Above: me layering up while taking a snack break on the Stratton Pond Trail.
If you watched The Karate Kid (the original!), you may remember this scene – “Paint the Fence”. UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! It’s repetitive. And it is the same way with layering when on the trail in the winter… always remember… Paint the Fence!
When hiking, backpacking, or doing any activity in the winter where you may sweat at all or get wet otherwise, you will spend a lot of the time layering up and down in winter (or early spring and late fall when the temperatures can drop below 50)… while it adds time to your trip, it keeps you safe and alive. No one wants to find you as, or bring you home as a hikercicle. Its no way to go out, especially when it can be managed.
When you’re exerting yourself, you will begin to sweat. That sweat needs to evaporate. In the process of its evaporation, it makes your body cooler, as it is sucking heat away from it. While you are exerting yourself, your body is generating a massive amount of heat (hence the sweating). It is important to go down to the lowest amount of layers you can, where you are sweating (head, arms, upper body, lower body), so that you are no longer sweating, and at that point, the wet base layer you have on will begin to dry. Once that is dry, you can then add another layer if needed.
When I am out hiking and sweating, I may only have my thermal long sleeve top on, along with my waterproof shell with the pit-zips opened (if there is precipitation), with the sleeves rolled up to not add any moisture, and to allow that base layer to dry off letting the air and my body do the work. I get cool, but, never cold. The cool feels somewhat refreshing as I am working my body out pretty hard.
As the yang to the yin of exerting yourself – when you stop to have a snack, lunch, camp, anything more than a minute or two break – layer up. You will begin to get cold, and if you get too cold, that can lead to hypothermia. And hypothermia leads to a whole host of unpleasantness, least of all death. Add on your down or synthetic jacket and shell, your hat, and neck gaiter. Keep yourself warm.
For an extended period of time, such as at camp (especially in front of a nice campfire!), when bundled up, your body will take care of the drying for you, even if your layers are soaked with sweat. Keep moving, but not enough to work up a sweat (slow movements), and over a few hours, your body will make everything nice, toasty, and dry, if you are properly bundled up.
Wrapping this up…
It is important to note, that even though you have plans to hit camp for the night – layer up and layer down appropriately to properly manage moisture. You are not at camp until you are at camp. 100 yards from camp you can fall and break something, or even worse, get knocked out, and if not properly dried-as-possible, you may end up as a hikercicle.
And also remember… only you know when you need to layer up or down. If you are sweating profusely, and someone else tells you to do so, you”re too late. Layer down before that happens.
If you are hiking with a group – speak up and stop, it’s your well being you need to worry about. The group moves as fast as the group, no one gets left behind. If you do, and you are near the trailhead, turn around and leave, the group is not concerned for your safety, and you should not be hiking with them. If everyone is looking out for each other, and everyone is safe, then, everyone is happy.
A good time on the trail happens when no one is hurt, injured, or close to either of those.