How to Layer for Winter Adventures
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. Yet not giving in to harsh conditions isn’t solely dependent on a good jacket, and even the best garment won’t reach its full potential on its own. That’s where technical layering comes into focus. Whether you’re gearing up for a polar expedition or planning a short ski break, follow this simple advice to stay both safe and comfortable.
The objective is to create a system that provides appropriate thermal insulation while also protecting you from rain, snow, and wind. Maintaining a high level of breathability ensures that the moisture produced by your own body is wicked away from the skin so that you stay dry and warm. This is especially important when performing high intensity activities in cold or windy conditions. In an alpine environment, a layer of wet clothing on your back can lead to hypothermia, and getting sweaty on the subway is also pretty unpleasant.
The base layer is what goes directly on your skin. Typically a long sleeve garment, it can be woolen or synthetic. The latter dries faster and is usually cheaper, but wool will keep you warm even when slightly damp, and it’s also naturally odor resistant. Modern yarns are itch free, and the best are obtained from Merino sheep.
In recent years, under the pressure from consumers and animal welfare organizations, more and more producers are moving toward “cruelty free wool”, striving for better standards in Merino farming. Some companies, like Patagonia, opt to use recycled wool.
The most popular mid-layer option is a heat trapping, breathable fleece made of synthetic materials, such as Polartec. Fluffier, or in technical speak, loftier fleeces provide higher levels of insulation.
Depending on the conditions, you might opt to add a second, more substantial mid-layer, such as a lightweight softshell jacket. A down vest or sweater will provide the best thermal insulation for low temperatures, but synthetic alternatives, such as what we offer at Climashield, provide warmth while also retaining this heat when wet. In warmer, windy conditions, a windproof layer will do well while also providing a degree of rain protection.
In many instances, a softshell with windproof panels can do the job as your outermost layer. It may also be complemented by a light, waterproof jacket stored in your backpack in case of a sudden downpour. But when the conditions turn really rough, with rain or snow falling horizontally in piercing wind, a hardshell is your best option. Less stretchy than a softshell, but fully waterproof and hardwearing, a technical hardshell provides the ultimate protection from the elements. However, to make the most of its advantages, make sure your clothing works as a system. You will be grateful not only for its moisture wicking capabilities, but also for the ease of temperature regulation that comes with the freedom to shed, or add layers as you go.