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Proper Clothing for Day Hiking In Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park
Hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park and hiking in Grand Teton Park is a magical experience. And if you wear the proper clothing during your national park hikes, this magical experience will also be a “pleasant experience”. Few things are more miserable than not having the proper clothing for the present conditions on the trail, whether it’s incredibly hot outside or freezing cold. The following article will walk through the basics with you on what we recommend hikers wear while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton National Park.
3- Layer System
The 3 Layer System has worked very well for us through the years, especially with the advent of synthetics such as polypropylene and polyester, as well as the invention of water-proof materials such as Gore Tex and the many new equivalents out there in the market. This 3 Layer System allows you to stay comfortable in almost every type of weather condition during the summer and fall season and at the same time keeps your pack light.
1) Base Layer
While hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton Park, your base layer should be a lightweight “T-shirt” made of either polypropylene or polyester. These synthetic materials are ultra-light and they do not absorb water. Instead, these incredible materials will pull sweat from your skin and allow this moisture to evaporate quickly into the atmosphere. This is called “wicking”, and it’s an essential aspect of your base layer. Wicking allows you to stay relatively dry, and therefore you will be much more comfortable as you hike in all types of weather and temperature.
NEVER WEAR COTTON!
There is a catch-phrase out there that is “Cotton Kills”, and there is a lot of truth to that. Cotton is not only is quite heavy, but it absorbs water and stays wet for a really long time. Cotton does the opposite of “wicking”, and this can get you into trouble… especially if the temperature drops. If you are sweating a lot during your hike, your cotton T-shirt will become soaking wet. And once it’s wet, it will stay wet for a very long time. And if the temperature drops while you are soaking wet, you are at risk for developing hypothermia, which can be a life-threatening situation. So always remember that “cotton kills”, so you don’t get into trouble on the hiking trail.
2) Fleece Layer
Your middle layer should be a light or medium weight fleece jacket, preferably a zip-up. “Fleece” is made of polyester, and is extremely warm and yet “breaths”. This fleece comes in handy when things get a little chilly, such as right at dawn or later in the evening. Fleece is also great for when you get on a windy pass in higher elevations, or if it’s simply a very cold day.
This fleece middle layer is your “regulatory” layer, meaning that you can put it on or take it off as needed. A common situation while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton Park occurs when it’s fairly cold out so you need to wear the fleece jacket to stay warm. But then when you encounter a section of the hiking trail where it gets steep and you begin to really warm up through this increased cardiovascular activity, you get “overheated” and begin to sweat. This is when you need to remove the fleece jacket… in fact, don’t wait until you begin to sweat. The instant you begin to get too warm, stop and take your fleece jacket off. Then, if things settle down and your cardiovascular demand goes down again as the trail levels off or starts heading downhill, then if you begin to get cold again, then put your fleece jacket back on.
There are some days where we put on and remove our fleece layer 20 times in a day, depending on the topography of the trail, the outside temperature and the wind.
3) Outer Shell Layer
Your outer layer needs to be a polyester hooded, waterproof, and breathable “shell” than not only keeps you dry during a rain storm, but also blocks the wind during a high wind situation on high mountain pass or summit. And sometimes, if it’s really cold outside, you’ll need to wear this shell over your fleece jacket just to stay warm.
What we mean by “breathable” is that air and moisture can pass through it so you don’t end up drowning in sweat. There are several excellent materials on the market that are both water proof and breathable. The most widely known is Gore Tex. This is the “standard”, but there are several other companies now that have come up with equally amazing material.
Make sure that this outer layer is just a “shell” and is not insulated in any way. Your fleece middle layer will act as your insulating layer if needed.
Beyond Your 3-Layer System
In addition to this simple 3 layer system that we’ve just described, for your hikes in Glacier Park, hikes in Yellowstone Park and hikes in Grand Teton National Park, we recommend that you also bring a polyester fleece stocking cap and gloves. These accessories not only come in handy when you’re just plain cold, but also when you are hiking over a windy mountain pass or on a mountain summit. The wind can be so severe that you’re ears will begin to can extremely cold, as well as your hands. Your fleece hat and gloves will “save the day” so you can enjoy your time at higher elevations instead of being miserable.
This needs to be an entirely separate article, but we will mention two things here. Your boots need to fit properly, which sounds really obvious but you would not believe how many hikers we see along the trail that are limping because of blisters. Also, we highly recommend that your boots are waterproof and breathable, which means they must be Gore Tex or an equivalent. We average about 1,400 miles of hiking trails each summer, and we’ve been hiking for over 40 years, so we have done and seen it all. We tried dozens of different types of boots with different materials, and we’ve had by far the best outcome with Gore Tex (or equivalent) lined boots. We also prefer a leather boot made with the least amount of “stitching” possible.
There’s few things worse than wet feet, and Gore Tex will help you stay dry in about 80% of the situations during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes.
Again, we will get into more details about boots in a future article.
Pants / Underwear
Make sure your pants are lightweight and made of polyester so they wick and breath. We also recommend that your underwear be made of polyester or polypropylene because you really need your underwear to be able to wick and to keep you relatively dry as you sweat during your hike. DO NOT wear cotton underwear! Find some good athletic underwear such as “Under Armour” or equivalent. It makes all the difference.
We also highly recommend that you always bring along an ultra-light pair of rain pants that are waterproof and breathable (i.e. Gore Tex or equivalent), that you can quickly slide on over your regular hiking pants. This comes in extremely handing during a late afternoon cloud burst, or if you need added wind protection while on a super windy mountain pass or summit. Another really great use for light-weight rain pants is during the early morning hours in a highly vegetated section of a hiking trail. Especially during your Glacier National Park hikes, you may encounter heavy vegetation that is on each side of the trail and is covered in dew. When you brush along side these wet leaves, you become soaking wet. We call these sections of Glacier Park trails “Car Washes”, and you will get so wet you might as well have jumped in a lake. So wear your rain pants through these “Car Washes” to stay dry.
Rule of the Mountains
Whenever you are hiking, you need to always be prepared for all weather conditions as all times. NEVER hike without all of the clothing we’ve just mentioned. One thing that’s for sure during your hikes in Glacier Park, hikes in Yellowstone Park and hikes in Grand Teton National Park is that the weather can change in an instant, and the temperature can drop 40 degrees in less than a half hour. And we’ve seen this hundreds of times where we begin our hike in 75 degree (F) weather with crystal clear blue skies in the morning, and we hike back in a freezing down pour and even a snow storm. The bottom line is always be prepared for all weather conditions at all times.
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