You’re out on an all-day hike in the mountains, or a long climb or trail run, or backpacking. The weather forecast looked pretty good before you set out—but no one shared that memo with the wind that just started hammering your summit ridge, or the spitting rain and hail now pelting you as you contemplate the sudden drop in temperature and the miles between you and shelter. The question now is: What’s in your pack?
Think of your layering system of clothing for outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing as a musical instrument. When you’re first learning how to play, you practice one chord or note at a time. But you only begin to produce music once you link chords in a way that sounds good. Similarly, only by treating your layering system as a dynamic, interconnected whole can you move more comfortably and safely in any weather. In this freshly updated article, I offer 10 specific tips for making your layering system work better—which ultimately helps you spend your money smartly.
Hybrid Insulated Jacket The North Face ThermoBall Active Jacket
$150, 14.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL ems.com
The December sun was about to drop over the horizon, and the air temperature was dropping even faster—but I was enjoying the skate-skiing around Bear Basin, in the quiet ponderosa pine forest outside McCall, Idaho, too much to head for the car just yet. It didn’t matter. I knew I could wring out the last minutes of daylight and stay warm, despite my base layer being quite sweaty, thanks to the hybrid design and unique insulation in the ThermoBall Active Jacket.
Throughout four straight days of backcountry skiing in the mountains above Lake Tahoe in early February, winds gusting at 40 to 50 mph buffeted us—the pockets of protected terrain seemed rare—and snow fell for three of those days, heavily at times. A few days later, I was Nordic skate skiing and snowshoeing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, on days ranging from overcast and windy to breezy with warm sunshine. On all of those days, temperatures were cold enough—from the low 20s to the mid-30s Fahrenheit—to quickly chill me if I either under-dressed for the wind or sweated from overdressing. And for hours at a time on those days of widely ranging conditions and exertion levels, I wore Patagonia’s new Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket.
Hybrid Insulated Jacket The North Face Desolation ThermoBall Jacket
$199, 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
Backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains in heavily falling snow, I pulled my Desolation ThermoBall Jacket on over my waterproof-breathable shell for extra warmth while digging a snow pit to assess avalanche conditions. Finishing that, with the Desolation ThermoBall’s shell damp from snow, I stuffed it inside my pack while we made a couple of downhill runs and climbs. Later, I pulled it on over my shell again for the ski down to our car, as snow continued dumping and temps were dropping fast. Although damp, the jacket kept me warm. It did the same on other ski tours in temps in the teens Fahrenheit, repelling light, falling snow and giving me the warmth I needed by simply wearing it over my shell—no getting blasted by cold wind to add a layer. That illustrates the versatility of The North Face Desolation ThermoBall Jacket, an insulation piece that won’t just sit in your pack.