Cold weather is just around the corner… And the conversation around layering your clothing comes top of mind for us. Why? If not done properly, it can really be uncomfortable. I went on a mission to determine best practices and how to effectively use it to your advantage. I also wanted to start with the basics and over time add options beyond the base layer. So here is my story and the results of my research about layering in general to help you understand without having to research further.
Starting out, I wanted to discover how to layer properly and create something that offers warmth without overheating, compression without suffocation, and as I am personally a creature of comfort, I figure you are too. The latest innovations in comfort clothing are constantly improving and I found something remarkably different from anything else out there. Seamless compression clothing is destined to be in everyone’s closet in the next five years. This new technology provides warmth without overheating and literally feels like you are wearing nothing at all. With a silky smooth finish, durably fabricated, and has stretch beyond belief. You won’t believe how amazing it feels to wear. This would be a base layer and is the core of getting you ready for any outdoor activity from simple spectating, tailgating and hunting to enjoying full blown hiking, traversing a mountain and skiing. Let's start with information:
When you aim to step outdoors, layering becomes your way of being able to use your own internal smart-technology thermostat. To regulate comfort, slipping layers on and off as your activity level increases/decreases, or the weather changes, is the key to insuring your adventure delivers the best experience.
What is layering? Simply put, it’s the wearing of lightweight or unconstructed garments one upon the other, as to create a fashionable ensemble or to provide warmth without undue bulkiness or heaviness.
- How to layer: First, let’s discover the function of each layer:
- Base layer (base layering: seamless clothing): wicks sweat off your skin and provides a level of comfort no matter what else it placed on top of it
- Middle layer (insulating layer): retains body heat to protect you from the cold
- Outer layer (shell layer): shields you from wind and rain
Even if you don’t plan to wear all layers, it’s a good idea to take all layers on every adventure: You can peel off layers if things heat up, but you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring with you.
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Cold, Rainy and Hot Layering Examples
Layering for certain weather is the smart way to start off you plan for venturing out into it. Any suggestions based solely on weather, though, overlook key considerations, like exertion level and personal metabolism. These examples below are for a person who doesn’t run particularly hot or cold, who is going on an intermediate-level half-day hike:
- Base layer of Seamless Compression which includes underwear, t-shirt, tank, and/or v-neck
- Cotton/Polyester/Wool based thermal mid-level to outer layer of sweats, jeans with stretch, or for rainy days, rain resistant pants
- Pull over, with light wind resistant or rain and wind resistant jacket
- Lightweight gloves and polyester ski hat to help keep your head, ears, hands warm
Mid-weight polyester long underwear top and bottom; a jacket with synthetic insulation; midweight fleece pants; waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants.
Rainy-weather layers (cooler temperatures):
Lightweight polyester long underwear top and bottom; lightweight fleece jacket; synthetic hiking pants; lightweight waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants (with plenty of vents).
Seamless compression underwear and a short-sleeve cotton t-shirt; lightweight shorts or convertible hiking pants; lightweight wind jacket.
You have many alternatives and options for each of these layers. Best to go with those that make sense for where you’re headed, what you’re doing and what you’re able to spend.
It’s key you take the time to adjust layers as conditions change. Depending on rain and wind, shedding layers will prevent you from heating up. If hiking alone isn’t warming you up, add a middle layer. If hiking up an elevation, be ready at stops to add a layer as the temperature drops. Lower elevations will be hotter.
Base Layer: Moisture Management
As the next-to-skin layer, a base layer’s job is to prevent moisture from staying next to your skin, aka “wicking.” In cool or colder conditions, wicking base layers are needed to keep your skin dry. It’s essential because it keep you from becoming chilled or worse—hypothermic.
Base layer materials: You have a wide range of fabric options, including synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool and silk. One of the best solutions is seamless compression clothing. Why? Mostly because its seamless nature keeps a silky smooth fabric next to your skin. That makes layering others on top easier because this feels like you are wearing nothing at all. It does offer a nice base layer of wicking action. There are differences in wicking and drying for each material, and in odor retention and durability, a lot people simply go with their personal fabric preference. But the better it wicks, the less odor and better comfort.
Base layer weights: Your options are straightforward—lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight—though you might also see terms like “ultralight-weight” on one end of the spectrum or “expedition-weight” at the other. Generally, heavier (thicker) fabrics will keep you warmer, though that’s not really the primary purpose of a base layer (wicking is). Overheating from your base layer will make it tough when it prevents you from shedding in those applications.
Warm-weather base layers: Long underwear might not be appealing when temperatures are higher, but having dry skin really makes you more comfortable in any condition. Here are some other warm-weather base-layer considerations:
A summer cotton t-shirt is really a base layer, so look for ones that offer wicking.
Some shirts designed for warm weather spread the moisture out through the fabric. They won’t really be sold as a base layer, but as your next-to-skin layer they can increase your comfort in hot conditions.
Underwear like boxers and briefs should also wick when you wear it under your long underwear in winter).
Most clothing offers some type of UPF-rating but base layers give you added sun protection. Cotton, considered a no-no in winter because it sponges up water and can chill you, can be okay if you’re outside on a super-dry, scorching summer day.
Emerging fabric technologies, like a wool infused with ceramic particles, will offer base layers that literally cool your skin for greater comfort, but may not be silky smooth against your skin.
Middle Layer: Insulation
Known as the insulating layer, it helps you retain the heat radiated by your body. The more efficiently this layer traps that heat, the warmer you can be.
Middle layer materials: Just as with base layers, you have many options. In general, thicker (or puffier) equals warmer, though the efficiency of the insulating material can be important too. Below are some common middle layer materials, though other options, like wool-blend, are also available.
Here are some of your primary choices for middle layers:
Polyester fleece: Available in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight fabrics, fleece stays warm even if gets damp, and it dries fast. Fleece also breathes well, so you’re less likely to overheat in it. The consequences of breathability, though, is that wind blows right through, which can suck away warmth. That’s why you need to have a shell or outer layer with you if you’re going with a fleece middle layer.
Down insulated jackets: Highly compressible for easy packing, down offers more warmth for its weight than any other insulating material. The efficiency of down is measured in fill power—from 400 to 900. Because down is always inside a shell material, down jackets also offer some water and wind resistance. The drawback is that it loses insulating efficiency when damp.
Synthetic insulated jackets: Synthetic insulations have long tried to mimic down’s efficiency, coming closer to that standard every year. And, while synthetics don’t compress as well as down, they can be an option for rainy conditions because they retain insulating ability when damp. And, like down, synthetic insulation is always inside a shell material that offers added water and wind resistance.
Outer Layer: Rain and Wind Protection
The outer layer (or shell layer) protects you from wind, rain, and snow. Shells range from really pricey mountaineering jackets to cost-effective wind-resistant jackets. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric.
Your outer shell is an important piece in bad weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to inner layers, you can get chilled.
Shells can be lumped into the following categories:
Waterproof/breathable shells: Your most functional (and expensive) choice, this type of shell is your best option for full-on blizzard conditions.
Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are more suited to drizzling, breezy conditions and high activity levels. More affordable than waterproof/breathable shells, they are typically made of tightly woven nylon/polyester fabrics that block light, wind and light rain.
Waterproof/nonbreathable shells: These basic shells are okay for rainy days with light to no activity (e.g., fishing, spectating). They are typically made of a coated nylon, which is water and windproof. If you exert yourself while wearing one, you’ll probably end up saturating your underneath layers with perspiration.
The bottom line of my research says this... preparing for your day's event(s) require a bit of planning, but having one of each regardless of the day will set you up for enjoying the activity without worrying about the conditions.