I've been back from the trail for two weeks and it seems like I just can't catch up on all the jobs around the house that mounded up while I was away. Today I want to review the clothing I wore on the trip. I know I promised a review of the shirt but the truth is, every individual piece of clothing contributes to your comfort. If one article is not working correctly or as expected, then problems will crop up.
On this trip I was expecting hot humid conditions. I was mostly right. It was down right wet. We had rain on four days as well as high humidity the others. If you have ever hiked on the east coast, you probably discovered hanging your clothes up to dry at night is futile. I once hung an almost dry shirt at Mountaineer Shelter in Tennessee only to wake to a dripping wet shirt the next morning. My number one criteria when picking the clothes for this trip was fast drying.
Another expectation was insects. A number of sections we were passing through would be over grown with weeds and grasses. Ticks have been especially bad this year so I decided to treat all my clothing with Permethrin. I don't like spraying myself several times a day with insect repellent. But I dislike even more removing the little parasites off my skin. Each year I hear of more and more hikers coming down with tick related illnesses. Last year, Harold was treated for Lyme Disease. Its bad enough if you are treated early but it mimics so many other ailments doctors sometime miss it. Okay so how well did the stuff work? I did supplement with an occasional shot or two of insect repellent on my legs but not even everyday. I found only one tick after I walked through hip deep grass. It was crawling up my leg so I picked it off and laid it on my shorts. I didn't know ticks could jump so far. As far as other bugs I really didn't notice them. I intend to keep using this product.
Now for the actual clothing. I wore a cotton/polyester ball cap (yea, I know cotton kills, but its a good wearing hat), a Columbia polyester shirt treated with Omni-Freeze, Nike Dry-Fit running shorts and Wrightenberry Mills Merino Wool Quarter Socks. My shoes were a pair of Salomon Wings 3.
Some of you may know I normally hike in Innov-8s. Unfortunately the pair I ordered for the trip arrived the middle of the trip. However the Salomons did a great job. My only complaint was the inner sole was a foam rubber that acted like a sponge holding water every time I got wet. I wish I had caught that before the trip but other than a slight comfort issue it didn't seem to matter too much. No, they were not waterproof. I prefer to let the water flow in and out without the restriction of a so called breathable/waterproof membranes. I find that once water gets in a "waterproof" shoe or boot, there it stays. The heat generated by my feet usually is enough to dry out my shoes. Except for the days that it rained a lot my feet stayed fairly dry. The Salomons had good support and protection from rocks. I also liked the speed laces that only adjusted once or twice the entire trip. I locked the laces so I could simply slide the shoes off and on without having to make an adjustment.
If you have ever attended one of my talks on backpacking, then you are familiar with Wrightsocks. I discovered them a few years ago and immediately feel in love with them. It also helps that the mill is less than seven miles from where I live. Nothing like supporting the local economy. They are a two layer sock with a polyester dry wicking layer on the inside and merino wool on the outside. They stay cool and comfortable all day long and at the most I might remove my shoes at a break or lunch and let the socks air out what little moisture they hold. The wool is a little slow drying at night but I carry an extra pair so I can start out with dry socks each day and rinse out the pair from the day before when possible. On rainy days I have been known to start out wet with the hope of dryer conditions later in the day. One of the boys brought another brand of socks that had a padded bottom. That's something else I wish I had found out earlier in the trip. I gave him my spare pair of socks to wear. His reaction was "these socks are amazing!"
The Nike shorts are something I had been thinking about for some time. What I had been wearing seems to stay wet in the waist and sometime causes a little chaffing, The Nikes are lighter and I found tend to dry faster. I know the length I wear is not the style most boys wear today. I see boys and men in shorts that cover their knees. Well in my opinion you might as well be wearing long pants. The purpose of shorts is to allow air to circulate and keep your upper legs cool and dry. The ones I wore have a 4" in-seam. Less material equals less moisture held against your skin. It also means that my rain jacket covered most of me resulting in only my feet and legs getting wet in a downpour. On the day we visited Dismal Creek Falls, I went swimming in the late afternoon. They were dry by the time I ate supper.
Back at Christmas, my wife gave me a Columbia Omni-Dry long sleeve shirt. I wore it on a couple of trips back in the winter and spring and was very impressed with its performance. It wicked moisture quickly away from my skin keeping me dry and warm even when I stopped for breaks or to set up camp. That's no small feat since I can pour out the sweat when I'm hiking. Just before this trip I headed to the Columbia Outlet to get a short sleeve version of this shirt. However, the sales girl directed me to a shirt that had the Omni-Dry and Omni-Freeze. The fabric has a flat weave that wicks water faster than a round weave plus a coating that works when damp to lower the temperature of the fabric. I checked around on-line and the coating is designed to endure about 50-70 washings. I'm not sure how that translates into wearing it day after day on the trail but the bottom line is it really works. While the rest of the group was covered in sweat, I stayed relatively dry and comfortable even on the hottest days. I did find that when the wind picked up on some of the ridges, I was chilled while they were comfortable. Slipping on a jacket easily solved that problem. May be Columbia could add an on/off switch for the freeze feature.
All in all I was very pleased with the clothing system I used on this trip. It was light and cool. It dried quick after a shower (or storm). Best of all except for a slight chill at Wind Rock, I was comfortable the entire trip.