December 20, 2015 · 5 comments

Charles Hawes wearing Berghaus Jorasses softshell from

Layers are probably not something that you will have thought much about when you go for a walk. You probably just look out of the window and wonder how cold it is and whether its going to rain (in which case if you are me and have the choice, you probably go back to bed). But layers are a key concept for the SERIOUS walker, so here are a few thoughts.

You start with a base layer. That’s the garment that goes next to your skin. Me, I choose a short sleeve tee-shirt. In summer this might be all that you want to wear on your top during the day (don’t ever walk without a top layer unless you have a fabulous chest, and even if you do, I think that it’s a bit rude to walk topless unless you are on a beach).   A cotton tee-shirt might feel very comfy as your base layer, but cotton tends to absorb moisture (OK, I mean sweat), so that when you put on a second layer (I’ll come to that) you can feel rather clammy. So walkers are best advised to choose a base layer that will not want to hold the moisture.

Merino wool tee shirt-photographed by Charles Hawes

You didn’t think that I was going to model my tee-shirt!

Many people choose a synthetic fabric base layer that is designed to “wick” away moisture from the damp bits. I have tried these are they are horrid. I don’t like the feel of them on my skin and in my experience they make you stink. So I have two different natural fibre tee-shirts that are designed to be wicking and non -stinky: bamboo (from BAM) and Merino wool (by Icebreaker).  The Merino wool looks and feels more like cotton but is ever so slightly scratchy. The bamboo feels exactly like cotton. Both are very good at being non-stinky even after a long hot walk. The Merino wool shirts are really expensive (around £40) and come in nice sharp colours. The ones from BAM are much cheaper (around £20)  but are more boring colour wise.  But I reckon the wool ones are the better wickers. And having said all that if I am wearing a back pack (which I do nearly always) I always seem to get damp in the small of my back, so this wicking lark is not totally effective.

Craghoppers Solar Dry long sleeve shirt, photographed by Charles Hawes

Crumpled and a little faded.

Summer days can start off and finish chilly and the sun can be very fickle so you will always want to have a second layer in your back-pack. Also, the  only problem with tee-shirt walking is that there are no pockets to put your stuff. And if its a hot day you have to think about sun barrier cream (I think about it a lot and often fail to put it on). And if it’s hot and you have  along walk I get so TIRED. So basically I prefer to walk when its cooler and I can wear another layer with pockets.

Up to now my second layer has been a long- sleeved shirt. I have a 65% polyester/35% cotton mix  one by Craghoppers that I wear a lot.  It feels quite cotton like. It is branded as Solar Dry which means that when it does get damp it is supposed to dry out quickly and it does a pretty good job in this regard. It also has two little popper “Drying loops” so if it gets really wet and you have a bit of string you could hang it up to dry! It has two breast pockets (one with a zip), so they can hold my GPS and phone.

Paramo Katmai long sleeve shirt photographed by Charles Hawes

Not recommended

A friend of mine recommends Paramo gear and in a moment of  financial recklessness I have invested in one of their Katmai long sleeved shirts. It cost about £50, which is more than I have paid for my nicest of going out shirts. And it’s the dullest of camouflage green. It is a 73% cotton/27% polamide mix and is supposed to be wicking, and offers sun protection (SPF50), protection against insects (because of a tight weave in the fabric) and is wind-resistant.  It, too, has two breast pockets, one zipped and has velcro cuffs. And I don’t like it. It feels more synthetic and “stiff” and I was not impressed by its wicking qualities so I don’t wear it much.

So what about the next layer? Up until now if the forecast is chilly but dry, I have always worn a fleece. I love fleeces ‘cos they feel so cosy. My Berghaus one is quite basic with two zipped side pockets and two quite deep inside pockets – deep enough for a map.  I chose grey, which is a bit dull.  I  got it before I had heard about wicking, so I don’t know if it’s up to date on the tech side, but I have always found it really comfy.

Berghaus fleece, photographed from Charles Hawes

I really need to be more adventurous with colour

And if the forecast is that it might rain, well, a waterproof outer layer (Goretex or something similarly waterproof and breathable) would always be in the back pack.

The introduction of soft-shell jackets has made me have a re-think about what to wear after the tee-shirt.I don’t know how long soft-shell jackets have been around, but I became aware of them about a year ago. You think of a shell and you think “protective”, right? Protecting yourself against the elements is good for walkers but no one wants to walk around with a hard shell-like a tortoise, so I guess “soft-shell” makes sense. Those very nice people at the excellent internet retailer, e-outdoor have very kindly donated a Berghaus Jorasses Softshell for me to test out.

Charles Hawes wearing Berghaus Jorasses softshell

So here’s me wearing it on a hill outside Barnsley- pic courtesy of Bob

The jacket is marketed as an outer layer for “highly active mountain users”. Well, I know that I am not exactly a Munroe bagger but I do occasionally climb some fairly high hills in Wales, so I was keen to see what this had to offer.

Charles Hawes wearing Berghaus Jorasses softshell

This one on a wet day in the Brecon Beacons with Paul

Firstly, I liked its sharp red striped detailing, picking out the central zip and the external pockets.

Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nice, eh?

And it is really great on pockets, with two great big ones at the side – easily big enough for a map- two more in the middle of the chest, and a weeny one on the arm, that would comfortably accommodate an emergency Mars bar.

Arm pocket on Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

It’s not big enough for my phone – packet of Polos?

All these are zipped. And if that wasn’t enough it has two deep non zipped ones inside.

Inside pocket on Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

You could have hats and gloves and scarves in these

So masses of room for stuff.

The jacket is a 85% polyamide/ 15% elastane, mix so is is a little stretchy which is good when you have to be a bit stretchy clambering around. This material claims good wind resistance, water repellency and breathability so potentially ticks a lot of boxes. It doesn’t have the cosy feel of a fleece but the area around the neck has been lined with a softer feel grey polyester lining, which is nice.  The bottom of the jacket has two adjusters for the fit to the hips.

Inside the Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

Interesting variation of linings inside

It also has a built-in hood (though, slightly annoyingly, no back of neck pocket to contain it when not in use).

Hood on Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

Good adjustments for the hood – there’s another behind the neck

It weighs just over 700g, as opposed to my fleece’s 600g and has about the same bulk.

I got the jacket this Autumn and have only used it on fairly cold, damp days and on both long walks that I have taken it on I was really impressed. It rained on both walks – quite heavily on the second one and I stayed dry.

Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

As you can see, the hood also flips up to give you a nice red top to your forehead

Both were windy days, and I was glad of the hood. Hoods can be a real pain because they rarely fit snugly without obscuring your vision, but this hood is ace. The fit round the face is perfect and the slightly stiff peak keeps the drips off well.

Hood on Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

And you get a bonus close up of smiley-faced me

The cuffs are narrow and  I think should have been either fully elasticated or have velcro for a tighter fit but I did like the thumb holes in them which allow the arms of the jacket to be held over the back of the hand.

Thumb holes in cuff of Berghaus Jorasses softshell, photographed by Charles Hawes

I guess you could put a couple of fingers through if you prefer

On the colder days I could to wear a fleece under the jacket without feeling too stuffed and be pretty cosy. If I found that I was in heavy rain a waterproof in the bag would ensure that I stayed dry.  I’m not sure about summer use but I may well try it out as layer No.2. I think this jacket is going to get a lot of use!

Happy Christmas! In the new year I’ll be posting a walk from Tuscany- the first of three.








{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia December 20, 2015 at 10:07 am

ah, looking forward to seeing the Italian stylish wear then – hope you didn’t let the side down . . . have you thought of offering your self as a male walking model? meant nicely and happy xmas.


Charles December 20, 2015 at 12:47 pm

You’ll be sadly disappointed by the familiarity with my atire! I am constantly refusing offers of fabulous sums to model but feel that the younger generation must have an opportunity.


Anne Wareham December 20, 2015 at 11:39 am

I like the fleece. #cuddly.


Paul Steer December 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Did I get wet wearing a cotton outer, Gortex lined Craghoppers jacket and a M&S fleece ? No – but my head got soaked wearing my tweed flat cap and I didn’t look half as serious a walker you Charles !


Charles December 20, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Well , if its Goretex lined it is supposed to keep you dry! No, you never look half as serious as me.


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