Podcast Episode November 9, 2021

Episode 49 | Untraditional Layers

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In this SKILLS SHORT, Andrew and Ryan chat about layers that don’t quite fit into the traditional three-layer system.

fishnet shirt laying on a wood porch
Brynje fishnet base layer shirt.


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Home Forums Episode 49 | Untraditional Layers

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)
  • Author
  • #3731869
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 49 | Untraditional Layers

    Ryan and Andrew discuss lightweight layering options for backpacking clothing that fall outside the norm of function.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    I’m 15 minutes into it (there doesn’t seem to be any speed control – I see why my kids listen to their college lectures at 2.5x).

    The “non-traditional” layering I do are:
    1) no outer layer.  Just stuff (poly-pro, fleece, pile) that keeps me warm when wet and that dries as you wear it (once the rain stops).  It seems ideal for, say, a BPing or cycling trip in Iceland with rain and wind that can go on all day.
    2) around town in winter, I’ve long gone with flannel-lined jeans, a t-shirt and a big jacket.  All three for use outdoor, but then after getting to work or home, I just take the big jacket off and I’m fine.  Yeah, cotton is bad for spring skiing in the Sierra, but in New England or Alaska, where there’ll be no liquid water until spring, cotton is just fine around town – easy to launder, no static sparks.

    John S.
    BPL Member


    I have never used a base layer for three season backpacking, and only use one for winter because it is much colder. My three season layers from skin out are 1) nylon button down, 2) wind shirt, 3) insulation layer of fleece or synthetic, 4) rain jacket, usually silnylon.

    Gary Dunckel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Boulder

    Maybe include a set of fishnet base layers?

    BPL Member


    John S, I am with you.  People who live in the desert have worn loose, flowing garments for eons to allow moisture to escape.  I have never been comfortable being hot with a tight fitting garment of any type and I have lived in the humid east and dry west. Just can’t get used to it.   Besides, I like the shirt chest pocket to carry my cigarettes. (kidding, obviously).

    Victor Hoyt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hudson Highlands

    I live in the Hudson Highlands in NY. It’s pretty humid here, and it gets wet and cold. I always carry a proper array of gear in my pack, to match the conditions of the season. However, my philosophy has always been “start cold, keep moving, stay cool”. So, down to around 45F I wear shorts and a sleeveless synthetic. I carry an umbrella for rain. Harder rain, colder weather, I add layers rather than subtract, and I adjust my pace to stay as dry as possible. In the snow, I wear fleece tights and the shorts, with a single long sleeved fleece hoodie, and have ready gear for when I stop, to stay warm. I also wear waterproof socks in the winter.

    My hands are my worst enemy. I have Raynaud’s. So, even when I’m wearing just the sleeveless and shorts, if it’s cool, I’m wearing gloves.  I keep hand warmers, possum down liners, insulated gloves, down mittens, and pertex shells, all for my damn hands.

    Anyway… that’s my system such as it is.

    Kenneth Knight
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE Michigan

    Two thoughts on rain jackets. Neither is super light but still worth a look.

    thr Sierra Designs Elie Cagoule has openings to feed a hip belt through so it can remain more open allowing better air flow. It doesn’t secure as well since it uses little Velcro buttons to close so on a real downpour it’s not ideal but still works.

    The Packa never seems to come up but mixes features of a poncho and jacket covering you and your backpack. Granted the cuffs aren’t snug so rain can pour in there but otherwise it does a fine job even on a downpour. I’ve used mine with a small pack too and it works though it’s billowy nature can be a problem then.

    Lije Ryan I can also say nice things about Paramo though I haven’t worn mine in years, mostly because they don’t fit well now, but did in Scotland when doing TGO Challenges on 2008 and 2010


    Jan Paul M
    BPL Member


    Hi Kenneth,

    I recently came up with the idea of making a sort of poncho with sleeves and pit zips that would fit over my backpack, maximising ventilation without the flapping and poor arm protection of poncho. And then I discovered The Packa, which is exactly what I was thinking of. So much for innovative thinking.. My question is: does it work in prolonged rain? My breathable rain jacket doesn’t when hiking for hours in the rain, because the jacket wets out and sweat builds up underneath. Since I only put my rain jacket on when it actually rains, I’m beginning to question if I need a breathable and waterproof fabric at all. I use a windjacket that’s breathable and that will get me through a light drizzle. So when it starts to rain, a well ventilated and fully waterproof jacket might even be better then my current shell. What’s your experience with The Packa?

    Matthew / BPL


    I like the Packa. It’s a little weird around camp but it’s great on the trail. I particularly like how you can don/doff while walking. I have worn just the hood and shoulders on a couple occasions leaving the sleeves still tucked inside the turtle shell / pack cover. Mine is under 8.5 ounces. I wouldn’t carry it on a trip where rain is expected to be minimal or nonexistent but it’s a good choice when I know precipitation is coming.

    Kenneth Knight
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE Michigan

    The water that gets in my Packa has done so through openings lije the cuffs not through the fabric. It would be my choice in expected to be wet places lije the UK or the US east coast. My last use was on the Northville Placid trail and it dealt with a lot of heavy driving rain.

    Chris R
    BPL Member


    I like my Paramo gear for when we get temperatures cool enough that it will almost certainly be worn all day. As temperatures drop below 20 F I switch to jackets by Fjallraven made from a poly cotton blend. Their clothing is durable, cut well and has some nice features. Provided you can wait to find it on sale it’s pretty good value.

    Matthew / BPL


    I finally had a moment to watch this and enjoyed the content. Two questions for Ryan, Andrew or anyone else related to the last segment and rain shells:

    1) Any thoughts on pit zip location? I used to have a shell from Luke’s Ultralight which had pit zips that started just below my armpit and extended pad my elbows. Luke’s logic for the placement was that it maintained breathability when wearing a pack because it eliminated interference with the lower part of the shoulder strap which tends to keep deep torso zips from breathing. I found the airflow from these zips to be very effective.

    2) I tend to buy shells a little baggy and I find I can get a lot of airflow by leaving the hem loose and pulling the shell over my hipbelt. I do wear my hipbelt lower than many so that might make this a more reasonable option. It’s a simple solution but it provides a lot of mechanical ventilation. Do others do this?

    John S.
    BPL Member


    My silnylon rain gear (top is anorak) was made to be baggy for mechanical ventilation reasons. I do pull up the front over the hipbelt for more ventilation. I also unzip and pull up over hipbelt…my windshirt for more ventilation when I don’t want to take it off yet.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    I love Luke’s Ultralight pit zips. they’re actually long enough.

    I’m also a huge fan of 2-way side zips, armpits to hem, both sides. Allows you to drape the garment over a hip belt and let it flap around for lots of ventilation, or because the zips are 2-way, insert the hip belt through the zippered opening for more weather protection.

    Neither of these solve the main issue for backpacking, however – the wet back syndrome. Still need a back that remains off your back (curved frame stays a la Osprey and ZPacks Arc), or a hybrid VB vest like the Forty Below ones.

    Dustin V
    BPL Member


    I’m interested in the Packa also, but it’s a little pricey to buy as an experiment. I am doing a cheaper experiment though. I just ordered a backless wind anorak that I should be able to put on/take off without taking off the pack. I’m hoping that the front zip and the gaps around the pack will ventilate well enough since it won’t go under the pack straps and trap sweat.

    Ed Tyanich
    BPL Member


    A question and a couple comments.

    Question to Ryan or others that have used Senchi Designs hoodies, how is the durability?


    I have used the windshirt layer under insulation for close to 30 years. Back when running a lot of trail ultra’s, my favorite below zero combo was a synthetic sleeveless with a Marmot DriClime over that and a Lowe Alpine Ninja fleece on the outside.

    Another favorite of mine is a base layer and a wind vest, preferably with a highly breathable back or mesh back and the use arm warmers as conditions require. I’ve gone back to this system recently and wonder why I ever stopped. I am curious about the backless anorak and have come very close to ordering one from Camp several times. Suppose I should, if I want one as they are only available on closeout

    I also really like two way zippers.

    Dustin V
    BPL Member


    Running with a hydration pack is really the main use case for the backless anorak. It’s a little risky to stumble along while un-threading one arm from the pack strap, threading it through the sleeve and then back into the strap and repeating on the other side. If I trip during this awkward magic trick I might dislocate a shoulder like Harry Houdini ….while donning a Houdini. I don’t want to suffer that level of irony.

    Ed Tyanich
    BPL Member



    Did you order the Camp, or does someone else make a backless anorak?

    I know that Patagonia makes/made a running jacket with twin zippers that the front panel could be unzipped. Seemed kind of overly complex.

    Dustin V
    BPL Member


    I ordered the Camp. I know that I’ve seen one by Altra, but this one was discounted.

    I found a couple of reviews –including one here by Danny Milks– that sounded like it could be good for niche use.

    Ed Tyanich
    BPL Member


    At the discounted price, it’s not a big gamble.

    Curious how well it works for you.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Outdoor Research has made for years side zips that start at the hem and go to almost your elbow, with 2-way zips. I don’t know why Ryan didn’t mention them. They call it TorsoFlo. See for example their Foray jacket using Gore PacLite. Not especially light, but it does have the excellent ventilation features many people in this chat are looking for.

    Adam W
    BPL Member


    Regarding the  fish net base layer, do you run the risk of sunburn if only wearing the Brynje?

    Gary Dunckel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Boulder

    Yep, Adam. This option is intended to warm your body when used in conjunction with another layer over it.

    Morgan S
    BPL Member


    Are vapor barriers so unpopular they don’t merit discussion? I’ve had great success with a vapor barrier shirt in shoulder and winter use (Stephenson Warmlite – ugly, my kids called it the plastic vomit shirt – but very effective).  I used a fishnet T in the 70s, but it was cotton. Re: Brynje, you prefer the polypropylene to their wool version?

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)
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