Hot & Cold

“There is no such thing as bad weather, just different types of good weather.”

–  John Ruskin (1819-1900)


Versalite Jacket

Cam Honan & Montbell Torrent Flier Gore-tex Jacket | Arthur Range, Tasmania, 2015

The validity of the above quotation depends on one thing – your level of preparedness for the conditions at hand.

If you are not prepared, then even the most enlightened, positive thinking of hikers will have a hard time convincing themselves that driving rain, high winds and 2° celsius is anything but crappy weather.

Preparedness in the wilderness manifests itself in two principal ways:

  • Having the appropriate clothing & equipment for the conditions into which you are venturing.
  • Having the knowledge & skills with which to adapt to whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

Tips for Hiking in Cold & Wet Conditions

A combination of driving rain, high winds and temperatures just above freezing, represents some of the most challenging weather that a hiker can face.

In these conditions hypothermia and frostbite (if the thermometer subsequently drops below 0°C / 32°F) are a very real possibility.

Thankfully, cold-related maladies are far easier to prevent than they are to cure. Here are ten proactive measures that hikers can take when venturing into such environments:

Mt.Baker Wilderness during a very wet 6 day stretch on the Pacific Northwest Trail | Washington, USA, 2011

1.  Forecast: Always check the forecast before setting out. Adapting is a lot easier if you know what’s coming. This is a good habit to establish irrespective of the climate.

2.  Awareness: Watch the weather (forecasts can sometimes be wrong) and know your limitations. If conditions are deteriorating and you’re feeling exhausted, don’t hesitate to set up your shelter and call it a day.

3.  Appropriate clothing: If you are hiking in cold, wet and/or windy weather for an extended period of time, it’s not so much a question of staying 100% dry (which is nigh on impossible), as it is maintaining a reasonable level of comfort whilst out on trail. 

When backpacking in regions such as Tasmania, Scotland, Pacific Northwest, Tierra del Fuego and Fiordland in New Zealand (i.e. cold, wet & windy), my preference is for multiple lighter layers that dry relatively quickly and retain warmth when wet. For example:


Dusky Track | Fiordland, New Zealand, 2010 (photo courtesy of Olivia Darras)

  • Base layer: 150 or 200 Merino wool long sleeve shirt with zip neck (Icebreaker).
  • Outer Layer: No garment is completely waterproof given extended exposure to the conditions I describe above. Working on the principle that damp is better than soaked and being comfortable rather than dry is the priority, I look for rain jackets with the following features:

a. A good DWR (durable water repellant) finish;
b. Relatively lightweight;
c. Quick drying;
d. Pit zips for ventilation;
e. Adjustable wrist cuffs and,
f. Fully adjustable hood with a stiff brim.

  • Jacket preferences?: Over the past few years I have been happy with both the Integral Designs eVent ThruHiker (no longer in production) and the Montbell Torrent Flier (Gore-tex Paclite).

Dientes Circuit | Isla Navarino, Tierra del Fuego, Chile, 1997

4.  Avoid sweating: Over-dressing and/or over-exerting can lead to excessive perspiration, which in turn can result in a lowering of body temperature. Constantly monitor yourself and remove or add layers accordingly. Make ‘not sweating’ a priority.

5.  Pay Attention to the Extremities: Your head, hands and feet constitute the body’s initial warning system in cold conditions. For trips in such climates, I take a fleece beanie, thin wool gloves, MLD eVent Rain Mitts and merino liner socks. I also carry a third pair of thicker wool socks (always kept dry) to wear at night.

6.  Short breaks: The longer you stop the colder you become. When the weather turns nasty, keep breaks short and to a minimum. If for whatever reason you do need to take a longer break, put on an extra layer or two until you begin hiking again.


South Coast Track | Tasmania, 2002

7.  Food & Water: During the day eat high-energy snacks at regular intervals. Before going to bed, your evening meal should emphasize fats and proteins, which are processed slower by your digestive system. Keep a chocolate bar in your sleeping bag, in case you wake up cold and hungry in the middle of the night. (Note: you may want to disregard this last suggestion if you are hiking in bear country outside of winter 😉 ).

In cold and wet conditions, hikers often forget to drink enough water. Big mistake. If you are dehydrated you are more susceptible to hypothermia (see Hydration for details).

8. Pack Liner: Use a trash compactor bag to line the inside of your backpack. There’s not much point staying comfy during the day, if the rest of your gear (particularly your sleeping bag) is soaked when you arrive at camp.

9. Drying Clothes: During the night, I dry my hiking clothes as best as possible using the following techniques:

  • Gloves – I put directly against my head underneath my beanie.
  • Wet socks –  I place down my long johns.
  • Hiking shirt –  I will either wear over the top of a thin merino wool t-shirt or fleece, or alternatively, place it between my sleeping mat and the shelter floor.
  • Note: I usually avoid putting wet items directly against my sleeping bag/quilt, as the moisture can compromise the bag’s insulation.

10. Attitude: Once you have the gear and experience required to hike safely in cold and wet conditions, the key is to maintain a positive outlook by any means necessary………….


Maintaining a positive outlook on the West Highland Way | Drover’s Inn, Scotland, 2005

Tips for Hiking in Hot Conditions

Four points to keep in mind when hiking in hot conditions:

1.  Proper Hydration

In regards to health and safety, not drinking enough water may well be the most common mistake made by hikers.

Whether you are walking in the heat or the cold, at sea level or at altitude, adequate hydration should always be a priority. For all the lowdown, see the Hydration section.

Sahara Desert | Morocco, 2008

2.  Timing Your Day

In hot, largely shadeless conditions, particularly when water sources are scarce, consider doing the bulk of your hiking whilst temperatures are cooler (i.e. early morning, late afternoon and early evening).

It works like this:

  • Begin your hiking day at sunrise.
  • Walk until 11.30 am – midday.
  • Find yourself a shady spot, ideally by a water source, and rest until 2 or 3pm.
  • Make the most of your extended break by eating your main meal for lunch, thus enabling you to hike into the early evening without having to worry about cooking a big dinner.

By following such a strategy, it is possible to make do with less water because you are resting rather than exerting during the hottest part of the day. Less water equates to a lighter pack, which in turn means less energy spent and more enjoyable hiking.

3.  Sun Protection

Whilst spending 10 hours plus in the sun day after day, hikers need to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. Preventative measures include:

  • Sunscreen: Broad spectrum with an SPF rating of 30+ is recommended. Generally needs to be reapplied every 3 to 4 hours depending on the conditions and the level of activity.
  • Hat:  Wide brimmed or Foreign legion type. A cap combined with a bandana for neck protection is a good combination. For years I have worn an Adapt-a-cap. It still ranks as my favourite sun hat.
  • Umbrella: If you are walking in an arid shadeless desert an umbrella is hard to beat for the shade that it provides. Not so great in high winds.

Ryan Sylva & Joshua Stacy with GoLite umbrellas and polyester shirts | Death Valley | Lowest to Highest Route, USA, 2014

  • Sunglasses: Especially important for the snow. Go for practical rather than fashionable. This means larger lenses, which either wrap around or have removable side shades. Polarized lenses definitely make a difference in minimizing glare.
  • Lightweight Breathable Clothing:

–  Avoid cotton, which tends to retain moisture, stick to the skin and takes a long time to dry.

–  Long sleeved shirt and pants made of breathable synthetic materials (see Clothing in GEAR section) are ideal for maximum protection whilst hiking in areas devoid of shade.

–  Tip:  When walking in arid environments try and soak your shirt and hat at each water stop. Another tip is to soak a second shirt and store it in a sealable plastic bag inside your pack. When the first one dries, break out the second.

4.  Appropriate Footwear

  • Shoes: In hot, dry or humid conditions, go as light and breathable as the dictates of your feet and weight allow (see Footwear in the GEAR section). Avoid waterproof footwear in such conditions as it cuts down on the shoe’s breathability, causing your feet to sweat excessively which can lead to blisters. Ditto for leather boots. If you are ever going to try hiking in running shoes or low cut trail shoes, hot environments are the place in which to do it.
  • Socks: Thin ankle or crew sized synthetic or synthetic wool blend socks are ideal for hiking. They wick moisture away from the skin and are lightweight and quick drying. Avoid heavy or thick wool socks. Always wear socks that fit. Too much loose material will result in friction and excessive moisture. Socks that are too tight restrict circulation and swelling can result.