Several years ago I led a group hike up Mt. San Antonio — aka Mt. Baldy. The hike was in early June, and the hikers in the group all lived in Orange County. The typical June weather in OC is pleasant. Shorts and flip-flops are de rigueur on weekends. In the mountains, however, the weather is much less predictable — and usually much colder!
One of the people in our group had a short-cropped t-shirt and no jacket at all. Fortunately, I had a spare fleece and they were able to make the hike, though the patches of snow at the summit and the bone-chilling wind made sure we hurried back down to the cars afterwards. And she learned a valuable lesson about how different the weather can be at 10,000 feet!
I’m frequently asked “What should I wear hiking in the local mountains?” Many people come to the mountains woefully unprepared, and end up either cutting their hike short, being uncomfortable, or even finding themselves in real danger.
Here’s what I wear when I’m hiking in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. It may seem like overkill, but I’m prepared for pretty much anything Mother Nature might throw at me.
Your base layer is what mostly touches your skin. In my case, I wear Ex-Officio Give-N-Go boxer briefs and a Nike or Under Armour tech t-shirt. These fast-drying materials wick moisture away from the body, helping me stay comfortable.
My hiking “shorts” are actually convertible pants. My current favorites are my North Face Paramount Peak convertibles. Most of the time, the legs are stowed in my pack, but it’s nice to have them if it gets really cold.
My shirt is a Royal Robbins Diablo that also wicks away moisture. On chilly mornings, I start with this buttoned up. As the day heats up, I can roll-up the sleeves, unbutton the front or take it off completely.
Shoes and socks are a matter of personal taste. For day hikes, I prefer my ECCO Ulterra GTX low-rise hiking shoes. They have a great sole that’s as gripping going up as it is going down, and it strikes a good balance between comfort and structured support.
I have a couple kinds of socks that I use in rotation. Picture here are Wigwam wool-blend socks, but my current favorites are my KEEN Dura-Zones, which have a lifetime guarantee.
I use two pieces for better layering flexibility. I have a Patagonia Nano-Puff vest that compacts down to fit in it’s own pocket. This is usually the first layer to shed when I start hiking and generating my own heat. My rain shell is a Marmot Precip. This also compacts very well and does a fine job of shedding rain or cutting the wind. It usually stays in the pack unless its either raining or really cold or windy. It also has a hood that rolls up into the collar.
Sunscreen goes on, but that’s not enough. I also wear a wide-brim hat and polarized sunglasses. The shirt also helps, and even though it might be hot, on a sun-baked trail, having your skin covered can not only save you from sun damage, but keep you cooler (consider how the bedouins dress in the desert).
Most of the time, my pant legs, vest and shell are all stuffed in my daypack, only brought out when needed. Sometimes the wind shirt goes in there, too. But I can layer piece by piece as appropriate for the weather and conditions. I also carry the Ten Essentials, and a few other items that I’ll outline in my next post.
I should note that this is my 3-season kit, which I may adjust based on the weather and conditions on the mountain. For me, this is perfect for hiking trails like the Six-Pack of Peaks. In the winter or in inclement weather, more insulation or wet weather protection may be required.
Ultimately, your personal experience will teach you what works best.
If you have questions, or want to share what works for you, leave me a comment below.