As quote-unquote adults, we ought to all have the whole getting dressed thing down pat, but shoulder season's wild weather swings can throw a curveball into any of our day-to-day dressing ideas. By "shoulder season," we mean those odd periods between summer and winter that don't quite count as fall or spring either, when you can get freezing temps in the morning and warm sun in the afternoon. Elevation changes further stir things up.
The question of how to effectively dress for shoulder season weather is often a tough one, even for lifelong outdoorists. How do you maintain a comfortable temperature without having to constantly stop to shed or reapply layers of clothing? A common tendency is to carry every layer we own in our packs (you know, just in case) or find ourselves freezing for not packing enough.
That's where Jackson Hole-based Clayton Herrmann comes in. As a professional outdoor photographer, avid skier and climber, and former ski instructor and raft guide, Herrmann's job and hobbies mean he's outside all year round. That outdoor lifestyle plus his experience producing work for gear brands like Mountain Hardwear, La Sportiva, and Big Agnes has given him a lot of time to figure out what works and what doesn't when it comes to dressing for transition season weather.
Below, He shares some hard earned wisdom.
5 Rules for Proper Shoulder Season Layering
Shoulder season isn't the same time of year for all of us
"Shoulder season is where you have a little bit of everything throughout the day," says Herrmann. "This can mean really cold temps in the morning and evening, but warm, even hot, in the day." In northern Jackson, that might mean April or November. Elsewhere, shoulder season might not exist at all.
Start cold, carry less
"The biggest thing to prioritize is starting cold because you don't want to sweat," advises Herrmann. "I also want things to be easy to take on and off and not be too heavy." Sometimes it comes down to knowing about which pieces of gear you can go without. "Thermal underwear is hard to take off and even though they are nice in the mornings, they will get too hot in the day when you're moving around. Rain shells aren't that breathable and can just make you sweat so unless it's raining, avoid them. Big fleeces are heavy, aim for anything that can compress!"
Herrmann also advocates for accessories: "Lightweight gloves, a hat, and a technical beanie can go a long way. If I am going on a quick mission, lighter is always better and I will usually opt to be a little cold, rather than carrying a bunch of layers."
Take the time to transition in and out of layers
"There is always this desire to keep going and not take too many breaks, but do not refuse to stop if you're sweating, it will always be worth it. You really want to avoid getting wet in any way," says Herrmann. That includes your feet. "Wool and synthetic socks are also important for this. Snow melts and trails can get moist, but you want to avoid damp feet. Stuff getting wet can be the downfall of backcountry hiking."
Adjust what you carry in your pack based on the seasons
For the transition from fall to winter, Herrmann recommends adding a down jacket to your packing list. "A big down jacket belay parka lives in my bag during winter shoulder season. You don't need that layer while you're moving but it is important for when you stop or if you're at a higher elevation. I've mentioned this, but again, it is really important to not sweat. As you are getting into winter that can actually be dangerous."
For the transition from winter to spring, Herrmann does the reverse. "I switch to my smaller down jacket, or even just an air shell. I might also swap out my long sleeve for just a t-shirt."
Take into consideration desert temperature swings and don't skip sun protection
"For an open, sunny, exposed trail, a long sleeve sun hoody goes a long way. This is key if I'm going for a long alpine hike—more for sun projection than warmth. Lightweight non-cotton pants are usually a solid all-around layer as well. I might add in a pair of long underwear if I am camping or planning to be stopping anywhere. Otherwise, I might just keep it simple on the bottom, shorts even, and then a giant puffy on top. It is important to keep your core warm."
Clayton Herrmman's Favorite Shoulder Season Gear
With the above advice in mind, Herrmann has shared a selection of his favorite shoulder season layering pieces, specifically selected to span a rane of activities, climates, and environments. Read on and dig in!
Darn Tough Micro Crew Midweight Hiking Sock
"Synthetic or wool socks are essential for keeping your feet dry from either sweat or damp/ snowy/rainy trails."