South Africa's winter is as varied as her staggering landscapes. Depending on where adventure takes you, there could be sweet sunshine, sleet, snow, or unrelenting rain. Happy - and cosy - hiking is all about effective layering. Melanie van Zyl compiled this guide to coating up for the elemental outside.
What's with Layering?
There's that saying, you know, that there's no such thing as foul weather, just awful gear. Dismal precipitation doesn't mean you can't escape to the great outdoors; you only need to be prepared.
As a general rule, several loose layers work better at trapping the heat that keeps you insulated while outside.
Layer up to Level up
Start with a simple t-shirt, which is called your base layer.
However, this first, or base, layer should have what's called a 'wicking ability' to transport moisture (sweat) away from your skin. Some fabrics are better at doing this than others. For example, cotton typically traps this moisture, which can later condense to make your skin feel cold.
Synthetic fabrics tend to wick better, dry quickly and don't chafe. Your regular exercise shirts should do nicely - something like the Ladies Leo Tee.
While layer one aims to keep your skin sweat-free and dry, the next layer acts to trap heat and keep you toasty.
There are two kinds of effective thermal garment: a super lightweight fleece or a denser heavyweight fabric. Either way, fleece stays warm even if it gets damp, plus it dries fast.
The Hi-Tec Women's Tech 1/4 Zip is an affordable lightweight and super-soft pullover in a fetching new muted atlas-blue colourway. Elasticated sleeves keep all that body heat exactly where it belongs, while the collar zipper is designed for added ventilation as your body warms up while getting into the hiking groove. Fleece also breathes well, so you're less inclined to overheat in it. Yet, this beloved breathability also lets that damned cool air straight in.
The last layer required on a winter walk is thus a waterproof or repellent shell that keeps the heat-sucking wind off you. An aptly named windbreaker prevents any icy gusts from getting in. I always check the 'mm' rating when choosing a water-repellent shell. The higher the index (for example, 2000mm), the more reliable the jacket is as shedding rain.
The Ladies Desna Rain Jacket has an impressive 2000mm waterproof rating while stressing a high 3000g breathability measure. This breathability is still key to good layering, and with such light weight, it’s ideal for trail runs too. The jacket cleverly incorporates reflective elements that will also keep you visible during dark, early mornings.
Before you buy, consider garment sizing. Layering too tightly can crush your precious insulation. For example, with fleeces, puffers, and tops, I typically choose size small, but I prefer a size medium for rain jackets so that the outer shell fits comfortably over the inner covers.
The Hi-Tec Lady Apex 3-1 Jacket solves this problem, though.
Three in one? But it's only two jackets? Together they make a third ultra-warm concoction.
1) An insulated jacket for cool temperatures; 2) A breathable, waterproof shell for warmer days; and 3) A fleecy mid-layer that works separately and can be worn on its own too.
The denser fleece inner jacket provides more warmth than the Tech 1/4 Zip and fits snugly into the outer jacket for easy layering. The outer shell boasts a 3000 mm waterproof cover (this rating is better than some camping tents) while still preserving breathability. In fact, this jacket system takes layering to another level. The outer jacket of the Apex further consists of a twin membrane composed of two fabric pieces. High technology (Hi-Tec!) indeed. The outer coating protects against weather, while the inner remains a little porous so that sweat can still evaporate. The taped waterproof seams also seal over the external zippered front to better ensure that nothing gets in.
If I’m honest. 3-in-1 jackets are usually big, shapeless and, in short, pretty dorky. This new ashy grey combination has changed my mind. It styles well with everyday jeans and casual days, or I could easily wear it on a winter bush trip without standing out as a city slicker or zip it up tight for morning strolls.