The correct choice of clothing is very important. If you start out right the chances are that you will succeed. Man is a tropical animal and can only survive naked if we are born in the tropics. The moment we leave this area we have to provide our bodies with a warm personal environment, hence the need for clothes. There is no heat in clothing, it only traps what the body produces.
The wind and rain are the most dangerous elements in a temperate climate and the cold in extreme areas like the polar regions. If the heat that is trapped in the layers of clothing you are wearing is continuously being replaced by wind and rain, you are in danger of hypothermia. In cold climates layering is the answer, so pull on a sweater if it turns cold and waterproof clothing if it rains. However, if you wear an anorak while carrying a heavy pack, there is a danger of wearing through the shoulders and lower lumbar region allowing the ingress of water to soak the body. You need a change of clothing and additional warm garments for when you stop.
In hot climates it is very difficult to get the balance right between comfort and practicality. There has always been a danger of overheating in extreme conditions caused by wearing heavy clothing while carrying out physical activities. When on the move wear the least amount of clothing possible and avoid walking in waterproofs if you are too hot, as the condensation generated will soak the inner layers.
Clothing should give good protection and be well-fitting without being restrictive. It must keep you warm and dry but have plenty of ways to keep the body ventilated so you don’t overheat (if it gets colder you can always put on more).
With all the great breakthroughs in recent years in fabric technology it is worth understanding the pros and cons of the different materials on offer. Gore-tex™ is an excellent material because it is breathable and so keeps you warm and dry while ventilating the body, but it does have limitations. Breathable materials can only work if they are kept clean. Once they get covered in mud and accumulate grime they are less effective. Gore-tex™ is not robust or hard-wearing and must be looked after. The best way to use Gore-tex™ is to walk or climb in windproof garments and when at rest, put on the breathable kit.
Synthetic materials such as fleece are very popular and in certain conditions outperform natural materials like wool, down or cotton. Having a zipped front makes a fleece easy to put on and take off and they are also comfortable to walk in. Choose one that is windproof as this is often all that is needed in most conditions. If it gets colder they can be worn under an outer waterproof giving good insulation. There are also garments which act like an animal’s skin, using the buffalo system. They have a windproof outer with a man-made fiber pile inside. When wet they perform like a wetsuit. They are good for walking in cold/wet conditions, and are ideal for boating, canoeing and caving.
As for natural fabrics, wool is still an excellent choice for jumpers as it retains its warmth even when wet. The downside is it stretches and becomes heavy, so it’s not a good choice for socks. Down is the warmest and lightest of all natural insulating materials but loses all its heat-retaining qualities when wet. Cotton acts as a wick and draws up all the moisture. So it’s good to wear in the tropics but not in the cold/wet regions.
Footwear is an important consideration and for serious walking give your feet priority. Break in new boots gradually and harden up your skin with surgical spirit, starting two weeks before you set off.
For the enthusiast the major consideration in choosing clothing is cost. Surplus stores are very popular for the younger adventurer who loves to parade in camouflage clothing. Although ex-military kit is good, and cheap, it is already obsolete. The big drawback of wearing camouflage or dark clothing is the risk of not being found when lost. The reason soldiers wear it is so they cannot be seen which contradicts what you are trying to do if you get into trouble. Most outdoor clothing is blue or orange, some is reversible, so a contrasting color will always stand out wherever we find ourselves. Buy the best clothing you can afford, and take advice from a reputable outdoor shop.
REMEMBER There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.