Basic principles of clothing for walking
High levels of activity demand high performance fabrics and garments with practical features that really work, often in extreme conditions. Invariably this makes these 'technical' garments more expensive than their look-alike High Street cousins. The features that make a good quality garment more expensive may not be obvious as many features are hidden and only become apparent when pointed out to you or when used in difficult environments. Whatever the garment or the manufacturer, modern technical, high performance outdoor clothing seeks to possess a number of key features.
many features are hidden and only become apparent when pointed out to you or used in difficult environments
If your clothing does not allow your body to 'breathe' (sweat to evaporate) you will become progressively hotter and hotter and you will end up being very hot and very sweaty. Sometimes known as Resistance to Evaporative Transfer (RET), the higher the level of activity, the more you sweat and the more breathable your kit needs to be.
This is essential if you're carrying a lot of gear (whether you are wearing it or carrying it in a rucksack), a wise alpine mountaineer - to whom moving fast is of paramount importance - will keep weight of his/her clothing to a shocking minimum. Carrying excess weight uses extra effort and energy. The harder you climb, the more your own strength-to-weight ratio affects you.
Bulky clothing takes up valuable space that could be used more efficiently. Carrying everything with you rather than using the boot of your car as a storage base changes your clothing priorities, especially when you can't fit everything into your rucksack. Some modern fabrics are remarkably thin for their protection against wind, sun or cold and others are highly compressible to help pack them into small spaces such as a rucksack with limited capacity.
Wrapped up and comfy in Gore-tex Active Shell and soft shell trousers © Sarah Stirling
Poor fitting garments can be a hindrance to movement and will not be efficient at keeping you warm and dry. Climbing and other high activity sports are based on movement so garments must either stretch as you move or be tailored to allow freedom of movement - particularly the sleeves of tops and waist and legs of trousers.
There are a few fabrics that stretch with your body, don't absorb water and dry off quickly but they are usually hard to come by and come at a price. Add to this a ventilation system, pockets where you need them (and not covered up by your harness), durability, reinforcement fabrics on areas prone to wear, asymmetrical stitching, articulated elbows and knees, waterproof zips, dry pockets, seamless stitching, powder shirts, pit zips, streamlining, single handed cord pulls, collar draw cords. The features are endless but they are all used for a reason and unfortunately every feature added increases the cost of the garment.
The features are endless but they are all used for a reason and unfortunately every feature added increases the cost of the garment
If you're doing any form of activity that raises a sweat,it's good to have a base layer that actively removes (wick) perspiration from your skin. Although more expensive than cotton T-shirts, polypropylene and engineered polyester fabrics are very efficient wicking materials and they are a lot more comfortable than in hot weather. Also consider base layers made from natural wonder fibre Merino wool.
Until very recently, layering your garments has been the fundamental concept to regulate your preferred temperature through all types of activity. Layering is still a very valid principle.
Imagine a winter mountaineer. He sets off with a big rucksack for a 5-mile hike up to the North Buttress of Ben Nevis (about 3000ft). He gets there and gears up at the bottom of a snowy gully and belays his mate for 2 and a half hours before he can get moving again. By the time he's due to climb he's probably in the first throes of hypothermia.
This is a classic situation when whatever you wear to walk in will be totally soaked by the time you get to the route. Then you freeze to death waiting for your mate to complete a tricky first pitch.
By using a base layer that wicks moisture from your body, with a breathable mid layer that provides warmth, and then a shell to keep the rain and snow off you, you can alter the combination and thickness of each layer to suit your needs. You can be completely versatile.
Top tip: For a long hard walk into a mountain crag in winter take a spare base layer for when you get there. If you can bear to strip off, do so and put on your dry vest (very refreshing!)
As fabric technology moves forward so do the concepts of the layering system. There are now high performance fabrics that do the job of two or three garments. Modern fabrics are being developed with a 'memory' to keep you cool in hot conditions and warm when it's cold.
The layering system is still very valid and adaptable, especially for most current garments. As they say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' The choice is yours but technology is moving at an alarming rate so, don't get left behind!