Greetings everyone. I just recently joined the forum. I am new to backpacking and have enjoyed reading your posts for the last few months.
I am planning a couple of trips on the west coast (one to the Sierras and one on the coast), and was wondering if anyone had any advice on where to find good, inexpensive clothing to wear on backpacking trips.
I realize the importance of avoiding cotton, but I hate the idea of buying a $50 shirt from an outdoor store just because it dries quickly. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Loc: California (southern)
A lot of the clothing available today that is suitable for backpacking is fine for lots of informal occasions, maybe even the office. You will find that a lot of it lasts quite a while and is a very good value.
I shop at places like Marden's in Maine, Frenchies in Atlantic Canada, and even LLBeans will have some good deals sometimes. They don't have alot of light stuff, because they seem to be able to sell heavier stuff for more money, but when they do have light stuff it is often quite cheap.
Stuff to look for:
Very easy to find around here: 85% light wool dress socks for $5 a pair. 100% light wool sweaters for $10-$15. Good for skin layer or main layer. Polyester Skin Layers for $10-$15. Make sure they are light. 4-6 oz tops. 200wt fleece (very low water absorbing) for $20-$35. Good extra layer in winter.
Don't buy fleece unless you know it is very low water absorbing. The good stuff will last virtually forever and you really only need one set so it might as well be the good stuff even if you have to wait for a deal or bite the bullet and pay more. Make sure it is the lowest water absorbing possible. Don't get fooled by high prices or brand names. Quality varies even with the good stuff.
Less easy to find around here, but not too rare: 4-5oz cheap light nylon wind jacket and pants. $15-$20. Lighter the better. 100wt fleece (very low water absorbing) for $20-$35. Good all year round. 100% medium/heavy knit wool sweaters for $35-$70. Durable water resistant wool.
It is good to have one set of top quality 100wt fleece and one top quality medium weight but durable water and more resistant wool sweater, like a fisherman's jersey, even if you have to pay a little more. You don't need to start a whole collection, but you might consider paying some lady $150 to knit you something once you know exactly what you want in a wool sweater. Some alpaca sweaters can be super light and warm, but they do tend to felt more than a really durable sheeps wool. You don't need the finest wool for a medium or heavy sweater. Length and strength of fibre and resitance to felting is as or more important for medium and heavy wool sweaters and mitts and hats also. You won't really know how much better a decent medium wool sweater or a pair of wool mitts is until you try a pair. They should really smell like wool. Go to a place that sells wool and local hand knit stuff and you will know what to look for. Start with a pair of mitts, then you will see. I don't like paying top dollar for factory made trade marks, but its quite another thing to pay a real knitter or other craftsperson top dollar for decent work using top quality materials. Again, you don't need a whole collection, but if you buy one thing, even a pair of mitts or socks for $50, you will at least then know what real quality is. It helps to know the knitter to know that it is being done right without the middle men, but some wool shops and guilds are safe bets also. Custom sewing work might be well worth getting done also once you know what you want. I don't mind messing around on my own until then. I have used some local shoe repair folks and sailmakers and seamstresses on some small projects, and will go back to them once I know what I want and can't do it myself.
Retail outlets and middlemen and even these so called entrepreneurs are a dime a dozen these days but truly good local craftspeople are as rare as hens teeth.
You do not need to go for the expensive Gortex. Particularly in the Sierra. Just get a coated nylon rain jacket. I would not rely on those flimsy plastic "emergency" jackets - they do not do well in a wind and tear easily. These jackets will make you sweat if you hike in the rain, but the chances you will have to hike in the rain in the Sierra are minimal.
You want to get good socks because bad socks will cause lots of foot problems. I recommend wool. Shoes also should fit well. This does not mean expensive - just be sure they fit with the socks you intend on wearing. I would do a long (10-mile) hike at home in the shoes and socks you are going to use to be sure they are OK - and break in the shoes. You do not have to do big expensive boots. I often use trail runners in the Sierra. Some stores, like REI, sell slightly used gear - they have an annual sale, although I cannot remember the exact date they do this.
In the old days we would hike in shorts, put on long underware when it got cold (under the shorts) and then put on wind pants when it got really cold. The wind pants also could be worn over the shorts. The long johns were used for pajamas. This combination still works even if it looks a bit dorky. Lots of cheap wind pants are available as runner's gear at Wal Mart.
Although you may want to buy cheap when you get started, if you intend on sticking with backpacking, splurge each year on one good quality item and soon you will have better gear without one big credit card debt. In high-tech gear, expensive usually means lighter weight. You pay dearly to shave off ounces.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I'm glad to find someone else who agrees with me that expensive breathable rain gear is not all that necessary! I find that I sweat just as much in breathable or non-breathable rain gear. For rain pants, breathable gear is even less necessary because most of my sweating is from the waist up. The only truly breathable rain gear I've found is Frogg Toggs, and while it keeps the rain out fine, it's rather flimsy for use in rocks and brush. If the temp is in the upper 60's or higher when it rains, I just get wet while I'm hiking (my nylon shirt dries out very fast). In camp or during rest breaks, of course, I slip the rain jacket on so I don't get chilled.
In Pacific NW mist or light drizzle, a wind shirt does fine (cheaper substitute: single-layer nylon windbreaker with a little DWR coating sprayed on it). I haven't found the wind shirt necessary in the Rockies where, when it storms, it's a lot colder. It does help to get your rain jacket a bit big so there's more ventilation under it, and in any case you need it big enough to cover all your insulation layers for cold weather. Unless it's blowing, you often can leave the rain jacket open. If it's blowing, it's probably cold enough that you're not going to sweat that much inside. These conclusions are based on many years' personal experience in the Rockies and Cascades. Your Mileage, of course, May Vary.
As WD says, there is a slight weight penalty for using less expensive clothing. When you start calculating the dollars you have to spend to save 2-3 ounces on an item, it's probably not worth it, especially until you start taking really long trips.
Do watch for sales, comparison shop (both at stores and online) and, as suggested, pick up an item or two at a time. And, as I mentioned, check the "Synthetic Clothes and Cost" thread in this same section.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Many options given in other replies. Another one to add to the mix (I apologize if someone already mentioned it) is army surplus stores. Used military gear can be had for a bargain. Sometimes it may be a little heavier, like my Korean War vintage wool pants. But for extreme cold, they rock!
Walmart- Repreve brand. 100% recycled polyester. Various colors and sizes. 8 bucks. XXL and up 10 bucks. (long sleeves probably cheaper because of the spring season coming up.)
Target- Champion Brand "C-9" series. Various styles and various colors. 8 bucks to 20 bucks. Note: They also have C-9 synthetic underwear and socks.
TJ Maxx-Champion, Marmot, The North Face, and Columbia brands. (Pretty much a luck-of-the-draw.) If you get there at the right time you can find great deals! My wife found a North Face down black bubble coat for my son for $50.00! Retail price was originally $250.00.
Are the cheaper brands going to hold up as well as the "name brand" shirts? Depends on the brand and the quality. $8.00 vs. $50.00, I think it's a no brainer.
I have found that $50 Propper base layer shirts are really nice. They are 5% X-static thread, which is a silver imbued thread that prevents microbial growth.
Seriously, you can take a shower, put on deodorant, put on this x-static shirt and go hiking for 3 days in it and you won't stink. Not from the armpits anyway. The x-static shirt is also paneled for your sweat regions to both wick away and evaporate sweat quickly. They stay dry and cool you off when it's hot, and provide a little bit of insulation when it's warm.
I'll be hiking in Florida, 75, 80 degrees, sweating, and the shirt is cooling me off from the sweat panels. at above 80 degrees you're gonna want to take it off.
If I'm wearing the base layer shirt under a t-shirt, I can ride my bike in 55 degree weather without much of a chill.
I have 5 shirts already and I wear them almost constantly. I wash them after each use and they are holding up beautifully. This is one expensive piece of gear that is seriously valuable.
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