How to Layer

Windstopper layerYou’re always told to layer when you go outside. It’s one of the golden rules. But just saying, “wear layers” is a really vague and nearly useless piece of advice.

If it’s cold outside, you’re obviously going to put a jacket on over your t-shirt. That’s layering. You could wear three pairs of pants, and that would be layering too. Layering is by no means an exact science, but there is a method that can help you stay comfortable when you’re out in the cold. After all, staying comfortable is the reason for layering in the first place.

Let’s say you want to go on a hike, and the forecast calls for a high around freezing. Obviously, that’s cold. However, once you start moving, your heart rate picks up, your body produces more heat, and you will be more than warm in no time. If you dress just for the cold, you will be sweating buckets on the trail. If you dress just for aerobic activity, you will be freezing when you stop to take a rest. That’s the beauty of layering. If you know how to layer correctly, you will be comfortable no matter what you’re doing.

Now, there are all kinds of factors when it comes to layering. The outside temperature is a big one, but equally important are how well you handle the cold and how much body heat you produce. Some people just get colder than others. Definitely think about whether you are warm or cold natured when picking out your layers. That being said, here are the basics for layering.

Start things off with a good baselayer. Check temperatures to see whether you need a long sleeve or short sleeve top, and whether or not you can skip the leggings. Whatever you go with, make sure that your baselayer is breathable. Merino wool baselayers are hard to beat. They’re antimicrobial, breathable,  and great at regulating body temperature.

Up next is the insulating layer. Three guesses as to what this layer does. Your insulating layer is what will keep you warm. Fleece is usually the direction most people go, but if you are likely to get cold, you might want some synthetic fill jacket, or if it’s dry and super cold, a down jacket. Keep in mind if down gets wet, it gets useless.

Last but in no way least, you need a shell. A shell keeps you safe from wind and water, and will protect your frustratingly delicate down layer. A softshell is the way to go since they are way more breathable than hardshell jackets. However, if the forecast calls for precipitation, you might want to go with a waterproof hardshell.

You can add and shed layers as needed throughout the day. Different conditions call for different layers, but you’re in good shape as long as you have them all. Something to consider when picking layers, is how compact they are. If you’re not planning on wearing all of your layers all of the time, you want to make sure that they aren’t too big to carry.

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