I take a utilitarian view to clothing. Fashion has never been either an obsession or a strong suit of mine. And of course as soon as a fashion label appears on an item, you may as well take out another mortgage to pay for it. Other web sites have reviews of different makes and brands and so on (eg. sectionhiker.com and outdoorgearlab.com) so I'll just stay with the basics.
A note about the products illustrated below - these are just examples of stuff that looked OK that I plundered from retailer's pages. They are not endorsements of particular brands. Shop around, see what fits. Please remember these items will be layered, and you need to move and carry stuff with them on. Don't buy them too snug, but then again you don't want to end up wearing a mumu either. My apologies to the models I may have cut the heads off. My need was greater than yours. For those interested in their smiling (or pouting) faces, most pictures are from the millets.co.uk web site.
My apologies to the delicate lasses out there - I'm relatively devoid about information on whether women's sizing is necessary or just an advertising gimmick. Most of the women I have hiked/worked with have generally just bought mens sizes except if they necessarily need bigger bits in the top, or the legs are too long for the waist size. Their frequent gripes are the clothes are sized for, well, models, and too snug. Oh, and the 'delicate lass' was irony. My female hiking buddies are totally capable and hardcore. They would (and do) kick my ass when I compare them to delicate flowers (especially after a dirty, smelly week out bush). Which makes it all the more funny because they know I'm winding them up. Honestly, they would make a sailor blush. A very good source of information about gear (and other hiking topics) for women is hiking-for-her.com. For you female viewers out there who want to share your opinions, let readers know what sizing and other pitfalls are around. I know different brands are more culpable. Apparently comfort and utility takes second place to looking like a supermodel.
Here's a 'brief' take on underwear. Okay, couldn't resist making yet another pathetic joke. For the most part - it's up to you. However... Socks should be of good quality and wear resistance. Wool socks are fine, but synthetic materials can be fine also. Beware of cheap socks that either wear away rapidly, or have elastic that appears to lose all elasticity within a day. If your socks keep falling down and bunching around your toes, at best you'll be uncomfortable. At worst, develop blisters.
For the more intimate parts, I wear lycra-mix pants - bike pants without the padded parts. They reduce chafing on the inside of the legs, and are a good barrier to bush ticks and leeches getting in places where, well, your friends may not want to go to help remove them. To all those who may be cringing at the thought of me wandering around in lycra - I NEVER wear them without something over the top. Lycra is just not a good look on a guy! Be careful to swap them out to air and dry every few days. They can be hotbeds of crotch rot, according to the medics. But I've never had any problems.
Most of the women I hike with go for the sports bra option. Metal parts are apparently not that comfortable. Hey, even a guy could figure that out! I welcome any practical opinions from you female hard core hikers out there.
People are frequently curious about how many pairs of underwear to take. All I can venture is an army perspective... 2-3 pairs of socks. 2 pairs of lycra pants. Swap them out as required. Hey, the point is to smell like the bush so the bad guys don't notice you. After 3-4 weeks even the animals don't really know you're there. I don't think you would be very popular at a dinner party though.
Thermal underwear made from materials such as polypropylene (the ones pictured are Merino mix) are widely touted for 'moisture wicking' properties.
I can't say I've really noticed any such effect. But for those of you who get chilly, they can be a useful layer. I'm pretty ectothermic - I give off heat. It has to be pretty cold (< -5 degrees) for me to consider wearing them. Even then, I restrict them to night time. I would just overheat otherwise. I prefer to add outer layers. Also, if any of my hiking companions find me wandering in thermal underwear around without a layer on top to cover bits up, you have permission to thrash me mercilously about the head and shoulders.
My main layer is very simple. Polyester mix cargo pants with buttoned or zip fastened side pockets. Thigh pockets are great for map and notebook. I err on the lighter side of materials for pants (I get warm quickly), but in cold and snow conditions I use light salopettes. Similarly I just wear a long sleeve poly-mix shirt. I generally wear long pants bloused at the bottom for protection against things like spear grass and general abrasion, and long sleeves for protection from grazing and sun. But if you want to wear shorts, go for it. Cotton, however is a no-no. It's cold and clammy when wet, and takes ages to dry. Stick with synthetic.
A basic fleece jacket suffices for most (say, 3/4 season) moderate conditions. Get a reasonable quality one as cheaper materials often don't survive the first wash without losing half their mass. I use a heavier one for snow conditions. Really you need to experiment to find the best weight for your own body thermal balance. I, for example, am not fat. So technically I should be better suited for warm rather than cold weather. However I'm also weird in that I cope equally well in cold weather as well. I can get away with lighter materials as long as I have a windproof layer. Hypothermia, however, kills. So err on the side of caution. I also carry a quilted vest which I generally use in preference to the fleece on those rare occasions I feel cool while walking.
Above the snowline is a bit of a different case. The layering principle still applies, but you may need thicker individual layers, and perhaps an additional layer in addition to the norm. Definitely talk with someone who regularly operates in these areas, under the conditions you are planning to operate in (ie. don't just ask the guy managing the ski lift) to see what works for them. Yes, you will carry more, but it beats dying of hypothermia or losing some fingers or toes with frostbite. For serious above-the-snowline hiking I do carry salopettes and an insulated ski jacket.
At minimum, you should carry a windproof/weather-resistant layer. I would recommend against using an all-in-one heavy insulated and waterproof jacket. They are fine if you are just wandering around town in the cold, but they are bulky, heavy, and you can't layer them as well. You will either cook or freeze. A shell or lightly insulated jacket should suffice. If you have lots of money, by all means get a Gore Tex jacket. If I had £250 I would consider getting one. I see little point. While Gore Tex is 'breathable', it can't let all the moisture out. Someone (I forget who) wrote that a jacket is not to keep you dry, it is to keep you warm. A windproof, largely water resistant jacket such as my £25 Dunlop jacket will do this. You will still get damp, but at least the dampness will be kept close and warmed up by your body, much like a wetsuit. It is better to have something that reduces airflow around your body.
In the army I carried a coat in my pack, and almost never wore it. They were affectionately known in army reverse-naming parlance as "Japara, Psychological" - which kind of indicates how useful they were. I had a wind-resistant fleece and quilted vest that took care of most conditions. However, given Sod's Law if I had ever left it behind, guaranteed I would have paid for it.
A pair of overpants can help reduce wind chill in the wet. I personally don't carry them. And if I did, I would get a size larger than the one in the picture. Sheesh - too tight to move in.
Hat and gloves
I hate wearing hats. Is it that vain streak of mine and the prospect of hat-hair? Given I hate looking in the mirror, and I have short hair - No. I just don't like them. I do however wear a bush-hat for sun protection in summer and a modicum of warmth in winter. In winter I will also carry, and maybe sometimes ever wear a thinsulate lined wool hat - particularly at night when asleep. It is true that wearing a hat reduces an awful lot of heat loss. If you are in more extreme conditions, consider something more appropriate. You lose a lot of heat through your head.
I wear fingerless gloves most of the time just from army habit. I'm used to scrambling around everywhere. In cold conditions I would in fact recommend wearing gloves if there is a danger of getting cold. Extremities are quick to cool as the blood supply shuts down (vasoconstriction), and they are very slow to warm up again. It is best to prevent them from getting that cold in the first place. This is also one of those few occasions in which I would recommend biting the bullet and getting decent weatherproof gloves such as Gore Tex. Wet gloves will be close to useless.
Only wear what you need. If you are about to strap the pack on and venture forth, take the layers off. Don't potter along for 10 minutes then overheat. You'll just sweat and get your under layers wet, or persist along too hot and get dehydrated. Conversely, once you stop, let yourself cool a bit, then rug up again.
Experiment with layers and materials under different conditions. Being overloaded with clothes adds to weight and bulk, but being unprepared can be dangerous. My layers are simple: Bike pants, socks, poly-mix cargo pants, long sleeve poly-mix shirt, quilt vest, fleece, water-resistant jacket (my very high-tech Dunlop model). Gloves and hat as required. In snow I may add a pant layer and exchange the fleece for a heavier model. I definitely won't win any fashion competitions, but hey. That's the way it goes.
For UK Amazon go to Search and buy stuff: UK/Europe