Gearing up for the cold? Understand the basic components to the layering system
When vacationing in a cold climate destination, nothing can be more excruciating than having to endure bitter wind chills in a poorly planned ensemble. Proper layering can make all the difference between a fun, memorable outdoor outing and frigid, ‘I-can’t-feel-my-face’ nightmare.
Not only is layering one of the most efficient methods for adapting quickly to changing weather conditions, but it also adds comfort by protecting your body from wind, water and moisture, while helping to regulate your temperature during activities.
What is ‘layering’?
Layering involves dressing in a number of lightweight garments that are worn on top of each other which you can put on or take off depending on weather and activity level. There are three basic components to your layering system: base, mid and outer layers – each with a unique function.
The base layer has direct contact with your skin, and it works to transport or “wick” moisture off your skin and move it toward the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate. If you begin to feel cold when you slow down, it could mean that your base layer holds moisture. Thickness and fabric weight should be determined based on your level of activity or temperature. Always choose a snug fit that does not constrict your movement.
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and recycled polyester are quick to dry as they absorb very little water – plus they also have good stretch and are easy to care for, making them great base layers. BUT they retain odours, so you’ll want to get them cleaned often, though most come equipped with antimicrobial treatments.
A wool base layer meanwhile absorbs up to 35 percent of its weight in moisture and remains dry to the touch as the moisture gets pulled inside the fibres. It’s also naturally odour-resistant, highly breathable, great for temperature regulation, and is long lasting.
The job of the mid-layer (or insulating layer) is to add insulation and trap body heat to keep you warm. It also works to move moisture outward. Good choices include fuzzy materials such as fleece and wool as they insulate without feeling bulky and highly air-permeable so that warm, moist air can pass through them. Go for a somewhat snug fit, though it should also be roomy enough to accommodate a base layer and allow movement.
Polyester fleece stays warm even if it gets damp, and it dries pretty quickly and breathes well. But wind can blow right through it and take some of that warmth away from you.
Down insulated jackets, though highly compressible for easy packing and offers more warmth for its weight that other insulating materials, it loses insulating efficiency when damp.
Synthetic insulated jackets, meanwhile, don’t compress as well as down, but they’re a popular option for rainy conditions as they retain insulating ability when damp.
An outer later (or ‘shell’) shields you from the elements. Shells range from expensive mountaineering jackets to simple wind-resistant jackets. Look for an outer layer that is water resistant but still breathable. A waterproof, breathable outer layer – typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics – is an especially vital piece in stormy weather as it blocks light wind and rain, thus protecting you from a harsh chill.
Shells are split into a few categories. The waterproof/breathable shells are usually pricier as they keep you drier and are more durable, whereas the more affordable water-resistant /breathable type is generally made of woven nylon or polyester fabrics, suited to drizzly, breezy conditions and high levels of activity.
Soft shells are big on breathability, combining light rain and wind protection with light insulation. They usually feature stretch fabric or fabric panels for added comfort.
Waterproof/non-breathable shells are typically made of coated nylon, which is water- and windproof. They provide the highest level of weather protection, but also do not allow internal moisture vapour to escape. Usually used when a significant level of water protection is needed, say, on rough, stormy seas.
Photos © iStock by Getty Images