Guide To Layering: Dressing For The Outdoors
The system of ‘layering up’ is fundamental to remaining comfortable and warm while outdoors, and is the tried and tested way to achieving optimum performance in various weather conditions.
The general principle has three layers:
1. Base Layer
2. Mid or Insulation Layer
3. Outer Shell Garment
What is a Base Layer?
The base layer is designed to sit next to the skin and is fundamental in regulating body moisture. In the past we’ve all be guilty of wearing a cotton T-Shirt next to the skin while being active, and probably all experienced that cold, clammy feeling as we cool down.
With that picture in mind, imagine a close fitting ‘next to the skin’ garment that is designed to enable sweat to move away from the body keeping you comfortable and therefore warmer.
Fabrics that make up a quality base layer product will be constructed from one of the many Synthetic materials specifically designed for active use (such as the Berghaus Short Sleeved Tech T) or the more natural Merino Wool alternative (see the range by IceBreaker). These materials do not absorb moisture, but tiny fibres help ‘wick’ moisture away from the skin to the outer surface to evaporate, enabling you to remain drier while sweating.
Types of base layer garments include: briefs, sports bras, and long underwear in both ‘long johns’ and tops, and may come in various ‘weights.’ Choose a lighter weight for active or summer use, and a heavier garment for more sedately activities or colder climes. Some hot weather base layers may also be of a square, ‘loose cut’ construction.
The Middle (Mid) or Insulation Layer
The Mid Layer is the Insulating garment designed to trap the warm air close to the body. The ubiquitous Fleece Jacket, Gilet, tights and Down Jackets are typical of insulation garments designed for the Great outdoors. Not only do they keep you warm but also help with the ‘wicking’ process of sweat management.
Natural fibres such as Merino wool and goose down make for excellent insulators. Merino wool will help keep you warm even when wet, but be careful with Down, it will lose much of it’s insulation qualities when wet, but is perfect for cold, dry conditions, is lightweight, packs down small and feels so good too.
Man made materials such as Polartec 100, 200 or Thermal Pro Fleeces and Thinsulate, for example, provide for a plethora of mid layer garments suitable for all activities and conditions. Fleece garments are popular because of their lightweight, high warmth-to-weight ratio and breathability. Fleece garments also offer a high degree of insulation when wet, but are less compressible and so tend to be bulkier and are wind permeable.
Just as with base layers, fleece garments are available in different weights for various activities; here’s a guide.
Use a lightweight Polartec 100 fleece for high active sports such as cycling and running to avoid overheating; preferably with a zip for venting off. As the temperature drops and the activity level reduces, try a thicker fleece such as Polartec 200 or 300 for greater warmth.
Some fleece garments feature a windproof membrane such as Gore Windstopper or Polartec Wind Pro incorporated into the design. These membranes offer excellent protection without affecting the breathability of fleece.
These garments provide terrific protection for springtime skiing, and are hugely popular with cyclists all year round.
Outer Shell Layers
Your Outer Shell garment is without doubt the most important item in your outdoor clothing wardrobe. Your Shell should be designed to offer both full protection against the elements and also provide a high degree of breathability. This is an important factor when out on the hill, if wind and rain penetrate to your inner layers, hypothermia could quickly set in. Also, without the ability to breathe or vent, moisture can quickly build up on the inside of your shell garment.
Remember, when buying your Shell Jacket; make sure it’s roomy enough to fit your other layers inside without restricting your movement.