Layering for cold weather

Clothing layers for cold weather

LAYERING your cold weather clothing is hugely important, and a useful skill to master once you’ve learnt a few tricks.

At Ever Wild Outdoors, we came up with something called the DEW method, using three main principles for an easy way to understand what clothing layers work and how you can tailor a layering system for your needs.

DEW is simple…

DRY: Being dry is almost as important as keeping warm, no matter what conditions you are facing. As long as you’re dry, you’ve got a better chance of performing at your best. If you’re wet, and you’re in the cold, then you could be quickly heading into trouble.

EFFICIENT: When layering, you want your clothing to work efficiently. Not only do you need moisture to disperse well, you also want heat adjustments to respond quickly when you remove or add layers.

WARM: The number one thing you’re looking for in a layering system for cold weather is warmth. Without it, you’re in serious danger of putting yourself and others at risk. If your layering system isn’t keeping you warm, it’s not doing its job. It’s important to get this right.

Where to begin…

Base layers

You need a low friction, snug-fitting, thin material – one that you find comfortable next to your skin. For many, this is the critical layer. It’s almost like a second skin. You get this right and everything should fall into place quite easily. Get it wrong and you could end up being uncomfortable, cold and pretty miserable.

Plenty of outdoor clothing manufacturers will push you straight towards their expensive, ‘natural feel’ merino item with a list of features that are as baffling as they are nonsense.

Experience, however, has told us that an inexpensive, synthetic, long-sleeved running top possesses all the qualities you want in a base layer – breathable, stretchy, lightweight and, most importantly, seamless. It’s designed to act as a second skin, so a lack of seams is vital.

It’s a good idea to find a running top with a high neck. Not necessarily to provide warmth, but to take a tip from water sports enthusiasts who wear wetsuits. You’ll notice many surfers wear ‘rash vests’ under their suits. These act as a sort of friction protection to prevent chafing – particularly on the neckline.

Mid layers

This is where combinations really come into their own. Depending on the precise nature of the weather you’re facing, it is the all-important mid layers that are doing the hard work. This is where the warm air is being trapped and distributed.

In most cold weather situations, we recommend a thick t-shirt over the top of your base layer. This isn’t some curios fashion statement – it’s actually a clever trick. You see, when you have three or even four sleeves and you’re trying to do simple tasks with your arms – building a fire or preparing food, for instance – layers close to the elbow can get very uncomfortable. Using a short-sleeved top over your base layer will allow your arms a bit more freedom.

The next mid layer is the one which will be considered the most thermal – the fluffy loft insulation between your ceiling and your roof. It’s usually a fleece, the thickness of which again depends on the temperatures and wind chill you’re dealing with. Most fleece material will move well over the sleeves of the base layer without getting caught up in it, thus allowing for freedom of movement.

In particularly harsh conditions, it’s worth considering an insulated and air-trapping layer on top of the fleece.  Padded over garments work well on this layer as, more often than not, they are made from a smooth material that will also interact well with the fleece, much in the same way as the base layer.

Top layer

This is the one to be chosen carefully, as this is the most important layer of all. Essentially, this is the front-line barrier between you and the elements. That’s why making the right choice – judged by the environment you’re in and the conditions you’re facing – is vital.

It’s also about what works for you. Shell, soft-shell, insulated jacket – they’re all designed to face varying tests, so pick wisely using your knowledge.

In most cases, top of the list is a waterproof outer shell that covers everything from your head to your upper thighs. Its versatility means it can be quickly adapted for any scenario.

Other options here might be a sturdy poncho so you can be completely covered, if needs be. Or, if it’s just the cold you’re tackling rather than the wet, a soft shell.

Ponchos are a brilliant option to have at your disposal, and we’ve used them in the past to make a makeshift tarp. And a soft shell is a great option when it’s dry but cold.

Another consideration is a belay jacket. The belay, brainchild of American climber Mark Twight, is a kind of static outer layer designed to help maintain your body heat during times of inactivity. It came to prominence in the early nineties and has since spawned some advanced technical pieces that are well worth a look.

There are probably dozens more possible combinations and ideas for good layering techniques, these are just our personal preferences. There are no hard and fast for your personal layering options – only guidelines that will help you learn what works best for you.

The best way to find the right system is to experiment with varying methods and different conditions. You’ll quickly and instinctively latch on to a preference that may stay with you for a lifetime of adventures.

FURTHER READING: Pitching a tent in the wind… Camping in the wind – Ever Wild Outdoors

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