Ever heard the saying ”there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”? It couldn't be more true! Check out our gear guide on how to layer your clothing on a trek.
Technical clothing & layer system
Garments should all be interchangeable for efficiency and effectiveness within the range of climates you encounter in the wilderness. Bear this in mind when making new purchases. The layering system consists of a base layer, mid layer and outer layer, which applies from head to toe.
Base Layer - Managing your moisture
The base layer is designed to wick moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry and comfortable when you’re working hard, as well as warm when temperatures drop. Most commonly base layer materials have been synthetics such as polypropylene and polyester. These are technical fabrics that absorb moisture and are quick drying, lightweight and durable.
Base layers come in light, medium and heavy weight, some with half zip and collar that protects from sun or very cold conditions- which one you chose depends on the end use. For example, during daytime temperatures and when you are working hard you may wish to choose a light weight base layer, on a summit day or in adverse weather conditions you should use a heavy weight.
The fit should be snug but not constrictive, and you can also combine a light weight layer with a heavier weight for extra warmth when needed. Wool (merino) is also an option and has become very popular in recent years due to finer and more consistent fibre diameter. This modern wool has the advantage of being very comfortable, is available in different weights, wicks moisture and does not smell during extended use. Keep in mind that wool takes longer to dry than synthetics and is usually a bit heavier.
Mid Layer - Insulation
The mid layer is your “warmth layer” it provides insulation, retaining your body warmth. Wool and synthetics work best. Zips enable you to vent and avoid overheating, fit should not be constrictive. A mid layer can be in the form of a “softshell” or “fleece” full sleeved jacket. More than one insulating layer allows you to have more flexibility in temperature managemebt, especially when you are likely to encounter a broader range of temperatures.
Outer Layer - Protection from the weather
The outer layer is a fully waterproof layer with high breathability. The most widely known fabric is Gore‑tex, however there are other high performing technical fabrics available which are both waterproof and breathable. The waterproof qualities of the fabric will keep out the wind and rain, whilst the breathability allows moisture (perspiration), to escape.
Wool versus synthetics
In recent years wool has become quite popular and many people use wool in different thicknesses as base layers. Whilst wool is soft and comfortable, keep in mind that it is not as quickdrying as synthetics and polypropolenes, and can also be slightly heavier but it certainly is far more ‘odour free’ over extended periods! You can also combine these layers together dependent on the conditions.
Softshell versus fleece versus synthetic fill
Softshell is a very versatile fabric and can be used as a mid layer, as well as an outer layer so long as the conditions are not too wet. It is not a waterproof layer however it can be used in very windy and slightly wet condition without having to add your outer shell (gore‑tex or similar). While Softshell was the preferred option for mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts, the synthetic fill nylon jackets are taking over because of their superior warmth, lightness, compactability and water resistance. Fleece is not windproof, and is more bulky than softshell or nylon/synthetic fill jackets, but are a less expensive option.
Keeping warm on winter treks
The key to keeping warm is adequate planning. When you reach camp in the afternoon change into warmer clothes before you get cold. Do not wait to get cold before you change as it is far easier for the body to maintain heat rather than regain warmth. Have quality layers next to the skin; a dry, clean thermal layer is ideal. Get into your sleeping bag overdressed, you can always remove layers of clothing to cool down rather than trying to heat up.
Your drinking water bottle (filled up with hot water at dinner time) can act as a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag once wrapped in some clothing. Remember to allow some ventilation in your tent at night as no ventilation allows condensation from your breath to build up causing ice to form on the inside of your tent. If rain is approaching put on your waterproofs before you get wet, do not wait until after you are wet. Keep your head warm with a beanie and your neck warm with a scarf or high roll‑neck top. Wear gloves/mittens and have a spare pair of dry gloves.