Zen Backpacking Clothing






Backpacking Clothing




Clothing selection can become a little complicated in that climate, environment and personal preference vary greatly.


Backpacking Clothing

Clothing Fabrics





Mountain Hardware Canyon Shirt

Mountain Hardware Canyon Shirt


Soft microfiber nylons make great all-around clothing, allowing of cool comfortable wear in hot environments, while keeping you dry and therefore warm in cool environments.


Cotton shirts can be pretty comfortable in hot dry environments, but can make you uncomfortably, or even dangerously, wet and cold.  These are not recommended in cold environments.


Long sleeved shirts will provide you with more protection from the sun, wind and bugs than t-shirts.


In cold environments, backpackers should use multiple layers of synthetic (or wool) clothing to stay warm while allowing perspiration to be wicked away from the skin and keep the wearer somewhat dry.



Pants come in all different flavors.


North Face Meridian Cargo Pant


Adventure pants are often made of cotton or nylon.  Cotton tends to be cool, soft and very comfortable but not very durable.  Nylons can be really hot an uncomfortable to wear or very similar to cotton, depending on how it is constructed.  Adventure pants often have extra pockets, such as cargo pockets which can be very useful to many backpackers.





Denim jeans are made of cotton canvas material.  Because of its thick fabric construction, it tends to be very durable.  Its cotton construction carries with it the comfort of cotton as well as the cooling qualities of cotton.  Because jeans tend to be so thick, they can be a bit more difficult to wash and dry than other trouser choices.  They also take up more than twice as much space in a pack than microfiber pants.  Since they take so long to dry, they are not recommended for wet or cold environments.



Khaki BDU Pants

Commando pants (aka BDUs) are made of adventures and generally have reinforced areas of high wear, and great cargo pockets.  These come in various camouflaged patterns as well as in khaki, black, blue and forest green.  Fabric also varies.  Cotton tends to be light, cool and fade rapidly.  Nylon and blended ripstops tend to be more durable, don't fade as quickly and are fast drying.  Polyester cold climate twill uniforms are thick and tend to keep you hotter than you may like to be and don't ever seem to dry when wet.  Camouflaged patterned pants may draw negative attention when traveling abroad.


GoLite Shazam


Convertible zip of trousers seem to be a good idea and many swear by them.  Unfortunately, the zippers on the leggings often fail and are not very comfortable when warn.  They also make you look like a tourist.


Shorts are light, easy to pack and dry quickly.  They provide little protection against sun, bugs, rocks and plants.  Shorts are also not appropriate to wear in many parts of the world.



There are many schools of thought on footwear.


Flip flops are often used in base camps or for urban treks.  These offer very little protection to feet and are not recommended for anything other than showering.  Sandals are a step up from flip flops and offer little protection to feet.  These are not recommended for backpacking use since the lack of foot and ankle protection could result in a significant injury while in the bush or abroad.  Not only can a foot/ankle injury cause an end to your trek, it can result in significant infections and possibly the need for amputation.  Others swear by sandals and won't walk in anything but them.


Dress shoes and high heals have no place in backpacking (bush or urban).


Light trail shoes are generally sufficient for most types of treks.  They are light and provide adequate protection from the majority of trail/urban hazards.


Hiking shoes with partial ankle protection are a bit heavier than trail shoes but provide a bit more protection and some ankle support.


Boots are used by hunters, loggers, the military and such.  They generally provide a great deal of protection against trail/urban hazards but tend to be comparatively quite heavy.  Depending on fitting, construction and break-in, these can be incredibly comfortable to wear or miserable.  These are often overkill and unnecessary for most backpackers.  These also become quite inconvenient, unless equipped with zippers, in parts of the world when you are expected to get in and out of your footwear every time you enter a building.


Footwear fabrics and construction vary greatly.  Synthetics can be soft, hard, delicate, durable, breathable, etc.  Leather is a little more difficult to work with and good leather footwear is often expensive.  To prevent rot and increase the longevity of leather, the wearer will need to frequently treat it.  That said, there is nothing better than a properly fitted and broken in pair of leather footwear.


Waterproof breathables such as Gortex help keep certain footwear dry when the wears is trotting through shallow mud puddles.  Unfortunately, it can increase the price of  footwear considerably, decrease breathable of footwear and increase inner footwear temperatures.  Waterproof breathable are generally not needed unless you are in low temperature environments and concerned about cold injuries or are trekking through very wet environments such as the Pacific Northwest.


Vapor barrier boots (aka Mickey Mouse Boots) and keep you feet incredibly warm in arctic environments but are not suitable for long treks.


Insoles can increase comfort of you feet and help prevent blister formation.  There are many types of insoles to choose from and user preference and needs will vary greatly.  Those with arch supports built in will help with some hikers but can cause problems with other hikers.  Those with high density shock absorption material in the heal and ball areas are often preferred for backpackers.  Insoles can be custom molded to help with foot geometry, but should only be done by properly trained, educated and experienced persons.


The soles on most footwear can be replaced by to good cobbler.  The outer sole should be high density durable material while in middle sandwiched mid sole can by a less dense shock absorbing material.  Vibram produces some really good quality soles.



There are several schools of thought on sock use.  The can be made in all different types of high tech fabrics, cotton or wool. 


Cotton absorbs a lot of water and dries slowly, leaving your feet wet which softens the skin (in a bad way) and invites fungal growth.  This material often feels very comfortable when first putting it on, but decreases in comfort as it collects sweat.  These are not recommended for outdoorsman or those walking a lot.


Synthetics usually do a better job of keeping feet dry and are often used as an inner layer sock. 


Good quality high density wool socks offer the best protection against friction and impact for backpackers.  If they a a cushioned pile inside, they should be worn inside out so that the denser layer is in direct contact with your feet.  Thick expedition socks provide a great deal of protection to feet can be used in all environments (hot or cold), but are generally not used by hot weather trekkers trying to keep as cool as possible.  Quality wool socks, such as SmartWool, are quite comfortable but poorer quality wool socks can be itchy and unbearable for some hikers.


Gortex socks can be useful for protection against repeated exposure to water when footwear doesn't provide adequate protection.  When properly fitted, these also increase the level of insulation to the feet.


Low budget trekkers sometimes use plastic bags to waterproof and insulate their feet with a layer of vapor barrier material.  Since this technique does not allow feet to breath, it isn't recommended unless you are unexpectedly and temporally trapped in a cold environment.





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