Here, I will cover the wilderness clothing based on my experience. From head to toes. I am going to talk about hats, sunglasses and balaclavas, shirts, underwear, pants, socks and shoes.
All activities in the outdoors require specialized clothing, which should work for 99 per cent of the situations you might encounter, meaning temperatures, weather elements, and year seasons. In this article, I will focus on the spring/summer/ mild winter -5 Celsius, and what I am wearing in Iceland. What worked for me in my 3,5 mountaineering trip in the Alps and Pyrenees.
In Iceland, people have to learn to layer up appropriately. A 3-layer structure is a way to go: base layer-next to your skin, adjustable insulating layers, and an outer shell to protect you from water and wind.
If you learn what to wear and how to combine it, you will survive 95 per cent of the situations. Apparently :
“There´s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”
The weather here changes every five minutes, and we can have all four year seasons in one day. Furthermore, we have a lot of these nasty temperatures slightly above 0 Celcius (32 Fahrenheit), rain and wind. These are the most dangerous for getting into troubles and hypothermia. And for your consolation, we do sometimes have Summer temperatures, a few times but we do 😅 .
I´m constantly trying to improve my garment and to find the best layering for each of the activities I am performing. It always varies a bit accordingly to the temperatures and weather elements. I am always trying to apply the same principle and if it ´s cold I would go for 4 layers including good puffy jacket, three as an average. I always think of my upper and lower body to determine the layering.
HEADGEAR: Sunburns, Glare, Overheating, Excessive sweating
All this we can minimize by wearing an appropriate hat. There are many on the market, like BOONEY hat ( You will get a nice Indiana Jones´look), but these will be practical for long backpacking hours.
Otherwise, You want your outdoor hats/caps transpirable, light, easy to fold and dry and comfortable to put under a helmet. It will depend on where you are and what you are doing. I find caps for runners very practical. Think about it and choose the right one and wear it during sunny days.
In the winter you will wear your Beanie hat, I have one that I love from Smart Wool. It´s light, warm and fits perfectly under a helmet. It´s also long, so it covers my ears without rolling up.
SUNGLASSES: Snow blindness, Glare, Eyes discomfort, Eyes damage I will avoid with a good pair of Sunglasses.
The price difference is enormous if it comes to the right glasses. Don’t go with the 5 dollars gas station glasses though ( I have a lot of people doing that). Invest in your eyes; they will serve you for long!
I have Julbo Reactive High Mountain 2-4 (Cameleon), amazing glasses for walking on a glacier or snow, and for most of the activities. These are Photochromic (NTS) + Polarizing + Anti-fog Coating. They have photochromic transitional lens technology and adjusts to the prevailing light conditions, it is a very amazing feature.
Choose glasses accordingly to what you need, for runners you want something that avoids the glasses from sliding when you’re sweating, also you want to have the fog up protection, for glaciers with good protection index. Don’t spare money on good glasses. What you could do is to have two pairs and use the cheaper ones for one-day hikes and leave the expensive ones for something more serious.
BALACLAVA, these things are awesome, breathable, comfortable and fast-drying you can get. It keeps your head fresh, covers your nose and mouth from dust and pollen, protects from wind, and you can use it as an improvised filter for your drinking water.
There are many on the market. I like to use the Balaclava Columbia (unisex Solar shield). You can use the balaclava in the Summer and Winter. For cross country skiing or skinning or winter mountaineering, I will be using a face mask. The best I found for me it´s not from Harley Davidson! I love it. It´s easy to breath when moving as the openings are just perfect for the nose & mouth.
For very cold days, I might wear an integral balaclava but it has to consist of two parts sewn together, head and neck to ensure mobility.
GLOVES- I wear thin five finger synthetic gloves and mittens from Rei. This set up turned up amazingly practical even in cold weather. For hiking, cross country skiing or skinning, while I am on the go and sweating. Thick gloves, always necessary. I like Saleva, they are warm with good dexterity necessary for rope management, carabiner use and more. Going on multiday trips, especially in Iceland, where I know it will be raining, I will bring my woollen mittens and a shell. Wool keeps you warm even when wet. In more extreme temperatures I will use big, thick, down mittens on top of some other five-finger gloves.
SHIRTS– As a first layer, I want them very close to the skin. I tried many of them and for me, smart wool short sleeves and long sleeves are the best choices. There are very breathable, don’t itch and don’t smell (essential on multiday treks 😅). Once again, there are many brands out there, and I am using Bergans. The shirts have lasted me for three years of heavy use. Also, I am using synthetic one from Decathlon which resulted surprisingly practical, in theory, is for skiing, but I found it great for almost everything else in the wintertime.
All of it I want it tight and close to the skin, to absorb the sweat. In the summertime, on the other hand, I will use much lighter shirts from (marmot).
UNDERWEAR & BRA– it might be a tiny little piece of garment but extremely crucial for us women. Should be breathable and stretchable. Don’t use cotton underwear on long treks. I like silk or synthetic fabric, and during cold days, I wear merino wool boxers from Bergans. Merino wool mixed with polyester works very well too. A sports bra can work just fine. For long underwear, I use Bergan’s merino long johns and warmer ones from 66°North.
As a SECOND LAYER, I will be using Marmot softshell or very thin Mammut softshell. Also, one of the best hoodies I have ever used is the Mammut EigerExtreme collection. To decide which of the layers I will wear will significantly depend on the activity I am doing and a season of the year. Third and fourth layers the same.
So to wrap it up, I will play a lot with my arsenal of outdoor clothing, and wear different setups. In the wintertime and high mountains, I tend to have my big puffy jacket always in the backpack.
- Base layer: Short, long sleeve smart wool shirt/ synthetic shirts in the summer.
- Second layer: Fleece jacket or softshell jacket (thin &thicker).
- Third layer: Softshell jacket or Small puffy jacket or Goretex jacket or Big Puffy Jacket.
- Fourth Layer: Softshell jacket or Goretex jacket or Big Puffy Jacket.
So for example, if I am going Multi-pitch climbing I will wear my woollen shirt, fleece jacket and softshell, if it´s cold I would add my small puffy jacket underneath the softshell jackets which is pretty sturdy. On the other hand, if I know I go skiing I can wear my puffy as a third layer. If I go ice climbing my Goretex will be always on top of everything, so the other layers don´t get wet. And for hiking, if it´s raining and relatively warm I will only use a base layer and Goretex.
So, as you can see the set up can vary all the time. To figure it out for yourself, go out and test your gear and systems to find the best combination. Invests in good quality clothing, and you want them LIGHT, sturdy and breathable, and of course, looking COOL! 😎 This will apply to the garments for the upper and lower body.
BELTS, myself I am not using belts too often. As I am doing a lot of activities which involve wearing a harness, so, the belt doesn´t result very comfortable. Still, I am pretty sure for many of us it might work just great. Also, for longer trips, you could use it to hang things, for example. Leave some comments regarding your opinion on belts, what would you suggest.
PANTS– you want them light, breathable, flexible, quick-drying, and if it comes to the size comfortable enough to put thermals underneath if necessary. Don’t use cotton! Don’t use jeans! Sometimes we have to sacrifice our look for comfort and safety. Think that on longer trips or even more serious one-day adventures the clothing you wear have to make you survive if something happens or you get lost!!! Very important!!!! I like Marmot and Colombia softshell pants, these are very durable and convertible, and warmer ones from Rab. Leave us some comments with good brands worth trying.
In Iceland, people who ignored the importance of proper clothing got in big troubles, and a few of them even passed away. The mountain weather is very tricky, changes instantly, people are getting lost, need more time to rich their destination, or simply have to wait for help. There are many reasons to be well prepared for outdoors.
SOCKS, if you are doing a lot of hiking and trekking woollen socks are the MUST. They are warm and like angora wool, for instance, are thin and warm., In the summertime or hot conditions; on the other hand, I will opt for synthetic socks destinated for trekkings.
You don’t want to have very thick socks. You need to leave some space for your feet to fit nicely in the shoes.
SHOES. Here we have a lot of choices and a lot of brands. It is always challenging to choose the right ones. It is difficult to know what is good and which shoes should we wear for this or for that. But, first of all, stop and think for a minute what do you need them for… how often are you going to use them… are you going to hike a lot or you will be ice-climbing and mountaineering…Invest in your shoes, buy a good brand. Your feet will love you for that.
For trekking and backpacking, I wear Lomer; these are incredibly comfortable. For lighter hikes or in warmer climates Scarpa Mojito. For Mountaineering and Ice climbing I use La Sportiva. For me, these are perfect and snug, my heal doesn’t lift, so my calves don’t hurt, and I can concentrate on the activity. Also, buying shoes, you want them one size bigger. After many hours of hiking, your feet will swell, and shoes that are too small can be a disaster.
Try to choose shoes with the least seams possible, they will keep waterproof for longer, and there is less possibility of breaking something. You want them light and wide enough, so your foot feels well. And most probably you want them above your ankle if you are doing a lot of mountains, scrambling, river crossing etc. Myself, I have hyper-flexible joints and have sprained my ankle several times, I never use low shoes unless I know I will be walking on a flat surface.
ADVISE: Hiking boots should fit snug everywhere, tight nowhere and offer room to wiggle your toes. Try them on at the end of the day (after feet swell) and with the socks; you plan to wear. In winter don’t wear too thick socks. Buy shoes that are a bit bigger, so there is a space between your boot and the big toe. Lack of this tiny space will make your feet cold very fast as it restricts blood circulations. Also, if you are ice climbing and kicking the ice your toes will hit the front of your shoes. First, it is harrowing, second, after a few continuous ice climbing sessions, you might have problems with your toenails. It happened to me.
Buy your shoes, try them at home, wear them for a few hours, watch Tv, do some cleaning, do some “home mountain training”, and feel them. You can take them back to the store as far you haven’t worn them outside.
In Iceland, I usually would always bring my Goretex gear, three-layer Goretex in the wintertime and one layer Goretex in the summertime. That is for multiday trips. On one day adventures, I will check the weather forecast at least five times for any kind of precipitation or strong winds, and decide on taking the jacket or not.
For ice climbing, I will always bring my Goretex jacket.
I always bring solar protection, even in Iceland 😎 🌤