Protection from the Elements

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Welcome Hikers,

Gather around the campfire and let me tell you a story or two…  

Many years ago I was stationed in Frankfurt Germany,  and we would go to the Armed Forces Recreation Center at Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria and use the lake for training.

This particular morning, we are outside starting to get our gear together and we notice we are receiving strange looks from the other guests coming outside, packing their gear up, and heading off to the ski slopes.  

I assume the reason for those strange looks is the fact that we were pulling out dive gear in the middle of ski season in Bavaria. 

What does diving or skiing have to do with hiking you are wondering? 

Something we had in common was needing protection from the elements, either to stay warm on the slopes or to keep us warm while diving.  The primary protection for everyone was our outer layer or shell, a winter jacket for skiing, or a dry suit for cold-weather diving.

Let me give you another example, you are dressed for the outdoors and are comfy while waiting to start your activity. 

No sooner do you start your activity than you have to stop and remove some items because you’re overheating. Quick tip to fix this, start a little chilly and you’ll warm up as you go, but pack the items needed to retain heat when you stop.

It’s happened to all of us I’m sure, me included because we want to be comfortable while outdoors. But as our activity changes, the conditions that make us comfortable also change.

These stories highlight a few of the things to consider when deciding on your outerwear needs, environmental conditions, and activities.

*Note: While the mid layer is for insulation and retaining body heat, it can be used as outerwear when stopping or resting, depending on the conditions. Typically this is a polyester fleece jacket or a puffy jacket with down or synthetic insulation.

Outerwear (Shells)

Outerwear or shells are mostly for rain, cold, and wind protection. These include jackets and pants and are your first line of defense while outdoors.

Types of Shells

Hardshell – Is Waterproof/Breathable gear. Generally stiffer and not insulated. Warmth is from the base and mid-layers

Soft Shell – This is an Insulating layer with a water-resistant shell.  It combines a mid and outer layer with greater breathability but less rain, wind, and cold protection.

Hybrid Shell – A variety of hard and soft shell combinations and construction.

Insulated Shell – Your normal down or synthetic fill for warmth. Most puffy jackets are also water-resistant and breathable.

Depending on conditions you may be using just a shell or combined with additional layers for extra warmth.


Warm weather

A brimmed hat to keep your head dry and protected from the sun. The brim also helps to keep rain and sun out of your eyes, but also bring /wear sunglasses.

Cold weather

Headband or beanie depending on conditions.


Worn on your neck and provide protection from the sun in the summer and cold in the winter depending on the material used.


Typically associated with keeping your hands warm during cold weather

You can find layered systems for cold weather as well as gloves designed for UV protection. Neoprene gloves work well if you’ll be working in a wet environment and for diving.

A layered system allows you to adjust the protection needed to your current conditions. In cold weather, a layered system allows for the temporary removal of outer shells if more dexterity is needed.

You can find gloves in both regular and fingerless styles. 

I always wore fingerless gloves in the military, basic flight gloves with the fingers cut off, for better dexterity. 

What’s the best way to tailor your outerwear needs

Anticipate conditions – Check weather forecasts

Choose function over fashion – no one looks good when they are miserable.

Plan for active and inactive periods and how that affects your needs.

See you on the trail,