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Layering for Cold Weather: A Systematic Approach

By Posted in - Clothing and Outerwear on January 21st, 2014 layered_clothing

When it comes to dressing for cold weather, most people feel that if you have a warm winter coat and a good pair of boots you’re all set. While it’s true that a solid insulated jacket and appropriate footwear are essential, they’re only part of the equation. For cold weather protection that’s as versatile as the weather is variable, in this piece we’ll consider an approach commonly referred to as ‘layering’.

Unlike wearing a single heavy coat, layering involves wearing multiple thinner layers to reduce bulk and increase

layered_clothingwarmth. By increasing the number of layers we’ve created countless pockets of still air close to the skin and between each layer. These pockets are then warmed by the body and kept from escaping by the layers above. With these layers of warm air held close to the body most people find that they’re able to wear just a lightweight overcoat–more to block the wind then anything else.

For example, my cold weather layering system is so effective that as my outer layer I often wear an uninsulated hard shell. Without that big, bulky, insulated jacket I find I have greater range of movement and a system that lets me ‘fine tune’ my warmth. If I’ve gotten a bit too warm, I just remove a single mid weight layer. Or, if the temperature drops, I just throw on my down sweater. It’s as easy as that.

While there are a number of ways to layer clothing, I’ll share some key components to a successful system. One way is to layer your clothing such that lighter weight, thinner layers, are closer to the body. Each progressive layer gets thicker until you’ve gotten to your parka or hard shell layer. It’s important to ensure that each layer is a bit looser than the previous one. This keeps layers from bunching, which makes the ensemble more comfortable.

Layering also creates an effective moisture management system–that is, moving moisture progressively away from the body. Managing the body’s moisture is essential to thermoregulation. According to some authorities, the body loses heat 20X faster when it’s wet. To effectively move moisture, a successful layering system should utilize both hydrophobic and hydrophilic textiles. Hydrophobic textiles like merino base layers help ‘push’ moisture from the body, which is why merino makes for the perfect thermal. Hydrophilic material like fleece ‘pull’ ambient humidity, which evaporates while we’re moving.

Regardless of whether you’re skiing all winter or are the type who enjoys a daily walk year round, an effective layering system will help you manage the cold while offering improved mobility. While there is no one way to dress for outdoor activities in the winter, I hope this piece has provided insights that will help you dress more comfortably for a broader range of conditions and situations. What layering tricks have you learned? Leave a comment and let us know.

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