Dressing for the Cold: Sharing my Fall Outdoor Clothing

Fall is my favourite time of year to adventure. The colours are amazing and the cooler temperatures make for comfortable hikes that are free from biting insects. But, hiking and camping in the cooler weather takes more forethought. In Eastern Canada, temperatures can change drastically from day to day and day to night. A hot sunny afternoon can be followed by a cold frosty morning.

Layering is key to staying comfortable in these varying temperatures, but knowing what to wear can be confusing with so many options at outdoor stores. In this post, I’m breaking down layering and sharing my fall outdoor clothing. I’ll let you know what I like and dislike and give you a few tips for staying warm. Let’s get into it!

Woman stands in front of Dunbar Falls waterfall. She's wearing a fleece mid-layer and fjallraven tights. The surrounding trees are red, orange, yellow, and green.

— BASE LAYERS —

Base layers (or, long underwear) are your first layer of protection. They should fit comfortably against your skin, but shouldn’t be so tight as to cut off circulation.

Base layers are often classified as lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. Outdoor clothing companies have different ways of indicating this. For example, Mountain Equipment Cooperative (MEC) used to categorize their base layers as T1, T2, and T3. Generally speaking, the heavier the weight, the warmer the base layer. Some companies have manage to reduce the weight of their warmest layers, but you’ll pay a hefty price for them.

Besides being warm, base layers need to be effective at wicking moisture away from the body. Wool and synthetic fabrics like polyester will keep you warm and dry. You should steer clear from cotton which absorbs water and keeps you cool.

J.B. Field’s Super-Wool Hiker GX Socks

Let’s start with socks, J.B. Field’s are some of the cheapest wool blend hiking socks that I can find. They are very warm and wick away sweat. The downside is they will likely wear out in a couple of seasons. I don’t fault them for this because it happens to all my socks, even the more expensive ones.

MEC T3 Zip-T and Long Johns

MEC has since discontinued the T3 zip-t and long johns that I wear, but they have similar products. These layers are made from a polyester (92%) and spandex (8%) blend and have a silver ion treatment which inhibits the growth of bacteria and provides some odour control.

The zip-t shirt is full-sleeve with a 3/4 length zipper for ventilation. I like the long zipper as it allows me to cool off quickly without removing my shirt. The shirt also has thumb holes which keep the sleeves from rolling up.

— MID LAYER —

The mid layer is a looser fitting layer that fits over the base layer. The fit is looser to make room for air circulation. Like a sleeping bag, the mid layer keeps you toasty by warming and trapping air.

Again, wool and synthetic fabrics are a great choice. Down, made from the fine feathers of duck and geese, is also very warm. While down can feel bulky, it is lightweight and packs small. If you are thinking about buying down, there are a few things to be aware of. First, down loses its insulating properties if it gets wet and, once wet, it takes a long time to dry. Second, it can lose a lot of the fluffiness that keeps you warm after multiple washings.

Lightweight Synchilla Patagonia Fleece

Patagonia’s synchilla fleece is a great midsize fleece. It’s warm and made from recycled polyester. The buttons allow for some temperature control and elastic in the wrists and waist band help trap air. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have side pockets. It only has one small breast pocket.

MEC Terrena Stretch Pants

I’ve owned terrena pants for a few years. They are water repellent (not waterproof), shed dirt easily, and dry quickly. For those reasons alone, they are a great choice. They are also lightweight and breathable making them perfect for a hot summer day, but they also work well in cold weather when paired with long johns.

These pants roll up into capris by securing the pant legs with inner fabric loops and buttons. This has saved me from getting too wet when crossing rivers. That said, even when secured with the fabric ties, the pant legs don’t stay up well.

Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights

Fjallraven trekking tights are my go-to hiking and camping pants. They are less breathable than the MEC terrena pants, but a bit warmer. In cold weather, you still need to pair these with a base layer.

I love these tights because of their reinforced knees and butt which keep you dry when sitting and kneeling on damp surfaces. The pockets are also great. There’s a small zippered pocket on the waist and two pockets on the thighs. My phone fits perfectly in the right side pocket and it’s easy to access.

These tights also fit well and are more durable than regular tights. Having said that, I’m starting to notice fabric fraying after a couple seasons of use. This is unfortunate because these tights are expensive.

— SHELLS —

Shells protect against environmental elements like wind and rain. You can buy hardshells and softshells. Generally speaking, hardshells are waterproof, durable, have sealed seams, and fit a bit stiff. Softshells are water-resistant and are more comfortable.

I recommend soft-shells for fair weather and shorter trips and hard-shells for more extreme weather and longer trips. That said, an expensive soft-shell can get you close to waterproof, but sustained exposure to water will eventually result in water seeping through the fabric.

All rainproof gear comes with waterproof ratings. Check out this post by Paddy Pallin for an in-depth overview of waterproof clothing. In summary:

5000mm is where waterproofness begins, but you’ll get wet in a downpour.

10,000 – 15,000mm will deal with heavy rains, but “if you subject them to pressure (like crashing in wet snow, kneeling or sitting down in the case of pants, or the pressure of a heavy pack’s shoulder straps & hip belt) then they’ll soak through over time.”

20,000mm and over should keep you dry in all conditions.

MEC Synergy HD Gore-Tex Jacket

MEC’s hardshell Gore-Tex Jacket is waterproof (20,000mm), has an adjustable hood, velcro cuffs, fully taped seams, and five pockets. I like that the velcro cuffs stop water and snow from getting into my sleeves. The inner pocket keeps my camera batteries and phone warm so they still function in the cold.

Another great feature is this jacket’s built-in Recco® technology: “Recco technology is a two-part system, featuring an active detector, carried by the rescuer, and a passive reflector, carried by the user.” Should you become lost wearing this coat, rescuers equipped with a Recco detector can use radar signal to point them in your direction.

The fit of this coat is stiff and a bit uncomfortable, but it is extremely durable. I wore this while building my lean-to-shelter and I was constantly brushing up against jagged logs and branches and never once got a tear. I expect to be wearing this for many years to come.

Woman stands in an evergreen forest wearing a gore-tex hard shell jacket. It is navy blue.

MEC Aquanator Rain Pants

These rain pants (12,000mm) do what they’re supposed to do – keep the rain out. They are easy to pull over your pants, they pack small, dry quickly, and are lightweight. They don’t seem super durable, but I’ve walked through lots of brush and briers without them ripping.

Overall they are great, but I hate the swishing sound they make when walking and I wish they had some pockets.

— SHOES —

Keen Women’s Pyrenees Boots

I wanted to love these boots because they are so beautiful! They held up well for their first year, but their waterproof capabilities has since disappeared (despite getting them professionally maintained).

Sadly, that’s not the only problem. The heel counter (back part of the inner boot) has also come apart and the rubber covering the toe started to separate from the leather. Looking through online reviews, it’s clear these are common issues. It’s unfortunate because I found these boots to be very comfortable.

Tretorn Sarek 72 and Bog Women’s Classic Tall Rain Boot

I’m currently wearing the Tretorn Sarek boots in heavy rain. This is my first season with them, so it’s too early to recommend them, but my initial impression is good. The heel is stiff, they fit comfortably, and I like that they can roll down. I’m having no issues with water leakage.

I was wearing a pair of Bog boots for over ten years and I highly recommend them. They are a cold weather boot, but I wore them all year round. The shaft of the boot is constructed with 7mm Neo-Tech waterproof insulation and fits tight to the leg. My sizing was a little off so these boots sometimes gave me blisters, but otherwise I have no complaints. I’m only replacing them because my dog chewed holes in them and I wanted to find a better fit.

— EXTRAS —

Merino Wool Buff and Hat

I use a lightweight merino wool face mask to keep my neck and my face warm when it’s chilly and a polyester hat.

MEC Merino Liner Gloves

MEC liner gloves work well for cool fall temperatures. Even wet, they keep my hands warm. They are not durable. They easily get snagged, but they are meant to be liners. I’ve worn them under work gloves and they keep your hands extra warm.

— BUILDING YOUR OWN FALL OUTDOOR CLOTHING SYSTEM —

While outdoor fans love to nerd out about gear, the truth is that you don’t need any fancy clothes to get outside and enjoy yourself. If you are building up your own layering system, my advice is to start cheap and invest in gear over time. Off-season is a good time to find on-sale items.

Buying second hand is an option. I’ve seen great fleece and wool pieces at thrift stores for cheap. The key to thrifting is knowing what fabrics to look for. Polyester, wool, and down are your best bets and stay away from cotton – even if it looks warm!

The good news is, once you get your fall clothing in order, it will probably carry you into winter. I just swap my midweight fleece with something heavier and layer with warmer gloves, face mask, and socks.

What Are Your Favourites?

I’d love to hear about your fall outdoor clothing. What works for you and what purchases do you regret? Also, if you have any experience with some of the pieces I’ve mentioned above, feel free to share them in the comments section.

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