In the colder months, the ancient art of layering is the ultimate way to keep your body temperature regulated and comfortable as your activity level or environment changes. Layering is especially effective if you are exerting yourself in a cold environment (i.e. hiking), as sweating in extreme environments can lead to hypothermia. The benefit of layering is as soon as you begin to perspire, you can shed layers to cool down and regulate your body temperature again.
The Basics of Layering:
Base Layer (underwear layer) – wicks sweat off your skin
Middle Layer (insulating layer) – retains body heat to protect you from the cold
Outer Layer (shell layer) – shields you from wind and rain
Let’s go into each of these layers and their uses and benefits in more detail.
The Base Layer.
The role of a base layer is to move (or ‘wick’) moisture away from your skin. As mentioned earlier, sweating in cold conditions can lead to you becoming seriously cold, and worse case, hypothermic, when you slow down or stop for a break. A base layer will help keep your skin dry and subsequently, you warm.
There are not really any hard and fast rules when it comes to the best material type for base layers, just choose whatever is most comfortable for you. However, cotton is generally considered a no-no, as it soaks up moisture rather than ‘wicking’ it. Popular options include polyester, nylon, merino wool or silk.
The Middle Layer.
The insulating or middle layer is there to trap in your body heat. Generally, the thicker this layer is the warmer it’ll be. However, a couple of important points to check for include how fast it dries and how breathable the material is. Polyester fleece (polar fleece) is an effective middle layer as it stays warm even when its damp and dries quickly. However, it is quite breathable which means cold wind can blow through if your outer layer does not block it out. For this reason, wind fleece garments are becoming more popular, as they have a wind blocking layer inside.
The Outer Layer.
The outer layer or shell layer is there to provide protection from the elements; wind, rain and snow. You need to choose this layer according to the environment or conditions you’re facing. Softshell can be a good option if you’re battling a chilly wind, as it is wind tight without adding a lot of bulk. In rainy or snowing conditions, you will need something completely waterproof (not just water resistant). Materials such as PVC with a durable water repellent (DWR) are most effective in this situation.
Outer layers can be expensive, but often the pricier they are the drier they will stay and the longer they will last. Choose wisely!
The Bottom Line.
Layering is a tried and tested method of regulating your body temperature. Its important to note, however, you may not always need all three layers, and sometimes, you may need more! Experiment with these methods next time you’re in the elements and you’ll soon work out what works for you!