International Trekking – Clothing Advice

Introduction

Kitting yourself out for your first trekking holiday can be a daunting process, with so many different options, brands and places to buy them all. As a minimum, you need to keep warm and dry when trekking at altitude or in cold environments.

Most of our trips have similar kit requirements when trekking at altitude, with specific requirements depending on the exact climate, terrain and altitudes reached.

When trekking at altitude, you can often use the same base kit as when trekking in the UK, with just a few selected additions – usually, a good quality insulated/duvet jacket, thermal base layers, mitts, UV protecting sunglasses and a winter weight sleeping bag if camping or when staying in teahouses.

On all of our trips you will be issued a trip-specific kit list, with a list of essential items, as well as a list of recommendations. Below is some general advice, applicable to all trekking trips that may help you when putting together your kit. It lists some key things to look out for as well as our personal preferences, based on years of experience across a range of mountain environments. This is designed to give you a good balance of top quality kit recommendations whilst allowing to build your clothing system in a cost-effective way. Most specific items of kit recommended have equivalents across the various outdoor clothing brands, so you can always shop around for the best deals.

More expensive kit doesn’t necessarily mean better suited to a particular activity or even better quality, particularly with the brands that straddle technical and fashionable clothing. That said, you usually have to pay slightly more for access to the newer technologies and designs that are longer-lasting, lighter and more breathable – which on extreme trips may dramatically increase your chances of success, whilst on less demanding trips may just keep you more comfortable and help maximise your enjoyment – no one likes trekking with soggy feet or cold hands!

When shopping for clothes and equipment it is important to consider what you will be using it for and how many times you are likely to use it. We generally opt for buying good kit that lasts, over cheaper options that need to be replaced regularly or risk not doing an adequate job and compromising your trip.

Clothing

Base Layers

Good quality base layers will keep you warm in the cold, whilst wicking away sweat and moisture. For high altitude treks, it is recommended to wear a long sleeve thermal top and bottoms under your other layers.

1 set is usually enough for treks up to a week, for longer treks or particularly wet locations it is worth bringing a second pair.

The best fabric we have found for base layers is merino wool, which has the added advantage of not holding odour. Meaning you can go a week (or two!) wearing the same thermals and not stinking out the place (although your tent-mate may not agree!).

There are cheaper materials that will still keep you warm but are not as breathable and may smell after a day’s use! We think this is an area worth investing in good quality.

What we wear: Icebreaker Oasis long sleeve crew + Icebreaker Oasis Leggings

Or: Rab Merino Long sleeve zip tee + Rab merino thermal leggings

Less expensive options: Helly Hansen, Under Armour, EDZ, unbranded merino wool products.

Trekking T-shirt / Shirt

In many trekking destinations the UV index will be much higher than at home, particularly when at altitude or close to the equator (Kilimanjaro for example!). During the day the temperature is likely to be high on the lower slopes and can be warm work hiking up the steeper sections, so you are unlikely to have all your outer-layers on all the time.

It is well worth having a couple of quick-drying/wicking t-shirts or long sleeve shirts with UV protection (SPF50+).

We prefer a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt as a versatile item. Great sun protection (collar and sleeves) and can also be used to avoid insect bites in the evening when lower down the mountain.

Mid Layers – Fleece / Softshell

Next up is a warm fleece to lock in warmth. Polartec is the technology to look out for when choosing a fleece. If travelling to high altitude we’d recommend a mid-weight Polartec fleece to be used as part of a layering system, with an insulated jacket over the top. A fleece with a comfy hood is also a bonus.

It travelling to a warmer destination a lighter ‘micro-fleece’ may be sufficient. However, remember that if any part of the trek is at high altitude the temperature is likely to drop considerably, especially in the mornings/evenings!

What we wear: Rab Powerstretch Pro Jacket or Montane Volt Jacket

Cheaper options: Rab AL pull on or similar

Insulated Jacket

This is the big duvet jacket that will go over the rest of your layers and keep you warm in very cold temperatures. You won’t always be wearing this in the day whilst moving but it is an essential piece of kit for early morning starts, high altitude ventures and evenings in cold campsites.

You have two main choices for insulation: Down or synthetic

Down Jackets are made from natural goose or duck down and are generally warmer for their weight. However, down does not stay warm if wet and is usually more expensive. It can also take a very long time to dry. In recent years the top brands have released hydrophobic down, a treated down that performs much better in wet conditions. Down comes in different ‘fill powers’, offering better warmth/weight ratios the better the grade.

Brands such as Rab, North Face, Patagonia, Mountain Equipment and Berghaus all subscribe to ethics standards when it comes to down clothing, some of these standards guarantee minimum welfare requirements of animals used or traceability of the products. Read more on animal welfare in the down industry in this informative BMC article.

Synthetic insulation is not quite as warm (for its weight) as down, but still keeps you warm when wet and dries much quicker. Making it a much better option if used in wet environments, such as the UK hills. The most common type of synthetic insulation is PrimaLoft, which again comes in different grades. Synthetic jackets are versatile and hard wearing.

Use down when: Dry conditions/above the snow line. In very low temperatures, where it will snow rather than rain.

Use synthetic when: Wet, UK-like conditions. When durability is key. If working hard in cold conditions (sweating).

There are lots of options when it comes to buying, with the top brands having variations for different activities and altitudes/temperature ranges. For anything above 4,000m, a good quality insulated jacket is essential. If you are doing multiple trips to different altitudes, you may be able to use a warmer jacket for different trips. A good mid-weight synthetic jacket is also ideal for UK walking.

Examples of suitable insulated jackets*:

Above 6,000m: See our expedition kit advice.

Up to 6,000m: Rab Positron Jacket (down) or ME Annapurna Jacket (Down)

Up to 4,000m trekking: Arc’teryx Atom LT (synthetic) or Rab Electron Jacket (down)

UK: Arc’teryx Atom LT (synthetic) orMontane Flux Jacket (synthetic) or similar (lots of good options at this level)

*When trekking in suitable season, to cover expected variation in conditions and used as part of a layering system.

Wind and Waterproofs

The job of this layer is to keep rain out and protect the warm layers below from getting wet. Good quality waterproofs will also protect against the wind and allow moisture to escape (breathability).

If you are a regular UK hIll walker your waterproof will likely be sufficient for your international trekking trip, as long as it also does a good job of protecting against the wind.

Jackets come in a range of types and styles. GoreTex or eVent are the main types of waterproof technologies to look out for, but some brands also have their own in-house versions. GoreTex is the most widely available and comes in different grades. GoreTex Pro is the gold standard of breathable waterproofs and will keep you dry in nearly all conditions but is quite expensive and could be overkill if not expecting wet conditions.

What we wear: Arctery’x Alpha SV (Goretex Pro)

We use this jacket for everything from claggy Scottish winters to high altitude mountaineering. It has never let us down. For trekking in normal conditions it is still great but unlikely to be worth the investment if that is all you will be using it for and a good all round (AR) or Lightweight (LT) shell jackets would suffice.

If you can afford it we would recommend going for a GoreTex Pro shell, otherwise a decent jacket in the standard GoreTex range will still do the job.

For the ‘gear geeks’ amongst your, why not check out this video from Trekitt director, Paul.

Boots

If you are a regular hill walker in the UK it is likely that you will be able to use the same boots for your trekking holiday, perhaps with a warmer pair of socks! If venturing onto snow, technical terrain or above 6,000m you may need a boot that can take a crampon or has additional insulation (see mountaineering kit list).

The size and shape of your foot will determine the best boots for you. With some brands and models suiting different foot types. Your best bet is to go to a good outdoor shop and try on several pairs. The fit of the boot is the most important aspect for a comfortable walking holiday.

It is also essential to wear in your boots before your holiday. This could start with wearing them around town for a couple of days but should also include a few longer day walks in hilly terrain. Some shops may allow you to test out your shoes indoors for a day or so without compromising the returns policy.

What to look for in your boot:

Leather boots are more durable and great against abrasive terrain as well as being highly water resistant.  Fabric boots are lighter than leather boots and although they are less durable most of them are reinforced in key wear areas and often have rubber toe caps.  

If you’re trekking on footpath, then you need to look for a boot which bends naturally and easily.  If you will be walking on small ledges, support will be needed and you should look for a boot with a stiffened midsole to avoid damaging your foot.  Hill-walking requires a boot with a degree of stiffness and squared heels for descending steep and slippery ground.

Trousers

Most trekking trousers will be fine for your trekking holiday, as you will likely be wearing thermals underneath for warmth and waterproof trousers over the top in wet conditions. Look for quick-drying, non-restrictive materials with reinforcement and additional give in key areas. There are lots of options for all budgets.

If you are on a tight budget you could certainly compromise by getting a standard pair of trekking trousers rather than from the top brands, just don’t plan to trek in jeans!

What we wear: Montane Terra Pant or Arctery’x Gamma Pant (softshell which does not require waterproofs over the top in light conditions)

It can also be good to take a pair of trekking shorts on many treks for lower down the mountain in the daytime where temperatures may still be high.

Gloves/Mitts

For most trips, as well as in the UK hills, it is best to pack 2 pairs of mountain gloves/mitts and a pair of lightweight liner gloves for when more dexterity is required (getting in/out of your bag/pockets etc).

Mitts do a better job of keeping your hands warm in cold environments, as they allow fingers to share warmth, and are highly recommended! They are also far cheaper than technical mountaineering gloves that would give an equivalent warmth.

Look for: A PrimaLoft insulated mitt. They can be purchased from as little as £15 (unbranded) or £35 (branded).

What we wear: Montane Prism Mitt + ME Couloir Glove (mountaineering glove) + Rab Flux liner glove

Other Options: Buffalo Mitts or Montane Prism Glove

If you know you get cold hands then it may be worth bringing an additional spare pair of gloves/mitts, to allow you to swap them if they get wet.

Socks

Mid-weight wool trekking socks will be suitable for most treks. For some night summits (e.g. Kilimanjaro) it is worth bringing a heavier pair of “summit socks”.

What we wear: Merino wool trekking socks: Bridgedale, Smartwool etc.

On many trips, we also take a pair of SealSkins waterproof socks. Not for trekking in (as they get sweaty!) but for in the evenings and around camp – to prevent wet feet if using boots in the evening. Plastic bags are a cheap alternative to this!

Final thoughts on clothing suggestions

There are many ways to dress for trekking and climbing in the mountains that all work well in different scenarios. Our preferred method, described above, is of a simple layering system:

Thermals > fleece/mid-layer > insulation > waterproof/windproof shell

This works well in a variety of conditions and means you can use much of the same kit for different expeditions and activities, substituting in specialist items where necessary.

If you know you are planning to do several trips you can save money by looking at both kit lists and checking for crossover. Generally speaking trekking trips or “trekking peaks” will fall into one of the following categories for kit requirements: 6,000m+, 4,000m to 6000m, up to 4,000m. There is obviously variation within this depending on the season of travel and geographic location, but the kit requirements in these categories are often similar.

If you are well kitted-up in the 4,000m to  6,000m category it may be that you just require a warmer insulated jacket and boots for making the step up to 6,000m trekking peaks.

If undertaking a mountaineering trip or “trekking peak” involving a snow-covered peak, there are a few extra things to consider, that are covered in our mountaineering kit advice.

If you have any questions about clothing or equipment for a trip please get in touch and we can talk you through suitable options.

Trekitt Mountain Sports

We’ve partnered with outdoor kit specialists Trekitt (www.trekitt.co.uk) to help you get prepared for your next adventure.

Check out their excellent Youtube Channel for detailed kit reviews and advice.

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About Author

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James
Before founding 'The Grand Adventure Company' James worked in a variety of different roles from planning school expeditions around the world to organising high-altitude and remote mountaineering ventures. These roles led to all sorts of adventures from travelling across Mongolia in a 'Russian Forgon' delivering tourism training to remote Mongolian nomads to visiting communities damaged by the Nepal earthquakes to assess damage and setting up community projects in the regions. James is a qualified Mountain Leader, Leave No Trace trainer and expedition leader and holds membership to the British Mountaineering Council, the Mountain Training Association and aspirant membership to the British Association of International Mountain Leaders. In 2013 James cycled solo from London to Sydney. More recently, James completed the infamous '24 hour Bob Graham Round' and can usually be found in The Lake District running and cycling up mountains.

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