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A Basic Guide to Layering Up

by Liang Kaixiang

While winter in the great outdoors brings to mind freezing temperatures, this won’t be a problem if you layer properly.

The key is having different types of clothing of varying materials and thicknesses which help to regulate your temperature – simply put, layers provide the flexibility to adjust your temperature by adding or taking a layer off.

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Inner Base Layer:
This next-to-skin layer serves to keep you dry by moving perspiration away from your skin. Ideally, your base layer should either be made of merino wool or synthetic fabrics which feel comfortable on the skin and fit tighter to achieve better moisture management. An expedition weight base layer which is thicker can sometimes act as an insulating layer and be worn over a lighter weight base.

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Mid Layer:
The mid layer keeps you warm by trapping a layer of air to act as insulation. These are typically fleece or down jackets. Fleece can be synthetic or natural (wool); the synthetic materials dry faster and are less bulky than natural wool. In comparison, down jackets have the highest warmth-to-weight ratio and are highly compressible. However, down loses its insulation when wet. In dry conditions, the mid layer can be worn as an outer layer.

Outer Layer:
The outer (shell) layer protects you from wind, rain and snow, and is extremely important in bad weather or wet winter conditions. These are usually breathable to allow perspiration to evaporate. Fit is important so that your movement is not restricted while having enough room for the other, inner layers. You will find two types of outer layer available: hard shell and soft shell. Hard shells are more waterproof though quite expensive, compared to soft shells that combine insulation and weather resistance.

Feet, Hands and Head
As much as it is important to keep our core warm, our perception of temperature is influenced by our extremities, hence it is important to keep them covered up and well insulated. Wool or synthetic socks and insulated, weatherproof boots will keep your toes from freezing. Leather boots that are lined on the inside are a good investment. The same layering applies to your hands – a glove liner and woolen gloves will usually do, but if you are handling snow, a pair of waterproof gloves (or mittens) will be necessary; mittens are warmer than gloves but they compromise on dexterity.

Heat packs can be used to supplement your layers by providing you with a direct source of warmth, but they should never be a substitute for layers. Lastly, as the blood vessels of your scalp and neck sit closer to the surface, it makes a big difference to have a skull cap/beanie and either a scarf or a neck warmer/buff on, as you’ll lose more than half your body heat from an uncovered head.

Layering basics
The number of layers and the quality of these layers is dependent on the activity and climate at your destination. For example, if you are skiing, you would want to wear top and bottom base layers, and a fleece or down jacket followed by a ski jacket and ski pants, compared to just a top and bottom base layer, a down jacket and a pair of jeans for walking around in a city.

For the base and mid layers, you can find many affordable and good options that work as well as those that are branded. However, you need to make sure that these are not made of cotton, which is not a good option for winter wear as it’s not as insulating as other materials (like merino wool) and becomes cold when wet. Since more technical materials and specific functional design are put into the outer shell, it will be relatively more expensive. Think of it as a good investment, because when it is snowing heavily and you’re playing hard, you’ll be happy that you’ve got better water repellency and the side vents.

It may seem troublesome to plan and purchase all these layers, but it will greatly increase your comfort and the overall experience of your winter holiday. Regardless of destination or activity, there will be a combination of layering which will keep you nice and toasty.

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