How To: Dress in Layers for the Outdoors
An effective layering system is crucial when exploring the outdoors. The idea of layers is that you slip them on and off, allowing you to adapt to changes in the weather and terrain. A decent layering system that works for your personal needs can be the difference between being comfortable and something more serious like hypothermia or heat stroke.
To put it simply, your layering system should have 4 parts:
1. Base layer: wicks away moisture.
2. Active mid layer: breathable while retaining temperature.
3. Static mid layer: a warmer, insulating layer to trap in body heat.
4. Outer layer: a waterproof and windproof shell.
A layering system isn't a one size fits all approach. Your layering system is personal to you and reflects how much or how little you feel the cold and your chosen activity type. You might not wear all four layers at once, or even need all four layers depending on the season or where you are exploring.
Any good layering system starts with the really important base layer, it's crucial for managing moisture particularly in the cooler months. It needs to be a quick-drying synthetic layer or a merino wool layer. You want something that is going to help carry moisture away from the skin, so avoid cotton as it retains moisture which will make you cold. Icebreaker's merino base layers tick all the necessary boxes. Merino wool is temperature regulating, odour-resistant, breathable and super soft against the skin. Plus, Icebreaker have done a brilliant job of ensuring their base layers allow for full mobility and prevent chafing.
When it's cold you want your base layer to fit nice and snug (while still allowing you to move freely). This helps to trap body heat keeping you warm. When it's warm, a loose-fitting base layer allows air to circulate keeping you cool. You can read more about dressing in warmer weather further down this article.
A mid layer is worn over your base layer for extra warmth. Depending on where you are, the weather and your activity you may need just an active mid layer or both active and static.
An active mid layer allows moisture to continue to move away from the skin while still trapping in body heat. Choose something breathable and moisture-wicking like merino or fleece, that way moisture continues to move away from your base layer and you'll stay dry as the day gets warmer. You also want to be mindful of weight as it's likely you'll pull your mid layer on and off depending on your activity. Something lightweight like Patagonia's R1 or Rab's Nexus is great as it has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, it'll pack down to fit in your pack and isn't bulky when worn under further layers.
Static mid layers such as a synthetic or down insulated jacket lock in warmth and are for when things are looking pretty chilly. A static mid layer worn over an active mid layer and base layer when climbing, hiking or skiing is likely to be too warm. So, your static mid layer will most likely be worn when hanging around camp, stopping for a rest break or during low output activities in very cold weather.
An outer layer provides final protection against all weather; wind, rain and snow. Ideally, you still want some breathability so you don't overheat and sweat doesn't build up. Many outer layers feature zips in the underarms to allow air to escape without compromising staying dry, like Rab's Muztag GTX Alpine Jacket or Patagonia's Triolet (available in men's and women's).
If the weather is looking miserable a pair of waterproof pants will go a long way. Patagonia's Torrentshell pants (available in men's and women's) provide long-lasting waterproof protection without compromising mobility.
Layering in Warmer Weather
When going for a hike in summer or warmer months, your layering system will change. Merino wool is still a great option due to its temperature regulating properties. Icebreaker's Women's Cool-Lite Sphere SS Crewe and Men's Merino Tech Lite SS Crewe are great for all-day comfort when it's warm on the trails.
Cotton can also make an appearance as a single base layer on a hot day as it dries fast when wet, provided it isn't trapped under another layer.
Make sure your base layer is loose fitting to allow air to circulate through. On a mild day, you'll still want something to put on when you've stopped for a rest or lunch and in the evening. Depending on where you are, if the nights are cold you'll still need an insulated down or synthetic layer for sitting around camp. And, of course, a waterproof outer layer is important in case the weather turns. Something simple like Patagonia's Torrentshell Jacket (available in men's and women's).
If you have any questions at all, or are not sure what products are best for your layering system please do send us an email through our contact form. We also love a chat, so you are more than welcome to give us a call (during business hours) on (02) 6947 4062.