Gear Guide

Base layersLayering Tips

Everyone knows the cold can be a little unforgiving when dressed poorly for it. These are a few tips and tricks on how to layer properly and stay comfortable:

Base Layer (Wool or Synthetic)
  • The closest layer to the skin wicks moisture away by spreading it to the outer layers, keeping your body dry and warm.
Insulating layer (Wool or Fleece)
  • Designed to warm the body by trapping air from the outer layer to the base layer.
Mid layer (Synthetic Insulation, Soft-shell Fleece or Down)
  • Can also be viewed as another insulated layer with the additional warmth and protection of a down jacket or soft-shell.
Outer layer (Gore Tex, Event, Proprietary)
  • Generally a windproof, waterproof layer (also called a hard shell) meant to protect you from the elements. (Ex. wind, rain, snow, etc.) These pieces are usually also breathable allowing moisture vapor to escape.

Cotton should never be worn within the layering system due to its lack of wicking properties. Cotton retains moisture, becomes heavy and loses the ability to keep you warm when it's wet. Cotton also dries significantly slower than performance fabrics.

Sleeping Mats and Pads

Visit the Sea to Summit Sleeping Mat guide

The purpose of sleeping pads is to provide insulation from the cold ground and comfort for a good night's sleep.

thermarest sleeping padsInflatable
  • Inflated for more comfort than foam mats during use and can be deflated, taking up less space when stored.
  • Lightweight
    • Manually inflating
      • A pad that requires external pressure from either physically blowing into the valve or using a pump. Most quality mats have an anti-bacterial liner to prevent any fungus from growing inside the mat if moisture accumulates.
    • Self-inflating
      • A mat made from open cell foam that is designed to fill itself once the valve is open, creating the same pressure internally as the external pressure. This mat occasionally takes a little additional inflation to reach the fullest expansion.
  • Made from closed cell foam that can either be rolled or folded, depending on design and material. These mats are more durable and have the ability to trim to any size. Due to the nature of the design the mats generally take up more space and have a tendency to be less comfortable.
therma rest technical infoWeight and Comfort
  • Factors such as the locations and times of your camping or backpacking trip will determine which sleeping pad is best for you. Sleeping pads usually fall into one of three categories (Ultralight/All Around/Comfort) which vary in regards to weight and degree of comfort and warmth provided.
    • Ultralight
      • Lightweight mattress that takes up little room
    • All Around
      • Durable without sacrificing weight and space
    • Comfort
      • Large mats designed for car camping with greatest comfort.
R value


  • The rating of how effectively the sleeping pad reduces heat loss. Higher R-Values mean warmer sleeping pads.

sleeping cotsCots
  • Portable beds with additional comfort and elevation over other sleeping pads. Due to having open space between the cot and the ground the insulation factor is not as high.
  • Some mate with reflective liners that radiate heat back to the sleeper.

pack distributionPack Distribution

Ever hear the term "work smarter not harder"? Here are a few tips that can make your next hiking trip a little easier making the whole trip more enjoyable.

Watch this great instructional video from Osprey for essential advice!

Pack heaviest items closest to your spine such as:
  • Stove and eating kit
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water
  • Food
  • Tent
Pack DistributionPlace lighter weight items away from back such as:
  • Rain jacket
  • Extra clothing
  • Toilet paper
Most commonly used items pack near the top such as:
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Snacks
  • Water filtration
  • Water
Less used items go in the bottom such as:
  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent and gear for tent
  • Repair kit

After everything is packed use the compression straps to tighten everything so the gear does not shift and proceed to test the pack to ensure proper weight distribution.

10 Essential items for backpacking

I don't know about you but I like to have something and not need it than need it and not have it. Here are the items that you don't want to be missing when you need them while camping or hiking.

  • Map (with protective case)
  • Compass
  • GPS (optional)
Sun protection
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Lip Balm
  • Hat
  • Jacket, vest, pants, gloves, hat (see Clothing)
  • Headlamp or flashlight (plus spare)
  • Extra batteries
First-aid supplies
  • First-aid kit (see our First-Aid Checklist)
  • Matches or lighter
  • Waterproof container
  • Fire starter (for emergency survival fire)
Repair kit and tools
  • Knife or multi-tool
Kits for stove, mattress; duct tape strips
  • Extra day's supply of food
  • Hydration
  • Water bottles or hydration system
  • Water filter or other treatment system
Emergency shelter
  • Tent, tarp, or reflective blanket

Smartwool socks
smartwool socksSmartWool PHD
  • PhD socks contain two main features: ReliaWool technology and a 4 Degree Elite Fit System which standard SmartWool socks do not have. The ReliaWool technology increases the durability in high-wear areas of the socks, enabling longer living socks. The 4 Degree Fit System prevents the sock from sliding or bunching while walking with or without shoes, increasing the comfort of the socks.
WoW technology
  • WoW stands for "Wool on Wool," which places more merino wool in high impact places making socks last longer than normal.


Each category of socks contains various cushion levels that will provide additional padding and warmth:

  • These will be the warmest of all of them. Meant for the cold, they will last a little longer than the others due to the thickness and will have better cushion on the foot than the others even with the different levels of cushion.
  • This is for working outside or walking. These feel great on the feet.
  • A little thinner than Outdoor and Lifestyle but still offer ample cushion in the heel and at the balls of the feet.
  • Dress socks for everyday use that won't be as thick as the Hiking category but still offer comfort and a look good enough to go with anything in your wardrobe.

Sleeping Bags

Bragging ‘bout bags boasting 'bout being best...

Temperature Ratings
  • The temperature rating is set to an industry standard that represents the lowest temperature the bag should be used in. Although the rating is listed for that temperature, generally that is not the optimal comfort sleeping range. The comfortable sleeping range is generally 15 – 20 degrees greater than the EN rating on the bag. (EX. 20 degree sleeping bag is comfortable in temperatures around 35 to 40 degrees)
  • When searching for the right bag, consider the time of year that your adventure is planned for and the climate or region it will take place in. It's recommended that you get a bag that has a rating close to the temperature you are expecting because liners can always be added to increase or decrease the bag rating to maximize comfort.
Sleeping baffling diagramsBaffling
  • The way in which the filling is kept in place throughout the bag.
    • Single Stitch – a single stitch used to keep insulation in place and give the bag shape.
    • Double Stitch – two stitches used side by side to increases durability and keep insulation in place and give the bag shape.
    • Welding – instead of a stitch that puts tiny holes in the bag the seams are fused together making not only the bag warmer but also increase the life span of the bag.
Sleeping Bag Shape
  • Rectangular
    • The most common sleeping bag shape is the rectangular design, which is made with comfort and roominess in mind. These bags are not best for colder temperatures due to the extra space within the bag your body has to heat to stay warm.
    • These bags can generally be "mated" together, which means if you have two bags (one with a left handed zipper and another with a right handed zipper) the two can zip together to make a tandem sleeping bag. This is normally only possible if the bags are identical, excluding the zipper side, and come from the same company.
  • Semi Rectangular
    • This bag is made with comfort and efficiency in mind. With less room to move in than a rectangular bag but more than the mummy design it caters to larger framed people or those who prefer additional room to move around when they sleep.
  • Mummy
    • The mummy bags have a tighter fit, designed with efficiency in mind. This bag doesn't take as long to warm up, making it a perfect design for colder temperatures. These are very popular with backpackers and campers who need that extra warmth.
sleeping bag downInsulation
  • Down
    down sleeping bags

    • Down will keep you warm and can be compressed into a smaller size than any other material, creating more room for other items within a pack. This insulation has the capability of regulating one's body temperature to a greater degree, making sleeping more comfortable in unexpected warmer temperatures. Down bags historically outlast synthetic material 3 to 1 and are traditionally lighter in weight.
  • Synthetic
    • Synthetic bags will keep you warm through the night at a cheaper price point. This insulation has been designed to keep some of the insulation ability even when wet, though it does not compress as well as down.
Differences in Men's and Women's bags
  • There are slight differences in the cut of the bag to fit a woman's figure better.
  • The woman's bag is also more heavily insulated in key areas to keep the same EN ratings due to studies that show women sleep at a lower temperature than men.
Left handed and right handed bags
  • The placement of the zipper is determined by one's dominate hand. While lying in the bag it is easiest to reach across and unzip the bag from the opposite side than to use a zipper on the same side as your dominate hand.
    • The zipper will be on the right side for the left handed bag.
    • The zipper will be on the left side for the right handed bag.
EN ratings Certified
  • This means the bag has been tested and approved by the manufacturer. Not all companies test their bags to the EN standard, indicating that they may are not be truly rated for the indicated temperature.

Differences in Wool / Synthetic / Down

Natural or Synthetic, which is best and how do you know? Here are a few differences between the three to help you choose your personal preference.

  • Merino sheep have longer wool strands than other sheep breeds, calling for fewer strands for the assembly of clothing. This minimizes the itch points that normally irritate the skin. The merino strands are on average half the diameter of other wool strands, with micro fibers that reduce the irritation on the skin. Having thinner strands calls for a tighter weave of strands, creating pockets that trap air to keep you warm. This also allows for greater flexibility of the fibers, eliminating the irritation of skin follicles that traditional rag wool creates.
  • Wool keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter because it is an absorbent fiber. When the air is cool and damp, wool absorbs moisture and keeps a layer of dry, insulating air next to the skin. When it's warm, that same absorption capacity takes up perspiration and keeps insulating dry air next to the skin, making the body's natural cooling system work better.
  • Odor reducer
    • Wool contains anti-bacterial fibers which restrict any bacteria looking to feed from the combination of fats and salts produced while sweating. By not allowing these bacteria to grow wool prevents the fabric from stinking.Wicking process
  • Wicking process
    • The fabric in wicking clothing pulls moisture away from the skin with a process called capillary action. The wicking quality of Merino wool enables its absorption process to regulate your body temperature effectively.
  • Anti-static
    • Having clothing that does not build up electricity and stick to your body improves the comfort level and maneuverability when layered.
  • Less flammable
    • Wool fibers extinguish any flames or embers they come in contact with without melting or sticking to skin, making for a safe next to skin layer and exterior layer when around a fire.
  • Ease of care
    • Merino wool garments do not need to be hand washed or call for special detergents unless the label specifies. Washing with other like colors on a normal cycle and line drying is all these garments require.
  • Synthetic clothing is manmade fabric created during a process called polymerization, which can make articles of clothing items waterproof, something natural fibers don't have the ability to do on their own.
    • Can be tailored to be many different things, such as a waterproof jacket or a shirt that can wick away sweat in the summer. Synthetics have a wide variety of uses based on their design.
  • Wicking process
    • The synthetic wicking process absorbs the moisture from the body and distributes it through the fabric, helping to speed up the evaporative process. Between each woven strand of fabric little openings are left that allow water molecules to be pulled to the outer section of the garment. The tighter the weave the smaller the openings, causing more distribution of water particles and allowing the garment to dry faster.
  • Odor reducer
    • Antimicrobials work to block odor in the shirt and will stay in the material for the life of treatment. The higher end, more expensive the products will last longer than less expensive ones. Washing the garment after a few uses is required because the dirt will begin to build over time.
  • Ease of care
    • Synthetic materials are machine friendly and can be put in the dryer; this won't hurt the wicking or odor reducing abilities. It is always best to dry clothing part way and air dry the rest if possible to ensure a greater life span.
  • Feather count ranges from 550 to 900+ which describes the quality and loft of the feathers. Feathers rated at 550 are generally duck feathers that do not have high loft, limiting the amount of air that can be trapped among them. Feathers rated at 900+ make up the highest quality loft, which provides greater compressibility and warmth with high lofted feathers that increase the amount of air the feathers can trap. Down fill garments with higher ratings generally have a greater lifespan and will outlast those with lower ratings or synthetic materials.
  • Down has the natural ability to better regulate your body temperature than a synthetic material, allowing for better performance of the product in various temperatures.
  • Down ratings
    • These numbers are determined by the amount of space an ounce of down takes up. (EX: 1 ounce of 650 down takes up 650 cubic inches when uncompressed)
  • Ease of care
    • These garments should NOT be washed with standard detergent as normal detergents leave a film on the feathers that reduces the loft. There are special down cleaners that are recommended to clean down jackets that will prolong the life of the jacket. Down is dryer friendly, though it is recommended to use two or three tennis balls to help keep the loftiness.