The beauty of a Himalayan trek can be spellbinding. It motivates some and captivates others. Whatever the reason may be, Trekking is becoming increasingly popular with the advent of a more connected world. More and more trekking routes documented digitally, the information is readily available. Winter Treks have become immensely popular, and more trekkers are turning towards high altitude treks.
A trekker is usually exposed to harsh weather conditions, with extreme temperatures and unpredictable weather.

While many factors are to be considered, in safeguarding the self, one critical factor which is often overlooked is the appropriate set of clothing one must carry for the trek. People more than often overpack, which adds to their weight and is a downside for any trekker. The fear of the unknown instinctively prompts us to carry more, and by the time the trek ends, half of our clothes remain unutilized. Sometimes the mistake of not carrying enough can be even scarier, as an extreme situation can lead to a mishap. With this in mind, the “concept of layering” needs to be understood by every trekker planning their next Himalayan trek.

“Layering” is a widely understood concept in the mountaineering world. The concept essentially divides the clothing into 3 different categories or layers, with each layer serving a different purpose.

Let’s try to understand the purpose of each layer -

1. First Layer or Base Layer

As the name suggests, the base layer is the first layer, which an individual wears next to their skin. Our bodies produce a lot of heat when we do any activity such as walking or jogging or ascending a trail. In fact, as much as 80% of our effort goes into the production of heat. To regulate our body temperature, in response to this heat, we perspire (or sweat).

It is thus undisputed that a layer that is worn next to the skin should be able to wick this perspiration away, keeping our skin dry, failing which an illness can be quick to strike. A wet base layer can be a nightmare in cold and damp conditions in winter or a high altitude trek, with prolonged exposure leading to hypothermia in severe cases can be life-threatening.

A quick-dry T-Shirt or a Warmer made of hydrophobic fabrics such as Polyester or Nylon are the best choices available. For those conscious of synthetic materials, fine wools such as “merino” will be the appropriate choice. In no conditions should you opt for Cotton layers, as cotton absorbs moisture (hydrophilic) to a great extent and is thus counterproductive to the very purpose of a base layer

2. Second Layer or Insulating Layer

The insulating layer does the job of insulating against cold weather conditions. Any cloth that can trap body heat in the form of warm air pockets can be qualified as part of this insulating layer. A woollen sweater, a padded or down jacket, a fleece, these all comprise the “insulating layer”. For the Insulating layer, you can always add or reduce the number of Clothes that do this job, example, you can be wearing a fleece and a down jacket on top of it and these both serve the same purpose, i.e. “Insulation” and thus make up the Second Layer collectively. 

It is always recommended to carry multiple light clothes that serve this purpose, as by doing so you can easily adjust the amount of warmth you may need in different weather conditions, rather than a single bulky jacket which may not work for all situation

3. Third Layer or Shell Layer

The purpose of a Shell layer in one word is to “protect”. Weather in the mountains can change spontaneously. It is thus crucial to be able to protect oneself, while on the trail. A shell layer can protect you from weather conditions such as rain, snowfall, excessive wind etc. A good waterproof jacket is the best bet to safeguard against such conditions, as it can work both for wind and snow as well. However, use them when the weather really calls for it. The downside is that these waterproof layers are generally not breathable, i.e. they can trap the perspiration from the body. Any clothes that you may be wearing under it may get wet. 

A few quick-drying Shirts or T-Shirts depending on the number of days, a couple of synthetic/woollen warmers, along with a pair of fleece, a lightly padded jacket and a good breathable Waterproof Jacket can complete all the components of this “Layering” system and can help you sustain in all kinds of weather. 

While selecting other protective clothing, be sure to pay attention to few critical points, such as avoid any cotton clothing even for underwear or socks as cotton retains moisture and can lead to chafing or skin irritation, rather quickly.

Always cover your head with a beanie in cold weather and with a cap when under the sun. Covering maximum exposed skin by wearing full sleeve shirts and full-length trousers can avoid UV burns to a great extent. These are some additional precautions you can take to protect yourself during your trek. 

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