Continuing The Layering System Discussion

Posted by: William Roth on 2/15/10 7:46 AM

As a companion piece to our latest episode of the NOLS podcast, Jamie O'Donnell and Lara McLuskey have agreed to answer questions we didn't have time to ask during our discussion on the NOLS layering system. Most of the following questions are from followers of the NOLS Facebook page. Join the conversation!

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What is the most versatile layer in your pack?
Jamie: I like light to medium weight wind layers like the Marmot windshirt or the Patagonia Houdini. Often it's the wind that robs us of heat and makes us feel cold even when the temperatures aren't that cold.
Lara: I love my wind-shirt! I use either a Patagonia Houdini or a GoLite Wisp.On a lightweight course, what is the first layer to be left behind?
Lara: Likely, midweight to heavier weight fleece. It's heavy and bulky, and when it gets wet, it's even heavier.

How many socks and pairs of underwear would you bring for a 30 day trip?
Jamie: I recommend 3-5 pair of socks for a summer course. One pair becomes your "sacred sleeping socks" and are never hiked in. Liner socks are optional but no more than two pair. Winter courses 5 pair of socks would be the minimum.

Graham C. from Facebook wanted to know if you should trust the company hype or test the clothes first.

Jamie: Once you understand principals of layering, common sense guides your purchases pretty well. Make sure the layer in question achieves what you need it to achieve. And remember that nothing is perfect. Nothing is the perfect balance of waterproof and breathable.

Nothing is the perfect balance of lightweight and really warm. If it seems to good to be true, then it probably is. Stick with reputable companies that have a mission and philosophy you believe in and trust,

Lauren T. from Facebook wanted to know about the cost benefits of new "lightweight" boots vs. old-school leather boot.
Jamie: it used to be to have boots supportive enough, they had to be stiff with a full steel shank. Now a days, molded plastic and nylon midsoles have replaced steel. With a much lighter and more flexible midsole, we can still have boots and shoes that protect our feet.

Leather is still a great material. When "greased" up it helps keep out water. G-tex does a nice job keeping boots waterproof for a while, but eventually it breakdown and the water starts to seep in. So, yes, today we can wear lighter boots that are still supportive and save our legs and feet some pain and fatigue. Remember that from a sustainability perspective. An old school leather boot may last much longer than a lighter weight boot or shoe that we "push" in difficult terrain.

Andria D from Facebook wanted to know the best bra option for women backpackers, spandex vs. polyester blends.
Lara: This is a personal preference. If you can, it is best to try a few bras with different synthetic blends while exercising and creating a good amount of perspiration. That way you can tell how well it breathes and if it causes any chafing or uncomfortable pressure points. My personal preference is the Patagonia Active Mesh Bra, which is 95% nylon mesh and 5% spandex - super comfortable, breathable and supportive.

Andria D from Facebook wanted to know are liner socks necessary?
Jamie: Liner socks are personal preference. Some people swear by them. Others hate them. Some say they help when it's really wet, and others say they help when it's really dry. Try them out and make your own decision. I don't wear them. I put that money toward well made merino wool socks

Lara: I agree! Each set of feet are unique and have different needs. Some people need an extra layer to diffuse friction as they tend to get blisters more often, while others want only one layer between their skin and the boot. Remember, the fit of your boot or shoe is very important!

William has worked in the past as the web content administrator, social media coordinator, and a data logistics assistant for NOLS.