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How to Layer for Cold Weather

Whether it’s a long trek in the hills or a fishing trip in icy waters, you’ll need to properly layer so that you stay warm and – most importantly – stay safe. It isn’t as simple as throwing on as many tops as possible and hoping for the best. There’s a science to layering for cold weather. That’s because you can end up doing more harm than good if you put the wrong layers on. But you’ll find out why as we go through the key layers and why they’re important. Let’s get started:

Base Layer

Woman wearing thermal underwear on light grey background. Space for text

This is the first layer. You must select the right base layer, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Underwear Layer.’

This layer is going to be doing two jobs at the same time, which is why the material that this item of clothing is made from is crucial. This layer will be closest to your skin. And as it’s close to your skin, it will be interacting with your body’s sweat or moisture. It has to absorb this moisture without the layer soaking up that sweat and letting it sit there. If the moisture does sit there, then you could find yourself becoming extremely cold, even hypothermic. The layer needs to ‘wick’ that moisture properly.

It’s a matter of taste as to what material you choose for your base layer, as some people find merino wool to be itchy, for example, whereas others love its softness. Silk, polyester, and nylon are the other most common materials for the base layer. As you’ll have noticed, these are all lightweight materials, although you can choose a base layer that’s not lightweight.

The reason why these materials are recommended for layering is because they’re effective at wicking the moisture from your body. That’s the main job of this layer. Even though it’s also key that it keeps you warm, it’s the next layer that’s mainly responsible for making sure you stay a comfortable temperature, even if it’s cold outside.

Insulation Layer

Woman wearing fleece jacket and goggles on light grey background. Winter sport clothes

The next layer is the one that’s going to keep you warm. As the name suggests, its role is to insulate you, to keep your body heat locked inside so that you don’t become cold from the external temperature.

Once again, there is a range of materials that you can choose for your insulation layer. These materials are equally as important as how the clothing has been designed. In terms of materials, the main choice is between natural fibers or synthetic. Or, in some cases, a combination of the two.

It’s the design of this layer that’s the key, however, to keeping you warm. Padded or fleece jackets are often chosen by people for the insulation layer. You’ll notice when you purchase these pieces of clothing that they have different rating levels, and that means you can find insulation layers to suit the level of coldness you’ll be going out in.

When it comes to comfort, then you can also decide between lightweight or heavyweight insulation layers, but the price will come into this too, of course, as some lightweight insulation jackets can come at a higher cost.

The Top Layer

Beautiful girl in a blue jacket and knitted hat and mittens pos

This layer is all about protecting you from the elements. There’s a chance that you’ll get caught in the rain, snow, or sleet when you’re out in the cold. That means your top layer has to be designed to repel these elements.

You may wish to use a waterproof, insulated coat as this layer. In which case, choose an insulated jumper or something more lightweight for your insulation layer.

Many people prefer to get a lightweight rain jacket to use as their top layer, as this will protect you from the rain and ensure that it doesn’t penetrate through to your insulation layer.

If there’s no chance of rain, then just a soft, semi-waterproof layer can be fine as the top layer.

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