How to layer up for the outdoors

By August 3, 2018Gear

Winter is a time of year where we typically layer up beyond reason when we’re in the outdoors. But despite the fact that the chilly season is just about done, there is always going to be a time during the other three seasons of the year when layering up is still applicable.

In my experience, most clothing designed for colder conditions will provide you with insulation — but that may not be enough when you start moving around. The key here is to have gear that will keep you dry from the outside-in and inside-out.

It needs to prevent you from overheating when you’re on the go but also keep you warm when you’re stationary.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at what I believe is an effective four-layer system, what each layer means, and the type of clothes you should be considering.

A good base layer is key to staying warm.

Base layer

This is the closest layer to your skin, which also means it will typically retain the most moisture. Essentially, the purpose of base layer clothing is to keep you dry by removing moisture away from your skin and distributing it elsewhere.

Furthermore, any base layer fabric like merino wool should fit snugly against your skin and retain some insulating properties. In my opinion, cotton is an absolute no-no as it will retain moisture and, over time, lose its resiliency and overall ability to keep you warm. I’d go as far as saying that you run the risk of hypothermia when wearing cotton in cold climate.

Ideal clothing: Merino wool tops, long johns and socks


Somewhat similar to base layer clothing, the role of your mid-layer is to capture warmth through trapped air. Ideally, this layer would come in the form of a fleece jumper or even a thick wool layer.

It will almost certainly have some loft to it to assist in trapping the aforementioned air, but is breathable as well, so you won’t feel like you are suffocating underneath your outer layer.

Ideal clothing: Fleece jacket

The author staying warm and dry, even in poor conditions.

Insulation Layer

Regardless of the material used, an insulation layer is designed to provide that extra loft and warmth we are all looking for. It is very similar to a thick mid-layer, but will typically have a much higher warmth to weight ratio. Your insulation layer i.e. a down jacket may be used to fit over a light fleece jacket while worn snug underneath an outer layer.

One highly useful situation for an insulation layer would be around a campsite.

Ideal clothing: Lightweight down jacket or a thicker down jacket if you are camping in the snow.

Outer Layer

Usually a soft or hard shell, your outer layer will keep you from overheating while enjoying yourself in the outdoors, as well as keeping you warm when you’re at your campsite. In saying that, your chosen layer is designed to do all of that when conditions take a turn.

In my opinion, your location and climate will ultimately determine whether you buy a soft or hard shell. Soft shells are flexible and breathable but aren’t typically waterproof, while hard shells are both windproof and waterproof, but generally won’t breathe as easily.

One thing to keep in mind is that they won’t keep you completely dry, so you can expect to still get a little bit wet if stuck in a constant downpour of rain.

Ideal clothing: A wind shirt/jacket or a Gore-Tex jacket.

—  The guest blogger who wrote this post stocks some of those products but this information is transferable. Melbourne Girls Outside does not benefit from any purchases made at any of the above retailers

John Feeney

John Feeney

Owner and founder of Melbourne-based outdoor website and hiking group, The Hiking Society, John Feeney is someone who lives and breathes the outdoors in several facets of his life. @thehikingsociety

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