• Jeannette McGill

Summit Steps: Dress like an onion - in layers!

Updated: Jun 22


What does hiking and this vegetable have in common?


This is what we tell anyone who asks us “what do I wear in the mountains?”

The world of clothing is about personal preference and some field testing. Remember that clothing on its own does not make us warm. Dressing in layers creates insulation, trapping body heat in channels of dead air space. Depending on the season and our own body tolerance we can make adjustments but we essentially have three considerations: base layer – mid layer – outer layer. The key to a warm head, hands and feet is keeping your body warm. By the time your hands are cold means your blood supply to the extremities has become compromised.

Your base layer is usually skin tight and can be either polypropylene or merino. These items are generally wicking and can have properties that magically reduce odors after long-term wear (or so they say!) The mid-layer is usually fleece and can be without arms, or full body. The outer layer is mostly a waterproof shell or if in much colder climates then use down. In winter don’t be scared of using chemical hand and toe warmers. This is a quick shortcut to long term comfort.

But this is all about personal preference, and you need try with a few systems.

Saray generally wears more layers for the upper body with two pairs of socks. Depending on the altitude and weather, a full set of thermal underwear with down pants would do the trick and keep her flexible enough to keep stepping. At lower altitude, she uses thermal, fleece and outer waterproof pants.

Jeannette generally runs quite warm, with her larger leg muscles generating heat for her body. Often she will wear more layers on her torso than her legs.

Finally – a common mistake is to start with too many clothes on meaning that after 20 min you need to stop and take off clothes. No leader or guide actually likes having to stop this early in the day! (Just saying!) as this breaks the group rhythm and can be a waste of energy. So don’t be scared of starting out slightly cold – know that you will warm up as your legs and lungs continue moving.

Co-Authors: Jeannette McGill & Saray Khumalo

Summit Steps: As part of Summits with a Purpose (check out the FB page) Saray Khumalo and Jeannette McGill are collaborating to share knowledge around hiking and mountaineering with the aim of making a positive and inclusive impact allowing more African woman to dream big and reach their outdoor goals.

Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved McGill's Mountains

EMD Logo White.png

Sign up to receive Mountain Matters