By Tyler Socash, Education Programs Coordinator

“Dress for success” is a phrase we’re probably all familiar with. It’s an old adage from the business world, but it also applies to outdoor recreation. What you wear can have a big impact on your adventure.

Along these lines, here’s another saying you may know: “cotton kills”. Cotton clothing retains moisture and is reluctant to dry out, even on a bright summer day. This puts you at risk of developing hypothermia, especially since temperatures can be wildly different in the backcountry and at higher elevations.

A hiker standing on a summit

Ben Brosseau

It’s always best to leave cotton clothing at home. Instead, wear non-cotton clothes—such as those made from polyester or wool—to stay comfortable and dry on your next summer trip.

In addition to the clothes on your back, you will also want layers in your backpack to help you adjust to conditions in the backcountry. Even in the summer it is possible for snow to fall on the summits of high peaks and for overnight lows to fall below freezing. As such, here is my 5-point layering system for a safe backcountry experience:

  1. Base Layers. This is your basic shirt/pants/socks combo that you hit the trail in.
  2. Sweatshirt, fleece, or a light puffy. An insulating layer can make the difference between a nice day on a summit, and hypothermia.
  3. A waterproof shell to block wind and rain. This can be a poncho, raincoat, or any other waterproof layer for your torso. Rain pants are also useful if you have them available.
  4. Hat and gloves. Your extremities are often the first to feel the cold!
  5. An extra pair of socks and warmer base layers can come in clutch if things end up being colder than expected or if you end up in an emergency situation.

And what your clothes look like doesn’t matter. As long as they are non-cotton and give you the flexibility to adjust to different types of weather, you will be well on your way to a great backcountry experience this summer.