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The GO Outdoors Guide To The Layering System


You may have heard people talking about the “layering system”, but what is it?

The Layering System is a method of wearing your technical clothes in a way that protects you effectivley from the weather, or the conditions you are facing, from rain, to sun, to abrassion.

Perhaps you have a trip ahead of you that will involve multiple conditions, or varied terrain. A layering system means you are prepared at all times.

This guide is here to help give you an idea about how to keep your body comfortable whatever the weather brings.

Why wear layers?

Multiple layers are better at trapping air near your skin, keeping heat close to you. This is why many multiple layers will always be a more effective warmer than one, thick layer.

Layers work in the same way as down, trapping heat and air, hower layering is not just for cold weather.

Runners, hikers and climbers can all benefit from the layering system as a way to keep cool.

You may well be hot as you run, producing sweat and moisture. But what about after the run? If the sweat cools on your skin it can lower your body temperature, causing chills and in turn, illness.

A simple fleece layer carried or packed away en route would ensure you are prepared for all parts of your run in this example. 

The layering  system is not just about how many layers you have- but what these layers are made of.

The system is broken down into 3 key areas which are discussed below.

What Is The Layering System & How Does It Work?

 

  • 1) A Baselayer -The baselayer mops up damp and sweat.
  • 2) A Mid layer-Traps in heat to keep you warm. This can be a synthetic, or a wool layer.
  • 3) An Outer layer- The outer is your 'shell' shield against wind, rain and abrassion.
  • The 'three-layers' are explained below, giving you the correct choice of clothing for the weather conditions outside.

1. The Baselayer - The First Layer

  • The baselayer is worn next to the skin for maximum wicking of sweat and to keep your body heat as regulated as possible. 
  • This layer must be protected from the elements, if it gets damp it can chill you and can be responsible for causing colds and at the very worst, hypothermia. 
  • Baselayers are great for activities like gym work or indoor climbs as they can be worn alone, will help mop up sweat, and should transport moisture away from your body.
  • However outdoors, often a baselayer alone won't cut through the cold.
  • This is why layering is so important. Your baselayer will do all the hard, unappealing work next to your skin, soaking dampness from your back and armpits, whilst your fleece gets the better job of keeping you warm and your outer jacket fights of rain and wind.
  • Without a baselayer, your fleece would soon cause you to overheat, and you would be pretty uncomfortable.
  • Typically baselayers are made from Merino Wool, or Synthetics.
  • Merino wool is comfortable and odour resistant, but is a less effective fabric at wicking sweat
  • Merino is ideal for extreme cold conditions as well as polar routes.
  • Synthetics are lightweight and wicking, but are less efficient at resisting odour.
  • Synthetics are ideal for summer use.

 

2. The Insulating Layer - The Second Layer / Midlayer

  • Worn over your baselayer, this traps the heat in and keeps you toasty and warm during your outdoor activity. 
  • This layer should be quite tight to your body allowing minimal air movement for maximum heat retention.   
  • Fleeces and similar garments are ideal.
  • Hoodies and other jumpers may be great for periods of low or no activity, but midlayers designed with cotton or other natural fibres won't protect you from moisture build up and are no use when you start to create sweat or heat.
  • Keep your insulating layer close rather than loose. It should be trapping heat close to your skin. Most are cut smaller to accommodate for the layering system.
  • Synthetic fabrics such as polyester fleece are ideal for the midlayer because they are great at resisting moisture and retaining heat.
  • Fleeces can be micro, lightweight, midweight or heavyweight. Choose a weight that goes with the weather of your destination as well as the breathability you need. As a rule, the more weight/insulation within the item, the less breathability

3. The Waterproof/Weather Protection Layer/ Outer Shell - The Third Layer

  • Your outermost layer is designed to keep you comfortable while having the tough job of keeping you safe from the wind, water, and freezing temperatures
  • It is literally your outer shell against the world!
  • If you don't have the protective outer layer on, then this could lead to your skin becoming wet and cold, especially if you're midlayer isn't coated with a  DWR.
  • You need to look for a layer that's waterproof, windproof and also breathable enough for your chosen activity so you don't 'steam up' inside your jacket. 
  • The break down on just HOW breathable, waterproof and windproof can vary massively- dependent on the weight of the jacket, the brand, the fabric it's made from, how well it's lined, if it has venting points....
It's a good idea to accept that you will never find a Do It All Jacket that will work just as well in Summer as it does Winter, or a jacket that can work on K2 as well as the Lakes.

A jacket for climbing will be cut higher to accomodate a harness, whilst a typically car coat will be long, designed for periods of standing.

The down jacket that keeps you warm in the cold and wind will be near useless if subjected to heavy rainfall.

For each activity, you may need a separate jacket.


You will also need to note that your jacket may not always block out 100% of water, or be 100% breathable. Our bodies' temperture fluctuates due to  hormones, how much we've eaten, our own bodyweight, or other variables.

Focus on getting each layer as right as possible for your destination, and hopefully, your trip should be comfortable.


Layering System Diagram

 

What to Wear?

 

 

Here’s a table to help you choose what to wear depending on the conditions outside.



What's the weather like?

 

What to wear.

 

 

 Dry

 

 Baselayer

 

 

 

 

Dry Conditions

 =

Baselayer: e.g Tech Tee 

 

 

 

 

 Sunny and calm

 

 Keeps you dry from perspiration

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold

Dry 

 

Baselayer

Fleece / Softshell 

 

 

Cold Temperature Thermometer 

Dry Conditions

 =

Baselayer: e.g. Tech Tee 

Fleece / Midlayer

 

 

 Low temperatures

Sunny and calm

 

 Keeps you dry from perspiration 

Keeps you warm 

 

 

 

 

 

Warm

Wet

 

Baselayer

Waterproof 

 

 

Warm Temperature Thermometer

Rainy Conditions

 =

Baselayer: e.g. Tech Tee 

Waterproof Layer 

 

 

 Warm Temperatures

Rainy and miserable 

 

Keeps you dry from perspiration

Keeps you dry from the rain and stops the wind 

 

 

 

 

Windy

Cold

Wet

 

Baselayer

 Fleece/ Softshell 

Waterproof 

 Windy Conditions

Cold Temperature Thermometer

Rainy Conditions

 =

 Baselayer: e.g. Tech Tee

Fleece / Midlayer

Waterproof Layer 

 Blustery and Gales - reducing Temperature even more

 Low Temperatures

 Rainy and miserable

 

Keeps you dry from perspiration 

 Keeps you warm

Keeps you dry from the rain and stops the wind  

 

 

 

 Windy

VERY Cold

Wet / Snow

 

Baselayer

 Fleece/ Insulated jacket

Waterproof/ Softshell 

 Windy Conditions

Cold Temperature Thermometer

Snowy Conditions 

 Baselayer: e.g. Tech Tee

Insulation Layer 

Waterproof Layer 

 Blustery and Gales - reducing Temperature even more

 Freezing Temperatures

 Snow/Hail or Icy Rain

 

Keeps you dry from perspiration 

 Keeps you warm

 Keeps you dry from the rain and stops the wind  



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