To backpack anywhere in 3-seasons conditions, how few articles of clothing are needed to mix-and-match appropriate systems?
I say: thirteen — the Core 13, I’ll call the collection. However, a decent argument could be made for 11, and for a narrower range of applications or conditions, even fewer are relevant. For instance, just 9 for the Colorado Rockies and just 7 for a summertime hike on the Appalachian Trail. Consult the last post of the series for location-specific systems of backpacking clothing.
To assemble such a tight system with minimal sacrifices to performance — and thus my safety and comfort — I strive to only wear or pack clothing that is:
- Warranted by the environmental and route conditions;
- Unique among the collection in its functions, with no or minimal redundancy between pieces; and,
- Suitable for a wide-range of conditions, not niche circumstances.
Note that the Core 13 only includes backpacking shirts, shorts, jackets, and pants. I could do a similar evaluation for footwear and extremity accessories (i.e. hats, gloves, headnet) but that’s beyond the scope of this series.
Defining “3-season conditions”
Given that there are thousands of outdoor clothing SKU’s available in retail stores like REI and online-only vendors such as Backcountry and CampSaver.com, I realize it may seem impossible to believe that the optimal clothing collection can be so simple. And I’m sure that it seems impossible to sort through all the options and find the thirteen items necessary to span the full range of 3-season conditions:
- Normal daytime temps 50-90 degrees F, with extremes 10 degrees F colder and hotter
- Normal nighttime temps 30-70 degrees F, with extremes 10 degrees F colder and hotter
- Sunny or thick overcast, and everything in between
- Downpour, rain, mist, and dry
- Low, moderate, and high humidity
- Thick forest canopies, open woodlands, or big skies with relentless sun
- Intense bug pressure, mild pressure, or none
- On-trail, cross-country, and bushwhacks
But, really, it is this simple.
The Core 13
In a series of posts over the next two weeks I will detail my selections
- Item 1 & 2: Short- and long-sleeve hiking
- Item 3: Bug shirt
- Item 4: Running Shorts
- Item 5 & 6: Pants & Underwear
- Item 7: Fleece Top
- Item 8 & 9: Insulated Jacket & Insulated Pants
- Item 10 & 11: Rain Jacket and Rain Pants
- Item 12 & 13: Sleeping Top and Sleeping Bottoms
In the capstone post in this series, I detail specific clothing gear lists for multiple locations in North America.