The first layer is called your base layer, or next-to-skin layer, as it sits just above your breathable underwear, hugging the skin. It should not be too tight as this restricts blood circulation and inhibits the breathability characteristics of the wickable fibres, but equally it should not be too lose as this creates air gaps that undermine the layering process. A good word to describe how this layer should feel is, snug.
The material for your base layer should be lightweight and made from high wicking fabrics like 100% merino wool.
Excellent suppliers of base layers include Smartwool Lightweight Base Layers and Icebreaker Oasis Base Layers who both provide top and bottom base layers made from 100% merino wool. Their products are super comfortable, great quality and provide incredible moisture control.
If you are allergic to wool then the Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Base Layers are great synthetic alternatives.
For treks less than 8 days, one pair of top and bottom base layers should be sufficient. For treks over 8 days you should get at least 2 pairs to avoid smelling terrible by the end of the trail. You won’t use this layer everyday, but you will need it on the upper reaches of your trek (>3,500 meters). See long-sleeve and short-sleeve hiking shirts below for details on your everyday trekking wear.
The second layer, or insulation layer, is a versatile layer and can be used in your layering system over your base layer, or indeed as a standalone layer that you wear over your trekking shirt when temperatures start to drop. They also come in great use at night when it can get very cold out.
Our preferred second layers consist of synthetic mid-weight Polartec fleece materials. These are great for warmth and comfort, but also provide brilliant breathability. Polartec fleece jackets come in three main types: 100s, 200s and 300s. The 100s are super light but not warm enough, whereas the 300s provide great warmth but are a little heavy. We recommend going for a 200 Polartec fleece jacket.
Here are some great examples of Polartec 200 Fleece Jackets. Note worthy brands include: North Face, Helly Hansen and Patagonia.
A nice feature to look out for are fleece jackets that come with a hoody, this can double as an instant balaclava. See the Patagonia R1 Hoody or the Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody.
The third layer or core shell layer consists of a warm, windproof and waterproof jacket and trouser pants.
Warm jackets are a minefield of complexity but typically split into two main types – down or synthetic (and some are insulated with wool). Down jackets are lighter and generally warmer than synthetic alternatives, but a lot more expensive and not great in wet or moist conditions.
Here are the key factors to consider when selecting an appropriate jacket:
- Weight and warmth: The weight of a winter jacket can vary from super light (less than 450 grams) to super heavy (more than 1kg). The lightest winter jackets use a down fill and can weigh as little as 200 grams. Down provides the greatest weight-to-warmth ratio. Generally, the lightest jackets (down or synthetic) provide the least warmth and are therefore ideal for moderately cold environments, but not freezing alpine or high altitude environments. Heavy jackets (down and synthetic) are generally the warmest type of jacket but can be cumbersome to transport and trek in. We suggest a mid-weight winter jacket (~500-700 grams) for trekking in Nepal.
- Waterproofing: Despite downs dominance in terms of weight and warmth, it does have a major flaw – it is much more susceptible to moisture. When down jackets get wet they lose their loft and insulation capacities. This is not to say that a light downpour or even all day snow is going to destroy the insualting qualities of your down jacket, but in similar conditions or very wet conditions, a synthetic jacket will perform better. The key thing to look for, therefore, is a jacket (down or synthetic) that has an outer fabric that has a high water-resistant capacity. Pertex Shield fabric is the best for down jackets and nylon is great on synthetic jackets. If you are looking to trek in Nepal during the wet Summer monsoon months (June-August) we suggest a high water-resistant synthetic jacket.
- Versatility: Unless you plan to use your jacket for a very particular activity (e.g. ice climbing, snowboarding) we suggest going for a jacket that provides as much versatility as possible (i.e. can be used for many different activities in as many different environments).
Here are our three recommendations on jackets:
1. Outdoor Research Floodlight Jacket
A brilliant all round down jacket that provides good warmth for it’s weight, solid waterproofing (probably the best as far as down jackets go) and great versatility.
Material: Down | Weight: 600 grams
It is also on the non-expensive end of the down market. Retails for ~ $350 / £250
2. Arc’teryx Fission Jacket
One of our favourite synthetic jackets is the the Arc’teryx Fission. It has great warmth and waterproofing features, and performs extremely well in wet and cold environments.
Material: Synthetic | Weight: 614 grams
The only downside is that it is on the expensive end of the synthetic market. Retails for ~ $600 / £450
3. Mountain Hardwear Quasar Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Quasar Jacket is a pull-over designed jacket that provides great warmth and waterproofing, yet is super light. The design is very minimilstic with limited hand-pockets which some people find off putting but works pretty well for trekking we believe.
Material: Synthetic | Weight: 530 grams
Retails for a great price ~ $200 / £120.
Other noteworthy jackets include the North Face Nuptse, Mountain Hardwear Nilas(Down) and the Arc’teryx Atom LT Jacket.
For the upper reaches of your Nepal trek (>4,000 meters) the temperatures can get very cold, particularly at night. Warm trekking trousers are a must.
Here are the key characteristics to look out for: Water resistant, sun protective, and fleece inner material with quick-drying polyester outer for warmth.
Great winter trekking trousers include Craghoppers Kiwi Winter Trousers and Regatta Lined Hiking Trousers
The three layers above form the core of your hiking clothing, but do not cover the everyday top and bottom trekking gear you will use. For the everyday wear you will need a few trekking t-shirts (minimum of 3 for a 10-12 day in-season trek) and long-sleeve shirts (minimum of 3 for a 10-12 day in-season trek), as well as trekking trousers (we recommend two pairs of convertible trousers for a 12 day trek).
In terms of the t-shirts and long-sleeve hiking shirts you should go for a lightweight breathable fabric like merino wool or polyester.
As you will be sweating a lot each day, you want a shirt that dries quickly and performs well in moist / wet environments.
You do not want to trek in cotton as it is hydrophilic and inhibits moisture transfer. Nylon is okay but does not breathe as well as merino or polyester.
Very affordable and great quality trekking t-shirts and long-sleeves are made by Icebreaker, Craghoppers and Columbia.
Your hiking trousers should have the same qualities as your shirts in terms of breathability, weight and wicking properties. A durable, water-resistant outer layer is also beneficial should you encounter rain. Versatility is another factor to look for, in particular the ability to convert trousers to shorts.
We highly recommend these convertible hiking trousers from Craghoppers that come in both men and women variations.
Rain Hiking Clothing
Basic waterproof rain gear that you can quickly throw on should you encounter rain is a must when trekking. You can either get a rain suit top (with a hood) and bottom, or a poncho. We quite like the latter as they are easy to put on and often come with enough rear space to fit over your day pack or hiking rucksack. Make sure they are 100% waterproof, lightweight and store easily.
Here are some effective yet affordable options. Hiking rain gear.
Just as the title says, plain and simple sports underwear that breathes well (i.e. not cotton). You can go for a specialist brand like Icebreaker, or just get an cheaper non-brand alternative. You will need 6-8 pairs for a 12 day trek.
Ladies remember to bring at least 2 sports bras.
Sun Protection Hat
A basic sun protection peak or hat, that is easy to store in your day pack (i.e. no straw hats!), lightweight and breathable is a must. The sun intensity at altitude is high and your face will get sunburnt, even if you wear sun protection cream.
We are fans of hats that come with a neck cover that can be adjusted to protect the back of your neck.
Here are some good hiking sun hats.
Beanie or Head Band
If you haven’t already realised reading this detailed hiking clothing gear list, it can get very cold on upper trails in Nepal. You will need to bring with you a warm beanie or fleeced headband to protect you head and ears from the freezing temperatures at night and during the late afternoons on the upper reaches of Nepal trails.
Look for an outdoor, lined and fleeced beanie or headband. Here are some good examples: beanies and headbands.
Balaclava or Neckband
To protect your neck and face from blistering cold temperatures if the wind picks up, high Sun UV during the mid-afternoons at altitude, or indeed to cover your mouth and nose on treks where you will encounter roads and dust (i.e. treks in the Annapurna region), we recommend taking either a hiking balaclava or neck band.
Make sure to get something that is light weight, absorbent, breathable and quick-drying.
These versatile and seamless outdoor Delicol sports bandannas are super cheap and can be used as a neckband, scarf, bandanna, head cover or wristband.
There are two types of gloves you should take on your trek – inner and outer gloves.
Like base layer clothing, inner gloves provide the next-to-skin insulation that is critical when hiking in cold temperatures (and it will get really cold on the upper reaches of popular treks like EBC and the Annapurna Circuit). Outer gloves are thicker, waterproof and provides the shell protection needed to prevent freezing hands.
In terms of inner gloves, you want to make sure to get a pair that has great wicking properties (synthetics, wool or even silk) are good. Do not go for a cotton inner glove as this will restrict moisture transfer. You should also make sure that the gloves provide a good thermal lining and are lightweight.
Here are some really affordable and good thermal liner hiking gloves
The perfect outer gloves provides warmth and are water proof, without being cumbersome or too bulky. Essentially you want gloves that provide great dexterity, whilst also providing exceptional warmth, water resistance and durability.
Based on these criteria we recommend the following gloves: Black Diamond Guide Gloves, Outdoor Research Southback Gloves or for a very affordable but excellent outer glove, the Dakine Scout.