My Lightweight Backpacking Clothing System (2016)

I’ve made some updates to my backpacking clothing system for 2016. My clothing is organized into four layers (base layer, active layer, insulation layer and shell layer.) By making a few substitutions (primarily within the base and insulation layers), I’ve found that a few pieces of clothing can be combined to suit a wide range of weather conditions. Here’s a quick overview of the four layers, followed by a list of the clothing I pack and wear (and how the pieces can be combined for spring, summer, fall and even mild-winter hikes.)

LAYER 1: BASE LAYER

A soft, comfortable next-to-skin layer consisting of: underwear, socks and long underwear. Protects bare skin from being chafed by outer layers, wicks away moisture, provides a thin layer of full-body insulation in cool weather and doubles as pajamas at night.

Erik the Black’s Backpacking Clothing System - Base Layer

LAYER 2: ACTIVE LAYER

A lightweight, breathable, comfortable and durable layer consisting of: pants, shirt, shoes, hat and glasses. Protects from UV rays, dirt, light wind and nakedness. Very comfortable in warm weather (and in cool weather, when combined with other layers.)

Erik the Black’s Backpacking Clothing System - Active Layer

LAYER 3: INSULATION LAYER

A thick, warm layer consisting of: puffy jacket or vest, warm hat and gloves. Insulates the torso and extremities (which are the most important areas to keep warm to prevent heat loss and maintain a safe core body temperature.)

Erik the Black’s Backpacking Clothing System - Insulation Layer

LAYER 4: SHELL LAYER

A thin outer layer consisting of: rain jacket and optional rain/wind pants (pants are only necessary in very wet/cold conditions.) Protects against wind chill and keeps other clothing dry (wet clothing is dangerous because moisture compromises it’s insulating ability.)

Erik the Black’s Backpacking Clothing System - Shell Layer

MY BACKPACKING CLOTHING

So that’s the theory behind it – here is the actual gear I use. It’s divided into two categories: Clothing worn and clothing packed (with warm, cool and cold weather variations of the later.)

CLOTHING WORN

I wear these things every day, regardless of the season (and combine them with different variations of packed clothing for different weather conditions.)


UNDERWEAR: Under Armour Boxer Jock 9″ Inseam (XL)
Weight: 3.1 oz
Price: $20.00
More info…


SOCKS: Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light Mini (XL)
Weight: 2.0 oz
Price: $17.00
More info…


SHIRT: Columbia Tech Trek T-Shirt (XL)
Weight: 5.9 oz
Price: $22.00
More info…


PANTS: Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants/Shorts
Weight: 12.1 oz
Price: $60.00
More info…


HAT: Outdoor Research Helios
Weight: 2.8 oz
Price: $36.00
More info…


SUNGLASSES: 3M TEKK Safety Glasses + retainer strap & pouch
Weight: 1.5 oz
Price: $15.00
More info…


SHOES: Merrell Moab Ventilator Mid (13W)
Weight: 41 oz
Price: $110.00
More info…


INSOLES: Montrail Enduro Sole (13)
Weight: 4.8 oz
Price: $40.00
More info…

CLOTHING PACKED: WARM WEATHER (50 °F +)

For summer hikes (plus late-spring and early-fall hikes in warmer climates/low elevation.)

Packed Weight: 2 lbs


BASE LAYER TOP: Terramar Therma-Silk Shirt (XL)
Weight: 3.6 oz
Price: $25.00
More info…


BASE LAYER BOTTOM: Terramar Therma-Silk Pant (XL)
Weight: 3.4 oz
Price: $20.00
More info…


SPARE SOCKS: Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light Mini (XL)
Weight: 2 oz
Price: $17.00
More info…


INSULATING VEST: Patagonia Nano Puff Vest (XL)
Weight: 9 oz
Price: $149.00
More info…


WARM HAT: Mountain Hardware Micro Dome
Weight: 0.9 oz
Price: $18.00
More info…


GLOVES: Mountain Hardware Powerstretch
Weight: 1.4 oz
Price: $30.00
More info…


RAIN JACKET: Marmot Precip (XL)
Weight: 12 oz
Price: $99.00
More info…

CLOTHING PACKED: COOL WEATHER (35 °F +)

For late-spring and early-fall hikes (plus summer hikes in colder climates/high elevation.)

Packed Weight: 3 lbs


BASE LAYER TOP: Icebreaker Lightweight Wool Shirt (XL)
Weight: 7.1 oz
Price: $60.00
More info…


BASE LAYER BOTTOM: Icebreaker Lightweight Wool Pant (XL)
Weight: 6.3 oz
Price: $60.00
More info…


SPARE SOCKS: Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light Mini (XL)
Weight: 2 oz
Price: $17.00
More info…


INSULATING JACKET: Montbell UL Thermawrap Jacket (XL)
Weight: 10.1 oz
Price: $129.00
More info…


WARM HAT: Mountain Hardware Micro Dome
Weight: 0.9 oz
Price: $18.00
More info…


GLOVES: Mountain Hardware Powerstretch
Weight: 1.4 oz
Price: $30.00
More info…


RAIN JACKET: Marmot Precip (XL)
Weight: 12 oz
Price: $99.00
More info…


RAIN PANTS: Sierra Designs Hurricane Pant (XL)
Weight: 8.8 oz
Price: $69.00
More info…

CLOTHING PACKED: COLD WEATHER (20 °F +)

For early-spring and late-fall hikes (plus winter hikes in warmer climates/low elevation.)

Packed Weight: 4 lbs


LONG UNDERWEAR TOP: Icebreaker Midweight Wool Half-Zip Shirt (XL)
Weight: 13.7 oz
Price: $120.00
More info…


BASE LAYER BOTTOM: Icebreaker Lightweight Wool Pant (XL)
Weight: 6.3 oz
Price: $60.00
More info…


SPARE SOCKS: Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light Mini (XL)
Weight: 2 oz
Price: $17.00
More info…


INSULATING VEST: Patagonia Nano Puff Vest (XL)
Weight: 9 oz
Price: $149.00
More info…


INSULATING JACKET: Montbell UL Thermawrap Jacket (XL)
Weight: 10.1 oz
Price: $129.00
More info…


WARM HAT: Mountain Hardware Micro Dome
Weight: 0.9 oz
Price: $18.00
More info…


GLOVES: Mountain Hardware Powerstretch
Weight: 1.4 oz
Price: $30.00
More info…


RAIN JACKET: Marmot Precip (XL)
Weight: 12 oz
Price: $99.00
More info…


RAIN PANTS: Sierra Designs Hurricane Pant (XL)
Weight: 8.8 oz
Price: $69.00
More info…

Have a question or comment about my backpacking clothing system? Please post your comments below…

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

20 Responses to “My Lightweight Backpacking Clothing System (2016)”

  1. Great list, love the theoretical and actual!

  2. Are you familiar with the “Ice Age Trail?
    If so do you have any advice concerning what to pack?

    • @David: I have not hiked the Ice Age Trail yet, nor done any hiking in Wisconsin, so I’m not familiar with exactly what kind of conditions to expect there. But, I don’t imagine it would be all that much different from other trails in the U.S. if you hiked during the most temperate time of year (late spring through early fall.)

  3. I appreciate your list and visual aids, very nice work on the visual.
    This will be very informative for people starting out in the activity of hiking/backpacking. Great job, keep it coming. Happy Hiking.

  4. Thanks Erik,
    Very helpful esp for a guy coming to do the JMT from Australia. This will make the job of buying my clothes a lot easier when I get to the States.

  5. Have you ever found a need to carry small towel or wash rag?

  6. Thanks for the great blog and posts. Do you carry mutiple pairs of socks or underwear? I agree with all of you choices, however I like to have at least 2 pairs of underwear, and 2 pairs of hiking socks

  7. Hi, I love your gear lists! I’ve purchased many of the items you’ve used, and so far, I love all of them! Question about the Terramar Therma-Silk items. Many of the reviews (on other sites) claim that they’re too thin, and the pants run easily. Do you find that to be the case? Does one set supply you for an entire hike?

    • @Stacy: The Terramar Thermasilk underwear are very thin and lightweight which makes them perfect for warm weather. They do develop runs and little holes and fray over time, but it does not really compromise their utility. As long as you are not worried about looks, a single set will last a long time before they completely disintegrate. In colder weather I swap them out for merino wool.

  8. Hi Erik, great info. Why the switch from running shorts and tights to convertible pants? I have short legs and nearly always prefer shorts. The tights/shorts seem more flexible. Thanks

    • @Jim: I don’t really have a good reason for switching to the convertible pants. I just think they are cool and better looking than shorts/tights (at least for walking around town in.) I do still carry tights for keeping my legs warm, but they go under the pants.

  9. Hallo Erik. Morne from South Africa here. I am giving a free training session to ladies in a month’s time on various prepping- and self defence aspects. Can I have your permission to use the schematics on layering and packing your backpack for said training module. It would save much needed time. Please mail your reply.
    PS! – I like your overall layout of a subject.

  10. Hi Eric,
    This is a perfect blog for someone to understand the the layered clothing system. The images are themselves self informatory.

    Btw I am new to blogging and was writing about stuffs to carry on a winter trek. And for that I was searching for layered clothing system images, when i came across this webpage. And I couldn’t resist but want to ask that can i use your images in my blog?

  11. @Eric, been reading your site for a while now and I just wanted to say thanks. Just getting back into backpacking after a spinal fusion surgery a little over a year ago. The info you’ve provided has been invaluable in my transition from traditional “Boy Scout” backpacking (every thing but the kitchen sink) to lightweight. You’ve helped my wife and I save a lot of weight, time and money so far. Keep up the great work, and thanks again.

    @ David, I know it’s been a couple months, but just my two cents from hiking the IAT in Wisconsin. Temperatures and humidity vary wildly between the three main sections of the trail (eastern, south central and north western WI). I switched to a synthetic sleeping bag some years ago for this reason. My goose down bag could easily take on several pounds of weight in a couple days on the trail in south central WI (where I live). Your mileage may vary on that one. Temporarily expanding your water carrying capacity (an extra 1L bottle of water) is a good idea in the southern stretch where it can be some miles between water sources. Also, depending on how wet our spring was; planing for insects comes second only to staying dry when deciding on your shelter options. The IAT is a gorgeous trail though and hope you have a blast.

  12. Nice list…loved your guide on JMT last sept. I’m doing the collegiate loop and hopefully Elbert starting sept 19. Only clothing I’m not set on is leg coverage. I don’t like convertibles but prefer running shorts. I usually use a rain skirt but considering rain or wind pants instead to add warmth. I will have cap 3 bottoms (sleep)I could wear in a pinch for leg warmth while hiking….Thoughts?

    • @Rich: I would do your base layer, running shorts on top (the leggings will keep your legs warm but still breathe well when it’s cold outside but dry), then do rain pants over the top for rain or cold wind. If you just do a rain skirt that leaves your leggings exposed your legs could get soaked by cold rain blowing in from the side, and that will probably suck. It would be OK in the summer, but it might be chilly up there in September. I did some hiking in that section last September and it was colder than I thought it would be.