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Core Backpacking Clothing || Check lists & systems for 3-season conditions

With just a 13-item collection of hiking and backpacking clothing, is it possible to be comfortable here?

And with that very same kit, also here?

And here, too? I think it is.

Earlier this month I introduced the Core 13, a tight collection of hiking and backpacking clothing that can be mixed-and-matched to create appropriate systems for every set of 3-season conditions.

The Core 13 are meant to be specific products, not just product types, e.g. ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs, not just underwear, and not three pairs of underwear that each have an optimal niche use. While some of the Core 13 are perfectly represented by existing products, others highlight a void that is waiting to be addressed by an innovative designer. In those particular instances, there are functional products available, but no single item that performs without compromise in the full range of 3-season conditions.

In eight subsequent posts, I detailed my choices — their roles, ideal specs, and recommended products:

Clothing Lists & Systems for 3-Season Conditions

But a list of recommend products is only so useful. Yes, you can bring the full Core 13 on your next hiking or backpacking trip and you will fare very well. But rarely are all 13 clothing items needed on a single trip. For example, I need just 7 to push through the High Sierra in June on a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, and 9 for a packrafting trip in Alaska in August.

To complete the Core 13 series, then, I would like to offer specific clothing lists for different sets of 3-season conditions. While these systems are specific to popular backpacking trails and destinations, they will be very applicable — if not perfectly so — to other locations in similar climates and seasons. Based on the nuances of your route and a last-minute forecast, minor tweaking may be appropriate.

Bookmark this page and return whenever you need to assemble a clothing system for a trip in unfamiliar territory, or to reconsider your existing systems. As with all of my gear lists, several disclaimers and qualifiers apply.

If you have questions or comments about my recommended systems, please leave them at the bottom of the page — I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and to discuss mine.

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Appalachian Trail — Great Smoky National Park, NC/TN

Early-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-50’s (up high), 50’s-60’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s (up high), 40’s-50’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light
Selections

appalachian-smoky-1

Late-Spring + Summer + Early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 60’s (up high), 70’s-80’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 40’s (up high), 50’s-60’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: High
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light
Selections

appalachian-smoky-2

Late-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-50’s (up high), 50’s-60’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s (up high), 30’s-40’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light
Selections

appalachian-smoky-3


Appalachian Trail — Delaware Water Gap, NJ

Early-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light
Selections

appalachian-nj-1

Late-Spring + Summer + Early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 70’s-80’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: High
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light, but considerable tick concern
Selections

appalachian-nj-2

Late-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low
  • Biting insects: Light
Selections

appalachian-nj-3


Appalachian Trail — White Mountains, NH + Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-50’s (up high), 60’s-70’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s (up high), 40’s-50’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low, but perhaps considerable above treeline
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

appalachians-whites-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s (up high), 70’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 40’s (up high), 50’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: High
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low, but perhaps considerable above treeline
  • Biting insects: Intense and widespread
Selections

appalachians-whites-2

Late-Summer and Early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-50’s (up high), 60’s-70’s (down low)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s (up high), 40’s-50’s (down low)
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate-High
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low, but perhaps considerable above treeline
  • Biting insects: Light by late-Summer
Selections

appalachians-whites-3


Colorado Trail, Colorado

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s
  • Precipitation: Fairly dry, but possible late winter storms or early monsoons
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Mostly open
  • Sun exposure: Extreme above treeline, moderate in open woodlands, low in thick timber
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

colorado-trail-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 60’s-70’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: Torrential but short-lived afternoon monsoons
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Mostly open
  • Sun exposure: Intense above treeline, considerable in open woodlands, low in thick timber
  • Biting insects: Thick isolated pockets near water
Selections

colorado-trail-2

Late-Summer and early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s
  • Precipitation: Less risk of monsoons, but early risk for winter storms
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Mostly open
  • Sun exposure: Considerable above treeline, moderate in open woodlands, low in thick timber
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

colorado-trail-3


Denali National Park, Alaska

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-50’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low-Moderate
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

alaska-range-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Moderate
  • Biting insects: Intense and widespread
Selections

alaska-range-2

Late-Summer and Early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Moderate
  • Biting insects: Gone by first frost in mid-August
Selections

alaska-range-3


Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 80’s-100’s (river), 50-70’s (rim)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 50’s-70’s (river), 20-40’s (rim)
  • Precipitation: Dry overall, wetter at rim, winter storms tapering off, monsoon not yet active, June is driest month
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open, but scratchy brush
  • Sun exposure: Considerable
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

grand-canyon-1

Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 70’s-80’s (rim), 100’s (river)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 40’s-50’s (rim), 70’s (river)
  • Precipitation: Cycles of short-lived afternoon monsoons
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open but scratchy
  • Sun exposure: High
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

grand-canyon-2

Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-60’s (rim), 60’s-90’s (river)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-40’s (rim), 40’s-60’s (river)
  • Precipitation: Monsoons taper off, winter storms pick up
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open but scratchy
  • Sun exposure: High
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

grand-canyon-1


High Sierra, California

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s (high elevations), 60’s-70’s (low elevations)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s (high elevations), 30’s-40’s (low elevations)
  • Precipitation: Low risk of late winter storm or early monsoon
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open, unless below about 7,000 feet
  • Sun exposure: Extreme in alpine, and moderate in timber
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

high-sierra-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 60’s (high elevations), 70’s (low elevations)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s (high elevations), 40’s (low elevations)
  • Precipitation: Cycles of short-lived afternoon monsoons
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open, unless below about 7,000 feet
  • Sun exposure: Considerable in alpine, and moderate in timber
  • Biting insects: Intense pressure in July
Selections

high-sierra-2

Late-summer/early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s (high elevations), 50’s-70’s (low elevations)
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-40’s (high elevations), 30’s-40’s (low elevations)
  • Precipitation: Monsoons taper down, risk of early winter storms increases
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open, unless below about 7,000 feet
  • Sun exposure: Considerable in alpine, and moderate in timber
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

high-sierra-3


North Cascades, Washington

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s
  • Precipitation: Regular and long-lasting
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Extreme if on snow and it’s sunny; if in timber, low
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

cascades-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: July & August are driest months, yet expect precip
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low in timber, high if above treeline on sunny day
  • Biting insects: Thick
Selections

cascades-2

Late-Summer + Early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-60’s
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s-40’s
  • Precipitation: August is one of driest months, increasingly wet into September and October
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Off-trail travel: Dense
  • Sun exposure: Low in timber, high if above treeline on sunny day
  • Biting insects: Light, and gone by September
Selections

cascades-3


Wind River Range, Wyoming

Late-Spring

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 50’s-60’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20-30’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Precipitation: Risk of late winter storms, inactive monsoon
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open
  • Sun exposure: Intense above treeline, considerable in timber
  • Biting insects: None
Selections

wind-river-1

Early-Summer

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 60’s-70’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Nighttime temperatures: 30’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Precipitation: Mostly afternoon monsoon thunderstorms
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open
  • Sun exposure: High above treeline, considerable in timber
  • Biting insects: Thick and widespread
Selections

wind-river-2

Late-Summer and early-Fall

Average conditions
  • Daytime temperatures: 40’s-60’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Nighttime temperatures: 20’s-30’s (low elevations), less 10-15 for higher elevations
  • Precipitation: Monsoon tapers down in September and risk of winter storms increases
  • Humidity: Low
  • Off-trail travel: Open
  • Sun exposure: Considerable above treeline, moderate in timber
  • Biting insects: Light by mid-August, gone by September
Selections

wind-river-3


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15 Responses to Core Backpacking Clothing || Check lists & systems for 3-season conditions

  1. Stephen March 22, 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    Andrew,
    Thank you for doing this. As a sierra hiker, this pretty well coincides with what I use, except being over 60 years, basal metabolic rate decreases, so I find us old farts need at least one thin layer more to keep warm, especially exposed at high altitude. It is impressive how a tarp can reduce radiant heat loss and add several degrees on those really cold nights.

  2. Mike McGinnis March 22, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    Andrew! Great stuff here! Your experience is invaluable and it’s generous of you to share and help lessen the learning curve for others! Thanks!

  3. DP March 22, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    Can I inquire about your various sock choices? Perhaps even you footwear choice altogether. Boots? trail runners?

    Great lists. Thank you.

  4. Drew Watts March 23, 2015 at 3:14 am #

    As always, thanks for the awesome tips Andrew! Your lists, much like the ones in your book, are spot on. One thing that I tend to bring up with outer wear discussion, that you may have addressed (and I had missed), was the addition of lightweight gloves or fleece liners to a system. As a naturally cold handed guy, I find that certain mild temperatures without major sun exposure do well with a short sleeve and a pair of gloves on. I know that not everyone has the same circulation problems as I seems to have, but it can be a comfortable medium for core ventilation and temp regulation purposes. Again, thanks for the sweet checklists, and keep on hiking!

  5. Callum March 23, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    The core 13 is a good start for adventure travellers who travel around the world and don’t know where they’ll end up. For this purpose, a Wool & Prince merino wool dress shirt may replace a synthetic shirt for less stink through urban centres and bug-infested bogs alike. No shame in looking good when travelling, but it’s a bit too pricey if your travels require bushwacking through boreal forests.

    Great job!

  6. Mitchell E. March 23, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

    I count three cases for the short-sleeve shirt, all on the AT. It seems like this core 13 kit could be cut down to 12 without much loss.

    • Andrew Skurka March 24, 2015 at 8:03 am #

      In consideration that half the US population lives in what I will broadly describe as “the eastern woodlands” and that the AT gets multiples more hiker traffic than any other long-distance trail, I’d be reluctant to deprive them of a short-sleeve shirt. I can’t imagine hiking in peak summer heat and humidity with anything more than that, or maybe no shirt at all.

  7. Daniel Thornburg March 26, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    Andrew, an informative series! In this article it would help your reader if there were general descriptions of the climate next to the trail names. The information is contained later in the article, but for ease of planning when returning to the article, it would be convenient to have the description there. (This information is second-nature to you and many of your readers, perhaps, but for a novice….) I also enjoyed your food/recipe series. Thanks!

  8. Michael B. April 10, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Andrew, the core 13 is wonderful. What makes it better is that you have thousands of miles using the products/items. I’m doing the Tour Du Mont Blanc in early July of this year, and having read through your core 13, would still love your opinion of what shirt and pants or short you’d suggest for that particular hike? Thank you

    • Andrew Skurka April 10, 2015 at 8:52 am #

      Glad you find this useful.

      I’m unfamiliar with the conditions on that route. Do some research and then find a climate referenced here that is similar. Follow that list.

  9. Teri B. June 23, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Man, thanks for the detailed and easy to follow lists on clothing. I’m backpacking part of the Wonderland trail in September (and have never backpacked in the PNW) and have looked at dozens of websites trying to figure out what clothes I’ll need. This was exactly what I needed!

  10. Ryan March 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    Great series Andrew. For the High Sierra/Early Summer section you recommend both a fleece top and insulated jacket. Thats seems like a bit of an overlap to me, is this really necessary?

    I often bring a baselayer top and lightweight fleece. On cold evenings at camp i wear both, and even throw the rain shell over it all if needed. I find this combination quite warm, and the baselayer is also useful as a sleep shirt.

    Any disadvantage im missing here?

    • Andrew Skurka March 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

      A fleece top and insulated jacket serve distinct purposes. The fleece top is a second layer for crisp mornings and chilly ridges and summits, and a mid-layer to be worn between a hiking shirt and shell when you’re getting pelted with freezing cold monsoon rain.

      The insulated jacket is for remaining warm while static, like in camp and at chilly mid-day rest stops.

      If the forecast is warm and dry, you could probably leave one of these layers at home. But if you’re expecting average temperatures and the possibility of monsoon weather, I’d bring both.

  11. Scott Adkins February 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    Andrew, what would you suggest for Florida conditions. I hike in all but summer conditions, so I can get anywhere from the 30’s to the 80’s. With always the chance of rain and bugs.

    • Andrew Skurka February 19, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

      Follow the list for the Southeast, but scale down the insulation. For example, a very light down sweater in the winter, and nothing or a fleece pullover in the spring and fall.

      If you have bug issues, have your hiking clothing treated with permethrin. A woven nylon shirt is completely impractical due to lack of airflow.

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