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Friday, September 24, 2010


Having lived in California by entire life, I have probably learned more about how to dress for the outdoors since starting endurance 4 years ago, than in the previous 20+ years of my life! Lessons that everyone else in the REST of the country learned in their toddler years….

So here it is – my layering lessons learned, my preferences, and my “system”. I welcome comments and suggestions….my system is geared towards endurance riding, backpacking, and also the general versatility of the pieces I’m using.

Under layers/Base layer
  • Silks
  • Silks are my absolute favorite piece of clothing. If I ever mention my “silk” underwear, I am NOT referring to any sort of lingerie item, instead I’m talking “long johns”. Although they do keep you “warm”, I find that more importantly, they moderates temperature changes. I’m never too hot or too cold in my silks.
  • Silks are extremely lightweight, thin, and easily layerable. I’ve never been “bugged” by them, and can even wear the silk bottoms under tight jeans.
  • An added bonus of wearing a base layer…. if you have to change in the middle of a vet check, or at base camp while hiking, you aren’t naked!!!!
  • I have silk bottoms and 2 different tops – a tank/camisole and a long sleeve “V”. I’ll wear the tank top if I know I’ll be adding another base layer on top, OR if I know it will be a warmer day. On the bottoms, I typically won’t wear more than one base layer, thus I won’t usually wear a silk bottoms if I know I’ll also be wearing a fleece bottom layer.
  • I always wear my silks next to the skin, regardless of any other base layers I’m wearing.


  • I’m very picky. A fleece/polartec base layer must be seamless/flat seams, with a minimum of a waistband, and be very thin without a lot of pile.
  • Have not found a set that is currently sold that I’m a fan of – I have a pair of old REI fleece bottoms that I love, but was not able to find in stores.

I do not like the nylon. The wool (ie “smart wool” branded stuff) base layers seem wonderful, but I’m not a fan of the price….Would definitely pick up a pair to try if I found on clearance.

Moving on to the “real” clothing

I have 2 shirts I love.

Convertible shirt – can have long or short sleeves depending on what I zip on or off!

  • This is my favorite for colder/moderate rides as it is easily layerable.
  • I love to pair this shirt with silks, as it doesn’t moderate temperatures well by itself.
    The shift has lots of options – however some adjustments (like taking or putting on sleeves) are not easily done on the trail, so plan accordingly….

Technical shirt – My FITS shirt

  • I wore my FITS shirts during Tevis. I think these are absolutely fabulous shirt and LOVE them. I have written a previous review on it…Search the blog and it should come up.
    I think the shirts will be best for hot weather, but have not had a chance to do a colder ride with it, so they may surprise me.
  • I think they are the best choice if I choose not to wear a base layer (such as my silks), because the shirt itself does a good job of moderating temperature.


  • I prefer summer weight tights because I can then micro manage my layers on top of and underneath the tights. The silks are so thin you really can fit them under the tightest of tights! I swear.
  • Tropical riders are my present favorite (although do not wear like iron….as one year into use they have a small hole in the thigh….)
  • I layer underneath with my choice of warmth, or over the top with a waterproof layer as necessary.

Outer layers
Vest – core warmth

  • I have a down vest I LOVE, however, my mom uses a vest that is the same as the jacket I describe below. Down can be more of a pain to use – you have to wash it separately, it doesn’t like getting wet etc. BUT I think for light weight comfort and warmth, it can’t be beat.

Jacket – windblocker

  • The jacket is my windblocker layer. It’s thin and fleecy. It’s water-resistent, which means that for a sudden, light, short showers it’s going to be just fine. The material dries quickly.
    A full front zip means that I can moderate temperature fairly well with it, and it’s easy to take on and off from the saddle. When back packing, I won’t have to take my back pack off if I need to be a bit cooler – I can unzip it.
  • I think the windblocker is especially important for riding. For back packing, if I was concerned about weight, I would use my waterproof Gortex jacket as a windblocker layer.

Gortex – waterproof

  • Ideally I would have a top and bottoms. Invest in good stuff! You get what you pay for….I prefer the jacket that is NOT lined so it is light and packable. See below for my reasoning of buying layers separately….
  • As a warning….when riding, “manage” the hood! Otherwise it will be quite possible to dump cold water down your back…..

Other Notes
Generally I prefer zippers and snaps. Zippers are good for one handed operation as you zip and down….snaps are nice for versatility – if you want the middle closed and the top and bottom open you can! With some practice, snaps can be one handed. Buttons have some of the same advantages of snaps, however I find they don’t do the one handed thing as well, and tend to fail more often than snaps. Of course, the upside is that it’s easier to replace a button versus a snap!

In my opinion, layers work better than a single piece that inherently contains lots of layers. For example – I have a pair of insulated, “waterproof” riding pants. They are warm, kind of waterproof. But they aren’t as versatile as a pair of silks under riding tights, with a gortex pants over the top.

So where do I get all this cool stuff???? If you are extremely lucky, you can find it at a thrift store, however I find that I’m having to buy my key components new. Ugggggg……it can be kind of pricey, but I’m learning to be patient and to haunt the clearance racks for something suitable. For good quality gear at decent prices (especially in their bargin sections…) keep an eye on these stores – Cabelas, REI, and Sierra trading post.

Happy riding!


  1. What about SOCKS?

    I've gotten incredibly picky about the socks I wear for training rides and "real" rides (we're only doing LD's this year).

    I used to swear by Thorlo hiking socks, but the price now is outrageous . I got a couple pairs of REI's store-brand hiking socks, and am pretty happy with those...BUT...the best socks I've ever found are the socks they sell at the military PX. THOSE socks are thick on the bottom, the tops stay up, they wick like crazy, they do not chafe, and they last FOREVER! (I wish I'd found the military socks before I spent money on REI socks).

    Here in the Swampland, we also often wear a helmet liner--cotton in summer, synthetic in winter. Sunburn under the helmet vent holes is really painful, and cold water through the helmet vents SUCKS! A thin fleece "beanie" hat under a helmet makes a huge difference on a cold day.

  2. Aarene, last fall Costco had some excellent wool socks. $20 for 4 pairs, ugly grey, the perfect amount of elastic and wicking. I have my eyes peeled and I'm hoping they come back this year. Costco also has the world's best riding gloves - cheap, grippy on biothane, fun colors, breathable.

    Mel, did you realize that Reno has a Sierra Trading Post outlet? If you want to hit it on Friday or Sunday I'll watch Farley for you!

  3. Thanks Funder! I'll definately take you up on that. I'm planning on running into Cabelas on my up there if isn't too hot (Farley will be fine in the trailer as long as it isn't HOT), but I've NEVER been in STP and would love to check it out.

    AareneX - it's funny you brought up socks.....I'm not picky at ALL and haven't had any problems...yet. :) However, I do appreciate a good pair of socks and even though I don't HURT with the wrong ones, I'm definately happier in the good ones. I do really like wright's running socks that are the double layered trail socks but they are SO expensive. I have a pair of REI hiking socks and agree that they are GREAT. If the military surplus are just as good then I'll be making a trip...

  4. I think you and I went into a Sierra Trading Post when we went to Cheyenne a couple of years ago.



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