The Art of Layering

Layering your clothing is an age old way of maximizing your comfort in the outdoors. The idea of this simple concept is that it allows you to make quick adjustments based on your activity level and changes in the weather.

Each layer has a function. The base layer (against your skin) manages moisture; the insulating layer keeps you warm; the shell layer (outer layer) shields you from the elements, the wind and rain. You simply add or subtract layers as needed, a real benefit in the changing British climate.

Here is The Outdoor Depot’s guide to layering;

Your Base Layer: Moisture Management

This is your next-to-skin layer. It helps regulate your body temperature by moving perspiration away from your skin.

Keeping dry helps you maintain a cool body temperature in the summer and avoid hypothermia in the winter. If you’ve ever worn a cotton T-shirt under your raincoat while you hiked, you probably remember feeling wet and clammy, even though you weren’t getting wet from the rain itself. Cotton is a fabric that retains perspiration and can leave you chilled.

We recommend your base layer should be made of merino wool (Available at The Outdoor Depot from brands such as Smartwool and Montane), synthetic fabrics (polyesters, again available at The Outdoor Depot from brands such as Mountain Equipment, Paramo and Ronhill) or a blend of the two for example the Primino range from Montane. Merino woll is perfect for all seasons to keep you cool or warm, where as the synthetics are great for high activity but are known for getting a little smelly! A blend is a great option. Rather than holding on to the moisture, these fabrics transport (or “wick”) perspiration away from your skin, dispersing it on the outer surface where it can evaporate. The result: You stay drier and warm!

Examples: A base layer can be anything from briefs and sports bras to long underwear sets (tops and bottoms) to tights and T-shirts. It can be designed to fit snugly or loosely. For cool conditions, thermal underwear is available in light-, mid- and expedition-weights. Choose the weight that best matches your activity and the temperature.

For a selection of base layers, follow the link below. 

Your Middle Layer: Insulation

The insulating layer helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body.

Natural fibers such as wool and goose down are excellent insulators. Merino wool sweaters and shirts offer soft, reliable warmth and keep on insulating even when wet. For very cold and dry conditions, goose down is best. It offers an unbeatable warmth-to-weight ratio and is highly compressible. Down’s main drawback is that it must be kept dry to maintain its insulating ability. Synthetic down-like filled insulation pieces offer slightly less warmth but will continue to keep you warm when wet.

Classic fleece such as Polartec® 100, 200 and other synthetics provide warmth for a variety of conditions. They’re lightweight, breathable and insulate even when wet. They also dry faster and have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than even wool. Classic fleece’s main drawbacks are wind permeability and bulk (it’s less compressible than other fabrics).

Your Shell Layer: Weather Protection

The shell or outer layer protects you from wind, rain or snow. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric.

An outer shell is an important piece in bad weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to your inner layers, you begin to feel cold. Furthermore, without proper ventilation, perspiration can’t evaporate but instead condenses on the inside of your shell.

Fit is another consideration. Your shell layer should be roomy enough to fit easily over other layers and not restrict your movement.

Shells can be lumped into the following categories:

Waterproof/breathable shells: The most functional (and expensive) choices, these are best for wet, cool conditions and alpine activities. Shells using laminated membranes such as Gore-Tex and eVent offer great performance but the likes of Paramo (who use NikWax Analogy) should not be ruled out as they offer a viable alternative, being more breathable then those with a laminated liner and more comfortable to wear.

Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are best for light precipitation and high activity levels. Less expensive than waterproof/breathable shells, they’re usually made of tightly woven fabrics (such as mini-ripstop nylon) to block wind and light rain.

Waterproof/non-breathable shells: These economical shells are ideal for keeping in a bag for emergencies but not recommended for activity. They are typically made of a sturdy, polyurethane-coated nylon which is water- and windproof. Being non-breathable means you will inevitably end up with that clammy feeling as moisture is trapped inside the shell.

Insulated shells: Some outer shells have a layer of insulation built in—such as fleece—making them convenient for cold, wet conditions, but not as versatile for layering in fluctuating temperatures.