Your Guide to the Layering System

Adventure is all about embracing the weather, whatever it throws at us, and using the layering system effectively is essential to staying warm, dry and comfortable in all conditions. 

 

There’s no established formula for a layering system, as the type of layers you need depend on your activity and the weather conditions. Understanding how each layer works independently, and as part of a system, will help you to build the right layering system for your adventures.

The base layer: moisture management

As the name suggests, the base layer is worn next to the skin. Its main purpose is to regulate your body temperature by retaining heat and wicking away moisture. 

 

Merino wool is highly effective across a range of temperatures and activities. It has insulating properties and excellent moisture wicking, as well as being antimicrobial, which means it needs to be washed far less often. This versatility makes merino base layers a reliable choice for most outdoor activities.

 

Synthetic base layers, such as those made from polyester and polypropylene, are ideal for high intensity activities like running, because they are quick-drying in hot and cold conditions.


The mid-layer: insulation

Sometimes called the insulation layer, the mid-layer provides your warmth. Usually, your mid-layer is either a fleece or an insulated jacket. Like a base layer, a mid-layer should be breathable and able to retain heat.

 

Fleeces are available in different thicknesses and are quick-drying and breathable, offering warmth by retaining heat and removing moisture. Down insulated jackets are packable with an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, whereas synthetic insulated jackets are able to retain heat even when wet.

 

It’s best to avoid cotton mid-layers, as they will retain moisture which can lead to you getting cold. The most important consideration is to choose the right level of warmth to suit your activity and weather conditions.

 

In milder conditions, you may not need anything on top of your mid layer, but when the weather closes in, an outer shell will be necessary.


The outer layer: weather protection

This layer is your protection from the elements. A good outer layer will protect you against wind and rain, while also allowing the moisture and heat from your body to escape so you don’t overheat.

 

Hard Shells

 

The classic outer layer that will defend against the most adverse of conditions is the waterproof hard shell. Features to look out for include taped seams and suitably weatherproof zips to ensure it will keep the rain out. Durable water repellent (DWR) coated hard shells can also work well as a light outer layer in warm conditions and for low intensity activity.

Soft Shells

 

Depending on weather conditions, the outer layer does not necessarily need to be fully waterproof. Soft shell jackets offer excellent comfort as they are stretchy and flexible, provide good wind resistance and are more breathable than waterproof hard shells. Soft shells can also work as an excellent mid layer in cooler weather conditions, with a waterproof hard shell on top.

Insulated Jackets

 

In very cold conditions an insulated, synthetic or down jacket is highly effective as the outer layer, but it is important to have a waterproof outer layer to hand if there’s any chance of rain or snow.

Examples of when to use your layers

A walk on a warm, dry day

You won't need to layer up on days like this; just a moisture-wicking base layer to help your sweat evaporate and keep you cool.

A hilly walk on a warm but rainy day

Again, a comfortable wicking base layer is essential, but this time you need to take a second layer with you to protect you from the weather. Choose a soft shell to protect you from the wind as you ascend, or waterproof hard shell jacket which you can easily carry and reach for when the rain comes in.

A hilly or mountain hike on a cold/rainy/windy day

This is where you’ll need to use your 3 main layers. Start with a wicking base layer as normal, then on top you’ll need your insulating mid-layer for warmth. In really cold temperatures this should be a synthetic fill jacket, or a down jacket if there's no chance of rain. Finally, you need your breathable waterproof to protect yourself (and your mid-layer) from the rain if it does come in.