Roger Philips: 'Tis the season to be versatile - What to wear in May

rphillips@idahostatesman.comMay 1, 2014 

Rog column.JPG

I took this photo years ago to remind myself that snow storms can happen during May in Idaho, not to mention June and occasionally July.


Spring is a welcome time to shed a layer and dust off the shorts, but it can also be the trickiest time to stay warm, dry and comfortable for a whole weekend.

That's been the case lately because every day the weather seems be different and even a sunny day can have a 30-degree temperature swing between morning, afternoon and evening.

Add to that whether you're in the Central Idaho mountains, in a shady forest, a wind-swept desert or on a chilly reservoir or river and the odds start stacking against you for packing the right clothing.

We're bound to have more chilly weather ahead, despite this glorious sunny weather heading our way this weekend. While I admit I overthink a lot of this stuff, I rarely cancel a trip because of the weather, so I try to be prepared for anything without over packing.

Unless I want to suffer for a weekend, I better have what I need to stay warm and dry under all spring conditions from sunny to snowy.

Having the right clothes means the difference between adding a layer and staying comfortable and getting wet, soggy and cold when an unexpected storm blows through.


They're my best friend during spring, and my go-to remains a merino wool long-sleeve top. That's because it's not only warm, it stays comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

It also keeps me warm when wet better than most other fabrics. On a recent fishing trip I dropped some tackle in the water and had to dip my arm up to my elbow to get it back. A short while later, I could barely tell which arm was wet.

I also don't hesitate to wear merino wool long underwear on a chilly morning, even if I know it's going to be in the 60s by afternoon.


I'm like most outdoors folks because on many trips I just put on a pair of jeans and hope for the best. But I know they're not very warm in cold weather, and if they get wet, I will be cold with no hope of warming until I change out of them.

I've found a compromise between warmth and comfort is a pair of a military-style cargo pants, commonly known as "BDUs." A good base layer underneath them and I am comfortable in most spring temperatures, they're rugged, and they dry a lot faster than jeans.

If getting wet is a strong possibility from either light rain, morning dew, or splashes, soft shell pants over a base layer is a good combo. The pants offer some weather protection, dry really fast and breathe well, which makes them comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

I bought a pair of North Face Nimble soft shell pants for about $80. That's a lot more than I usually pay for pants, but they've worked well. Jury is still out on durability, and I probably wouldn't crash through the brush in them, but I am impressed by their lightweight and comfort.

Rain pants are obviously the best insurance against getting wet, but I've rarely found a pair that's comfortable to hike in, and it's easy to overheat and get sweaty, which defeats the purpose.


Versatility is key. You want to be warm on those chilly mornings, or when the temperature drops mid day and a cold wind blows, but you probably won't be wearing it all day.

I love puffy coats, like the Patagonia Nano-Puff. But I don't like paying $200 for a lightweight jacket that's as likely get stuffed into a dry box in the boat or a tackle bag as it is to be worn.

Go Lite's "Wenatchee" jacket is a good substitute for half the price that I've thrashed pretty well, and it's held up so far. It's lightweight, comfortable and packable.

If you don't have a good soft shell jacket by now, invest in one. They're nearly as waterproof as a rain jacket, but more breathable. They also tend to be more rugged than puffy coats, which still make a great mid layer under a softshell when the cold weather lingers, or a nasty squall rolls through.


I usually wear warmer socks than I think I will need and then toss in a pair of flip flops. I hate cold feet because when my feet are cold, I feel cold all over.

Lightweight socks don't cut it when I am wading, so I stick with thick hiking socks, and you won't catch me dead in cotton socks. If it's a warm afternoon, I switch to sandals or flip flops.

I never leave home without a warm beanie and a pair of gloves. Makes all the difference in the world when the temps drop or the wind starts howling.

Spring weather is unpredictable, so a rule of thumb for me is to look at the forecast and pack clothes for about 10 degrees below the low to account for windchill and other factors.

And remember if you're going up in elevation, the weather tends to swing more wildly than it does at lower elevations, and freezing nights and snowstorms are always possible even if they're not in the forecast.

Forgive me for overexplaining, but if doing so keeps you from a soaked, shivering outing, I don't mind sharing.

Consider this some hard-earned experience from a guy who loves to be outdoors in all conditions, but hates to be uncomfortable.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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