Your Guide to the Layering System

Learn how to adapt your layers to suit any condition...

The spirit of adventure is all about embracing the weather, whatever it throws at us. An effective layering system is essential to staying warm, dry and comfortable in all conditions. 

 

For example, if you’re starting at the foot of Snowdon in the height of summer, you wouldn’t wear the same number of layers as you would in winter. But, as you ascend towards the peak and the temperature drops, being able to layer up to keep the heat in will be necessary.

 

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


The base layer (moisture management)

As the name suggests, this 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, meaning 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.

 

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The mid layer (insulation)

Sometimes called the insulation layer, the mid layer provides your warmth. Usually, a 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, often with an excellent warmth to weight ratio, whereas synthetic insulated jackets are warm and waterproof.

 

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 a dedicated outer shell will be necessary.

 

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The outer layer (weather protection)

This layer is your protection from the elements. A good outer layer or shell 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 tapered 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.

 

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When to use your layers

A short walk on a warm, dry day

A moisture wicking base layer will help your sweat evaporate and keep you cool.

An uphill trek on a dry 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 wind, when your activity levels fall and the wind picks up as you ascend. Go for a light soft shell or a lightweight windproof that you can carry easily and bring out to keep the chill off.

A warm day with a chance of rain

If there’s rain about you need to replace your mid layer with a waterproof layer, even when it's hot. A base layer will keep your core dry to prevent rapid cooling, while the waterproof jacket will protect you from the wind and rain.

 

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

Classic British conditions! This is where you’ll need to deploy the 3 main layers. Start with a wicking base layer as normal, then on top you’ll need a mid layer to insulate you. 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.