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Trekking Basics: What to Wear for Trekking in the Himalayas

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Climbing a mountain peak or exploring the majestic Himalayas is the dream everyone nurtures deep inside their heart. While some Bravehearts set out to conquer the mountains, there are some who are simply petrified thinking about the fierce cold, heights or what to wear for trekking. Enough fearing! We will now provide you with the simple layering technique that will help you in conquering the cold. Now the question may arise, what is layering? Well, layering clothes are how you layer up your clothes before, during and while hiking back from the mountains. The easy it might sound, the tricky it is to perform. Here in your aid comes the Air! Air as you know or read in physics books in school days is one of the best insulators.

While hiking, as you wear one jacket over another, a thin layer of air forms in between them, that retains the heat generated within your body. Now, as you are going to climb uphill in one of the most dangerously cold weather, you need to pack your trek clothing accordingly. The trekking clothes should be comfortable, minimum in quantity, light in weight and have multi-utility. 

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The Concept of Layering 

The trekking clothes you wear retains the body-generated heat within it. Now as you put on another cloth over the earlier, a thin invisible layer of air is created that insulates heat. So the more clothes you wear, the more layers of air you create and more layers result in the warmer condition. So creating the layers of air accordingly is what we call ‘Layering’. 

concept of layering
Concept of layering (source)

A Complete Guide on How to and What to Wear for Trekking 

Here is a complete guide on what to wear for trekking and how to stay warm during icy cold weather. 

1. Base Layer 

The base layer is directly connected to your body. As you are hiking, your body generates more heat than in normal condition. Hence, this layer should be breathable and comfortable as you cannot remove this layer on your journey due to heat, itching or sweat. You are going to lose a lot of sweat during the climb, the fabric should be nicely fit and wick sweat so that you don’t catch a cold or emit body odour. Take one extra-base layer for the emergency. 

  • Fabrics

Synthetic materials like polypropylene, polyester, merino wool. While merino wool is soft, comfortable and comes with an odour-resistant property, it is quite costly. The other synthetics are lighter than merino wool and are breathable; hence they are flexible and can be dried quickly. 

  • What to Wear for Trekking - Base Layer Clothing

Full sleeved t-shirt or Long-necked thermal top is the trekking gears to protect from sunburns and insects. Front-zipped t-shirts help in ventilation. One pair of thermal inner garments will help you stay warm from inside. Better to keep them for the evening as these can get sweaty during the day. Synthetic Sports Bra and Boxers are a better choice in the daytime. Thermal tights or synthetic track pants for the lower will be perfect. 

2. Mid Layer / Insulators 

With increasing height and cold, you need to add the new layers for insulating heat. It is better to have maximum three layers as the more layers you put on, they get more difficult to remove during the trek. These clothes should be light, breathable, stretchable and dry fit so that you don’t feel stiff. 

  • Fabrics

Same as the base layers. Fleece can be a great option

  • What to Wear for Trekking – Insulators

Down Jacket, Synthetic Insulated Jackets, Fleece Trekking Jackets, Snug Woolen Sweaters (Two sweaters = 1 down jacket). You can select any of these as per your comfort level. For the Lower part, Dry-fit trek pants can be a good option, as they can get wet as you stride through the snow. The trek pants should be stretchable so that you find them easy to hike and should protect your legs from UV Ray, strong winds and cold –they should be breathable with an insulating property. 

3. Outer Layer

It protects your base and mid layers from weather conditions like rain, snow, and wind while you trek the Himalayas. Air resistant fabrics are not water resistant; hence you need to wear multiple clothing. The trekking jackets should have a front-zip system so that you can remove them whenever needed. It should be breathable and not tight-fitted. The outer layer helps the vapour to escape. The following properties should be checked while buying –

  1. Waterproof coating – 5000mm or above membrane
  2. Breathability –RET 0-13. (Lesser is better)
  • Fabrics

Water proof, air resistant and synthetic. There is another costly fabric named Gore-Tex that is durable, windproof, waterproof, breathable and permeable to water vapour. 

  • What to Wear for Trekking – Outerlayer

Windcheater and Rain-proof shell or trekking jacket are needed. A Hollow Fill jacket with an adjustable hood can also be useful to cover your head, neck and ears. They should be nice-fit so that cold air cannot enter. Hiking pants in India made of Nylon, Spandex or Polyurethane are best to offer stretchability and comfort. 

4. Hybrid Layer 

These are trekking essentials to make your layering more convenient. These layers have Fleece inners and a waterproof outer layer that can prevent wind too. The outer layers are equipped with zips so that in case you are feeling warm, you can let some air pass within by opening the zip of the trekking jackets. Hybrid layers look like an all-utility layer, however, some seasoned mountaineers and hikers avoid this. They stick to the conventional layering as that option is more flexible.

These are the things required for trekking that you should give the most importance to. However, your face, head, hands, and feet too need to dress up like a pro! After all, you don’t want to get frostbites or chilblains. So what next on what to wear for trekking?

what to wear for trekking
Layering for Trekking

Layer Your Tips 

Although body and legs seem like the most in need of layering, your tips of bodies are the key to keep warm altogether. 

1. Head 

As we discussed earlier, the trekking jackets that you would wear in your outer shell should have an adjustable hood so that they can provide primary protection against cold and warmth to your head. Now, a hood won’t be enough with the increasing altitude. Hence, you need a Woolen beanie or fleece cap that will cover your temple and ears. 

As we are mentioning cold, you must not forget that the bright sunlight can also have an effect on your skull. The chilling cold and the scorching sun –the combination of both can be dangerous. So carry a Suncap that covers your ears and neck or a headgear like a baseball cap with a visor that not only keeps your head protected from the sun but also from rains.  

The best choice, however, will be carrying a Balaclava that covers your head, nose, ears and neck –a multi-utility! Put on the balaclava once the afternoon sets in, as that is the time the cold winds will follow.

Balaclava to protect your head, face and neck

2. Throat 

Balaclava as mentioned above can be a great protector of your neck. However, you don't need it while you are not feeling much cold. The extended neck collar of your outer shell or the base or mid-layer can be worthy in relatively warmer weather. In all the cases, we suggest you choose synthetic fabrics, but a Bandana with a cotton fabric can be a multi-tasker in trekking essentials. Use it as a scarf to prevent sunburn, or a towel to wipe, or even as a mouth-protector in higher altitudes (to prevent sore throats). 

3. Palms 

Woollen gloves may seem like a good choice regarding the fact that woollen fabric provides more warmth. But they can get drenched in contact with water, rain or snow and for the rest of hike, your palms will feel numb. So the best choice is to go for synthetic and water-resistant gloves. You can also be a little creative in layering the gloves such as a thinner synthetic liner glove layered by a windproof one.

4. Feet

  • Socks:

A lightweight synthetic inner liner sock of ankle-length and a thicker cotton sports-socks of shin-length is a perfect combination. The inner socks wick sweat while the outer socks provide cushion and support. You can remove the outer layer if you feel warm. After reaching the base or campsite, change the inner socks to prevent bacterial infection or frostbite due to wetness. Woolen socks should be carried as they provide the most of the warmth while you sleep tucked under the sleeping bag. 

  • Shoes:

Lightweight, waterproof trekking shoes in India are best to reduce fatigue. Vibram Rubber soles provide better grip on the various terrains. Mid or High Ankle Length Hunter Boots are the best trekking shoes in India to provide great support while descending and prevent twisting of ankles. Your feet too need to breathe, hence go for those having the Gore-Tex lining or breathable material. The shoes should be waterproof to prevent your feet and socks from getting wet in rain and snow. 

  • Gaiters:

Gaiters can be strapped around your legs up to knees and over your trekking shoes to give warmth and protection from snow, mud and thorny plants on the trail. It also proves to be helpful as you tread through knee-length snow and these gaiters prevent the snow from entering.  

5. Eyes

How do you feel when the bright sunrays fall on the snow and then reflects on your eyes almost blinding you? To prevent such awful experiences, go for a dark-shade Sunglasses with a wide field of view, and interchangeable lenses. 

sunglasses during treks
UV rays blocking sunglasses

What to Wear for Trekking: Accessories to Compliment Layering

1. Backpack

Carrying a lighter backpack with all the essentials packed compactly is the challenge to many trekkers. The backpacks should contain sleeping bags, tents (if you are carrying your own tents), Mid layer jackets, Outer layer jackets, extra socks, trek pants, towels,  sufficient water, dry food and medicines for an emergency. The trekking backpacks in India should not weight more than 12kgs and should not be unnecessarily large. The bag should have an adjustable padded shoulder strap and hip belt and most importantly, the Rain cover.  

2. Watch 

While drinking the nature of the pristine Himalayas, you are sure to have lost track of time. So always carry a watch with date and time feature to keep a check on your distance and speed. A radium-dialled watch is an add-on facility that will keep you have the track of time even in dark. 

3. Trekking Poles 

They act as a substitute leg and reduce stress on legs by over 40%. Trekking poles also give your arms support so that you can control yourself from falling or slipping. 

trekking poles
Trekking poles are a must

Additional Tips for Trekkers

After you have prepared yourself with the things required for trekking, we think of some additional points you need to keep in mind –

  • Don’t use up all the layers on the first day, it’s a long period and you need to save for the extreme conditions. 
  • Remove wet clothes as soon as possible.
  • Stay hydrated and drink lots of water
  • Have sufficient sleep to nullify your fatigue.
  • Check your tents, sleeping bags and mattresses to ensure proper insulation
  • Keep weight to warmth ration in mind and buy proper gears.

Benefits of Layering

Don’t you already know by now? Well, you get a lighter backpack to carry If you go for multi-utility and lighter layering clothes. You acquire enough flexibility while enjoying the hike without being worried about what to wear for trekking. Proper layering gives you the advantage of removing an extra layer or two while you are sweating inside. It also gives you the readiness to add more layers as the temperature decreases and you feel a chilling sensation.  Finally, it gives you the peace of mind and body to trek the Himalayas heartily.   

Summing Up

Winter Treks are thrilling, but the biting cold can be a spoilsport if you are not ready to embrace it. To embrace the cold, you need to layer up accordingly so that the winter cannot snatch the best out of you. Give proper attention to the base layers as this is the foundation on which the other layers depend. Let your body breathe, don’t over layer yourself so that you feel suffocated or cannot move properly. Layer according to the weather and keep extra pairs ready in case any emergency. The Himalayan climate is unpredictable and you need to be ready for any situation. Don’t freeze, seize the best out of it. 

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