Picture yourself sitting around a summer campfire: What are you wearing?
My guess is that you probably envision a t-shirt, maybe a flannel or a hoody on a cool night. When I talk to people about the clothing they carry backpacking, then, I ask them why they'd need to carry more than a couple of simple layers. I mean, if a t-shirt and a flannel will get you through most cool summer nights… why carry more?
Yes, this is Backpacking Light. And any given merino top is going to weigh more and insulate less than a light down vest. But warmth to weight ratio isn't the ONLY significant factor in choosing what to pack. We also have to ask ourselves what is most pragmatic and versatile in the field, in the conditions we anticipate. It doesn't make sense to pack too much warmth just because it weighs less than other options.
I typically wear a base layer top, and then carry a mid layer and an uberlight poofy vest. Ounce for ounce, nothing can match the insulation of a 4-ounce down vest. But in the summer months? C'mon, man, I don't want to wear down. It's too much warmth. I became interested in finding layers that were more versatile in the warmer months, and turned my attention to merino wool.
My upper base layer goes on at the start of a trip and comes off sometime after I get back to the car, so I need something that can sort of be a second skin. When I'm in camp, moving about doing light chores such as filtering water, I need a little something extra as the sun waxes or wanes. And, frankly, I enjoy lazy time in camp, sitting around and playing cards, taking photos, and enjoying the company of friends. When I first rise from bed and tend to coffee, or when the moon begins its show, I want enough warmth to sit comfortably, without fidgeting, to enjoy the moments fully, so… I need an outer insulation-ish piece. Knowing that I was looking for three pieces, then, I started trying to piece together a system.
- Making Choices
- Evaluation and Use
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