Layering for Winter

Metro Parks Outdoor Adventure Programmer

“Could I BE wearing any more clothes?” -Joey Tribbiani

We’ve all heard it before: layers are the key to staying warm and comfortable in cold weather. But did you know that layering is not just about throwing on more clothes? Smart outdoor adventurers know that layering is all about regulating your body heat and managing moisture. Layer by layer, let’s go through what you should be wearing so that you can better enjoy your winter adventures.

The Base Layer
Managing moisture from sweat is one of the primary goals of any layering system. What’s worse than being cold? Being wet and cold. The base layer is probably the most important layer because it’s going to be in direct contact with your skin. Generally, it is best to avoid cotton and cotton-blends as a base layer at all costs. Cotton absorbs and retains sweat … leaving you wet and cold. A base layer should be made of a material that can wick sweat away from your body and keep you dry. The two best types of base layer fabrics are synthetic blends and wool. Both have their pros and cons. Synthetic blends tend to wick sweat better, come with a smaller price tag, and can be found for around $20-$30. However, they tend to hold smells more than wool. Synthetic blends are great for single day winter activities such as hiking, but if you’re doing a multi-day activity such as camping, you may want to try wool. Merino wool is often heralded as the king of wools. The wool is very light weight, comfortable, and is great at wicking sweat without holding much smell. Unfortunately, merino wool is rather expensive when compared to synthetic blends, often costing upwards of $70 for a single shirt. The type of activity and duration of your outdoor event should determine your base layer.

The Mid Layer
The mid layer should be determined by factors such as air temperature and your overall tolerance for cold. Fleece makes an excellent mid layer. Fleece is light, warm, and breathable. Fleece is also good at wicking moisture further away from the body. Still too cold? Mid layer coats insulated with down or synthetics can be worn over a base layer or another mid layer such as fleece. Insulated mid layers such as ‘puffer’ coats excel at retaining heat while still being light, breathable, and flexible, but they can often carry a hefty price tag compared to fleece. Mid layers should be more than enough to keep you warm while you’re active outside, but you’ll definitely want an outer layer if there is inclement weather.

The Outer Layer
The final layer is the outer layer. Most outer layers are shells or raincoats. They are designed to keep wind, rain, snow, and ice out of your layer system. There are many shell options, ranging from water resistant to waterproof. When it comes to the outer layer, a GORE-TEX shell or jacket is hard to beat. GORE-TEX is the undisputed champion of impermeable materials. It is light, flexible, and breathable. GORE-TEX lets moisture out and keeps it out. Proclaimed a miracle material when it was first introduced, GORE-TEX has since taken the outdoor community by storm. However, GORE-TEX is not without fault. It is produced using so-called ‘forever’ chemicals that have an extended half-life that can linger in soil and water for years. GORE-TEX also tends to be very expensive. Any weather resistant shell with underarm zippers designed to release moisture should be sufficient for most winter activities.

Now that you’re familiar with winter layering systems, how do you create a system that works for you? Consider what you are wearing from head to toe. While keeping your core is important, it can ruin your activity if one part of your body is overly cold. Embrace the concept of ‘comfortably cold,’ and dress for what you know you will want to wear after you’re warmed up. There’s nothing worse than being over-clothed and carrying unnecessary layers. Stay warm and dry out there!

See you outdoors!