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What is the Layering System? - GO Outdoors

When shopping for outdoor clothing, you've probably heard a lot about something called ‘the layering system’. Layering your breathable clothing can help you to keep warm, dry and comfortable through varying conditions, allowing you to add or remove layers depending on how you feel and the conditions you’re in. All the items should be lightweight and packable, and should fit inside your rucksack easily.

 

In this guide we'll offer you all the advice you need for how to layer up correctly when you’re outdoors. 




It's easy to think that when the temperature drops, wearing the thickest clothing possible is the best idea, when in actuality most mountain climbers, runners, cyclists, hill walkers and dog walkers can all benefit from some variation of a layered clothing system.

Carrying extra layers in your rucksack can help to keep you safe - the weather may be mild when you set off on your walk, but as you get higher into the hills, the temperature can and will take a sudden drop, and conditions can change in an instant.

How does the layering system work?

At its most basic level, the layering system will consist of three layers, including:

1) Baselyer - helps to regulate your body temperature and wick away moisture from your skin.
2) Midlayer - used to trap the warmth your body generates. Depending on the weather this can be a fleece, a softshell or even a down jacket.
3) Outer Layer - usually this is your protective layer. For example, a waterproof jacket in the rain or a windproof or down jacket in the cold/dry.

Below we'll take a look at these layers in a little more detail:

The Baselayer
  • Worn next to the skin, creating a thin layer of warm air against the body
  • Helps to wick moisture/sweat vapour from the skin to regulate body temperature
  • Ideal on its own for aerobic activity, or warm days
  • Avoid using cotton as a baselayer. Cotton soaks up sweat and stays wet, drawing the heat away from your body, leaving you cold.

Shop: Baselayers

 
The Midlayer
  • Worn over the baselayer to help trap in body heat
  • Further wicks away sweat vapour
  • Popular midlayers include fleece, softshell or in extreme cold and wet situations an insulated jacket.
  • If you're out walking we'd recommend a thin fleece or midlayer for milder days, and a midweight fleece or midlayer during cold weather
  • For resting, or passive exercise (like a trip to the pub, or watching a game) insulated jackets or down jackets are great to use in freezing weather.

Shop: Midlayers

 
The Outer Layer (Shell)
  • Protects you against wind and rain
  • This layer allows the sweat vapour to pass through and away from the body completely
  • This layer is usually a lightweight, packable and breathable waterproof jacket
  • There are three types of outer shell: Paramo, Membrane and Coated - we explain more about this in our waterproof jacket guide

Shop: Waterproof Jackets

Here is a handy diagram on exactly how the layers work together to keep you warm and dry



Layering System Diagram

What to wear
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
Warm
Wet
 
Baselayer
Waterproof
=
Warm Temperatures
Rain
Keeps you dry from perspiration
Keeps you dry from the rain and stops the wind
Windy
Cold
Wet
 
Baselayer
Fleece/ Softshell
Waterproof
=
Blustery and Gales - reducing Temperature even more
Low Temperatures Rain
Rain
 
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
=
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