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Layers in Winter

Layers in Winter

Posted by Ben Dahmen on 22nd Jul 2020

Winter is in full swing and when the time comes to step outside layering becomes your smart-technology thermostat. This tried-and-true strategy lets you regulate comfort by slipping layers on and off as your activity level or the weather changes. It’s important to always plan ahead of your trips so that you pack enough clothing to be comfortable but not to the point where weight and space become an issue. Below we have a quick guide on how you can take full advantage of your winter clothing so you can keep the chill out and enjoy the adventure!

To understand layering your clothing for outdoor activities, you need to know the function of each layer:

1. Base layer (underwear layer): absorbs sweat and controls body odour

2. Middle layer (insulating layer): retains body heat to protect you from the cold

3. Outer layer (shell layer): protects/shields you from wind and rain

Even if you don’t wear all three layers at once, it’s a good idea to take all layers on every outing: You can take off layers if things heat up, but you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring along.

As the next-to-skin layer, a base layer’s job is moving perspiration away from your skin, aka “wicking.” In cool or cold conditions, wicking long underwear-style base layers are needed to keep your skin dry. Dry skin is essential because it helps to keep you from becoming chilled or worse—hypothermic. Some materials such as merino wool can manage body odour. This can work in your favour if you have a long hike and shower or laundry facilities are not available. Although this material can be pretty expensive, you only need a few pairs for a week’s worth of trekking instead of having a daily pair. This can save the backpack space leaving you with more room for the essentials such as food.

When it comes to the weight of base layers your options are straightforward – lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight. Generally, the heavier the material the warmer it will be but that’s not the point of a base layer (wicking is). Use good quality material, keep it light and let the middle layer keep you warm.

Just as with base layers, you have a broad range of options, both synthetic and natural. In general, thicker (or puffier) equals warmer, though the efficiency of the insulating material is also important. Wool or wool blend materials are also available, but they can become extremely heavy when wet. However, below are other options you can choose from:

Polyester fleece: Available in lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight fabrics (marketed as 100, 200 and 300 weight), fleece stays warm even if gets damp, and it dries fast. Fleece also breathes well, so you’re less likely to overheat in it.

The flipside of breathability, though, is that wind blows right through, which can steal warmth. That’s why you need to have a shell layer with you if you’re going with a fleece middle layer. Most of these jackets are now made with an inner membrane to protect you from the wind.

Down insulated jackets: Highly compressible for easy packing, down offers more warmth for its weight than any other insulating material. The efficiency of down is measured in fill power—from 450 to 900 because down is always inside a shell material. Down jackets also offer some water and wind resistance. The drawback to down is that it loses insulating efficiency when damp and can also clump together. Be sure to prep your down jackets before expeditions by washing them with specific chemical formulas. The Nikwax brand offers a variety of proofing agents to ensure your jackets are at their optimal quality.

Synthetic insulated jackets: Synthetic insulations have long tried to mimic down’s efficiency, coming closer to that standard every year and, while synthetics don’t compress as well as down, they’re a popular option for rainy conditions because they retain insulating ability when they get damp. And, like down, synthetic insulation is always inside a shell material that offers added water- and wind resistance. These jackets are easy to wash with other clothing with no difficulties in the material. Allow it to air dry afterwards and it will be as good as new!

The outer layer (or shell layer) protects you from wind, rain and snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple wind-resistant jackets. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric.

Your outer shell is an important piece in stormy weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to inner layers, you can get seriously chilled.

Shells can be grouped into the following categories:

Waterproof/breathable shells: Your most functional choice This type of shell is your best option for full-on rainy conditions. Generally, pricier equals drier, though higher priced shells are often more durable as well.

Resistant/breathable shells: These are more suited to drizzly, breezy conditions and high activity levels. More affordable than waterproof/breathable shells, they are typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics that block light wind and light rain.

Keep in mind that most shells work best when they are loose compared to your other clothing. If it is fitted too tight to your body there is a chance that water can seep through the material and make you wet. Always purchase a size larger than usual.

At the end of the day you want to feel comfortable and enjoy your trip. We hope this guide will help you pack and plan smart. Visit our Gear Shop to check out what you can dress up in this winter. 

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