Terry Wieland serves as the Shooting Editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal and over the years has taken his expertise everywhere from the Alaskan Rockies to the mountainous rainforest of Admiralty Island. Regardless of where Terry finds himself, he realizes that in order to survive a backpacking trip you must have a few essential items. And that is exactly what he is about to share with you.
Backpacking in the mountains is the most strenuous big-game hunting you can do. Climbing into the mountains for a week, with a 60-pound pack and a rifle, requires dedicated physical training and conditioning. It also requires close attention to equipment.
Everyone worries about boots, backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and other essential items, but the same care should be devoted to the clothes you wear. Your choice of clothing may determine whether you succeed or not and, in extreme cases, whether you even survive.
Because of weight limitations, except for spare socks and underwear, backpackers can’t carry a change of clothes. So, the shirt and pants you are wearing when you leave are what you will have on when you get back. They need to be, first of all, very durable. Second, they must keep you warm even if you get wet (which you will, in the mountains, one way or another.) Third, they need to be cool enough to be comfortable even in the extremes of sweat and exertion which come with mountain climbing.
An important fact to remember is that your backpack itself helps keep you warm and dry, and blocks the wind. It protects your entire back and hips, and the broad straps cover your shoulders, so you rarely need to wear a jacket. I have backpacked with nothing but a wool shirt even when the temperature was well below freezing.
For 20 years, my standard backpacking outfit has been pure silk long underwear, with Filson’s wool whipcord pants and a wool shirt. This combination is comfortable, with no skin irritation or constriction of any kind. Nature builds a thermostat into these natural materials, so they keep you warm when it’s cold, but don’t let you get too hot when it warms up.
Sudden, sharp, rain showers are common in the mountains, but unless there is a prolonged downpour, there is no need to don a rain suit. The wool is warm even if it gets damp, and it dries very quickly. Just wear it until it’s dry. The same applies to the inevitable sweat that pours off you when you climb with a pack. The silk/wool combination dries quickly if you stop to rest, and for the short period that it is wet, it cools your over-heated body.
Since I started wearing this combination, I’ve backpacked in the mountains of Alaska, the Yukon, and the mountainous rainforest of Admiralty Island; in the snow of Ungava Bay in the Quebec Arctic, and deer hunting in Ontario. Today, I am wearing the same Filson wool whipcord trousers I bought in 1990. I bought an extra pair later, but since the originals are nowhere near worn out, I figure I’m set for life.