How to Layer

by Lindy Zupko

The secret to all-day comfort? Knowing how to layer.

Winter magic will be here soon and, with it, the first flakes of snow. When the seasons change and temperatures drop from crisp to cold, it’s time to layer up!

Whether you’re cross-country skiing, hiking a wooded trail, or cheering for your kids on the field—nothing beats the timeless, practical appeal of dressing in layers.

It’s All About Comfort and Ease
Add a layer when you’re cold, peel one off when you’re hot. Layering makes it easy to control your body temperature and stay cool and comfortable wherever you go.

Layering is universal and works for everyone. Experiment with items you already own. Mix and match colors, fabrics, textures, and patterns to make functional dressing fun. No need to stretch your wallet to stretch your wardrobe – endless possibilities are already at home.

Some layers have special meaning and carry emotional weight. A handknit sweater made by your mom. The lucky scarf your dad wore to your games. You teased him about it, but now you can’t part with it. Layering brings memories to life and connects you to those you care about. 

The Best Layers to Keep in Your Wardrobe
Outdoor activities are a lot more fun when you’re wearing the right gear. Each layer has a distinct function. We like to start with the following three:

  • a lightweight base layer to regulate body temperature and wick away moisture
  • a cozy mid-layer to insulate your body and keep you warm
  • a weather-resistant shell to keep you dry in all conditions

Breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics work best—but they’re not all created equal.

  • Moisture wicking is high-tech science. It carries wetness from your skin to the surface of the material where it evaporates faster (think: base layer).
  • Breathable fabrics allow sweat to escape and evaporate from under the garment – so you stay warm and dry (think: mid-layers or shells).
  • Cotton soaks up moisture like a sponge and won’t keep you warm. Avoid it when you’re layering up.

Base Layer
The key to a good base layer is the fabric. Staying dry is critical to your comfort and avoiding hypothermia. Look for lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics (synthetics, polyesters) to keep wetness at bay. Pack extra. We have some solid recommendations below.

A lightweight bottom layer is ideal for regulating body temperature under something a bit warmer on top: Men’s and women’s microtech heat base layers do the trick! Hydrophobic fabric keeps you fresh even when you sweat. Breathable and light, these are superb choices for active sports or lounging by the campfire.

Matching base layer bottoms (men’s and women’s) provide full-body coverage for maximum warmth.

Mid layer
A cozy insulating layer does wonders to keep out the cold while retaining your body heat. With so many fabrics and styles to choose from, it’s smart to have a couple of different kinds on hand.

Polyester fleece and down-insulated jackets are great options. Fleece keeps you warm even when wet and dries quickly. Down offers the most warmth and wind resistance for its weight.

A comfortable fleece/sweater combo for men, and fleece jacket for women both offer warmth and versatility to keep you cozy even when Mother Nature isn’t at her best.

For an option that’s lighter than the serious winter coat you break out on the snowiest days, try a men’s puffer jacket or a  women’s quilted jacket, both featuring a detachable hood. They are stylish ways to stay toasty year-round.

Outer Layer
The shell is a critical layer of protection against wind, rain, and snow. It keeps the elements from penetrating and robbing you of heat.

Waterproof shells are the most durable choice and worth the extra expense. Look for vents and breathability to keep you cool. Bulkier is not necessarily better. Water-resistant shells block light wind and rain.

Simplify your life with a coat that’s a 3-in-1 system for men and women, and you’ll be getting a complete layering scheme in one garment. The wind-and-water-resistant jackets give you the option to zip out the middle layer when you get too warm.

For hardcore winter protection, choose wisely: Look for something that will be an excellent barrier to wind, rain, and snow. This women’s jacket has a removable inner layer that insulates without adding weight. With tab cuffs and an adjustable drawcord at inner lower hem, this men’s jacket will keep you warm and dry on the coldest days.

By now, you know we’re mad for layers. Careful layering is essential to keep your body at a comfortable temperature. But it’s only half the battle. Knowing when to remove (and add) layers is another part of dressing well when the cold winds blow.

Start with three layers. Remove one when your exertion intensifies and you start to feel warm. Don’t wait until you’re too sweaty or you’ll risk getting a chill.

Always pack extra layers – you never know when you’ll need them.

Check out more great layering options to enjoy nature in style.

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