When setting off on a day trip in the outdoors, it’s essential that you have the right clothing to handle the conditions you’ll face. However, the weather can change throughout the day (particularly here in the UK), so it’s likely you’ll need to adapt to a range of conditions. That’s where the layering system comes in. By building an outfit from several layers, you can adjust and adapt to the changing weather without breaking a sweat or getting caught under-dressed in adverse weather.
At departure point, you should aim to have a base layer, mid-layer and outer layer either on or stored in your rucksack, ready for when they’re needed. In this guide, we’ll break down the technique of how to layer clothes, the role of each layer and how they can be alternated for differing weather.
Base Layers Including Thermal and Merino
Your base layer is worn closest to your skin and will be a constant throughout the day. Base layers are designed to both provide a thin layer of warmth close to your body and absorb sweat from the skin, moving it to the surface of the garment. In summer, this process of moisture absorption will help you keep cool, and in winter it will prevent sweat from going cold and settling on your skin, which will help keep you warm. One base layer can prove an extremely versatile addition to your wardrobe.
Base layers are generally made from synthetic fibres or wool such as merino. Cotton also has this absorbing effect but it doesn’t have the ability to transfer the sweat to the surface of the fabric – it will simply get damp and draw heat from the body. Synthetic material dries very quickly and remains comfortable even with prolonged activity. Merino wool is a great insulator while still wicking away moisture, which makes it perfect for winter sports and activities.
Base layer tops range from sports tops and vests to T-shirts and long-sleeved varieties. Generally, the longer the sleeves, the more heat they will retain. This is an easy way to judge what style you should use for what activity. On warm days, you may find a base layer top is all you need to wear and they are great for running. Many base layers come in sets with base layer bottoms that can range from briefs to full-length trousers.
Fleeces Are Best for Mid-Layer
This layer is used primarily to maintain warmth and comes in a range of weights for different temperatures. Mid-layers trap body heat beneath their material, forming a band of heat to keep you warm. This layer will generally be made out of fleece but can also take the form of a hoodie or lightweight padded jacket.
Fleece is considered best for mid-layers as its design retains heat but still promotes that all-important breathability. Another option is softshell jackets, which are lightweight and help maintain breathability but generally won’t be as warm as a fleece. Fleece comes in a range of weights but it’s advised to use a light fleece on mild days and a medium-weight fleece on colder days as your body will generate a lot of heat when you’re on the move and it’s surprisingly easy to overheat.
A fleece with a zip neck or full zip is a great way to manage temperature on the go and makes it easy to throw one on quickly if you start to feel the chill. It’s also possible to choose a fleece gilet for milder days and a fleece with a hood can also be helpful for keeping out the cold on harsher days, as well as for protection against precipitation. As for trousers, a pair of walking trousers or softshell trousers are a great mid-layer and will allow comfort and freedom during long days on your feet.
Waterproof and Softshell Jackets for Outer Layer
The outer layer is your protection against the harsher physical elements. Outer shells offer varied defence against the likes of wind, rain and snow. Designed to fit over several other layers, these jackets come in a range of different sizes and designs. Your base and mid-layers will be for nothing if your outer layer doesn’t keep you dry, and wind can quickly bring your temperature down if it penetrates your clothing. Outer layers also have varying breathability that will determine your level of comfort.
When selecting an outer layer, you need to consider what you’ll likely face. If keeping dry is the aim, you may need to sacrifice on breathability, but it’s often better to be sweaty rather than soaked through. If you want to focus on comfort and breathability – perhaps with a softshell jacket – you won’t get the same level of water protection. Some jackets are designed for both, but these will generally be the priciest options. If it’s dry and cold, a padded jacket is also good idea and you can get padded waterproofs for the coldest, wettest months of the year; these, however, are bulky and far too hot when it’s milder.
Outer layers are available in all sorts of designs to suit different needs. Some are so lightweight (such as packaway jackets), that they can be wrapped up and packed away in a pocket or supplied pouch, although they won’t have as strong a defence. Some are even designed with removable fleeces that will cover two layers with one item. For bottoms, we have a range of waterproof trousers that can be pulled on over existing trousers and even boots for a layer of rain protection at a moment’s notice.
Now you have your layers sorted, you can further bolster your defence with gloves, hats and scarves, or neckwarmers. These items offer warmth and protection for your extremities and often help keep cold air and moisture from getting between your layers – essential for maintaining your effectively structured outfit.
Experiment yourself with different layers and you’ll find that adaptability is your friend. It’s not unusual to have to change layers multiple times throughout the day and you’ll be glad you took the time to build an outfit that suits the conditions.
You can find an extensive selection of base, mid- and outer layers in our range that will see you through all sorts of outdoor pursuits. Remember that it’s always best to be overprepared and if that means bringing an extra layer you can stow in your rucksack, it will be more than worth it if the weather takes a turn.