenario and end up hauling around loads of extra weight. Providing yourself flexibility and thinking ahead can save you tons of weight and keep you from experiencing extreme discomfort. Making sure that you have a well-rounded set of clothes packed will make sure that you are prepared for all weather while keeping your pack light.
Let’s talk about boots and footwear. Depending on the severity of the terrain, you might be fine in sneakers or running shoes. If you want to learn more about the benefits of trail runners vs hiking boots, we have you covered. Liner socks can be really helpful to make your
boots a little bit more snug around your feet. However, often when people are fit for hiking boots, the particular type and layers of socks can be important for a tight fit inside the boot. If this is the case for you, be sure to go out on some shorter day hikes and test the combination of socks during a warm day.
If your feet overheat it will be important to let your feet air out, but the consequence of not wearing the proper sock combination with hiking boots can be much more uncomfortable. If your feet start to blister early in your trip, it will drastically change your experience. If you test it out on some day hikes and it is all good, you might be in luck! But make sure to bring along your first aid kit to treat blisters just in case.
Learning how to layer clothes in the summer can be tough, but if you balance properly with light and breathable layers with some outer, waterproof layers in case of inclement weather that is a good start! Take the time to check the high and low temperatures that you may encounter, and make sure to keep your layers wrinkle free for maximum comfort. Don’t be afraid while you’re out to take a layer or two off if you get too hot, but keep them easily accessible at the top of your pack in case it gets chilly! If you want to learn more before hitting the trails you can get more in depth information about layering in our article about How to Layer Outdoor Clothing for Comfort in Any Conditions