How to Layer for the Outdoors

How to Layer for the Outdoors

Posted by Danielle Maxey on Dec 23rd 2019

One of the first things when starting to get involved in outdoor recreation is finding what to wear. You’ll probably hear the term ‘layers’ being thrown around a lot. What you wear, and how you layer it, is critical to keeping you safe in the outdoors. When people talk about layers, they are talking about a few different components. Layering usually consists of three separate pieces: base layer, mid layer, and top layer. Each of these will perform a different function that is just as crucial as the others.



The first thing you need to find is a good base layer. Your base layer is the wicking layer that keeps you dry when you start to sweat. The wicking properties of the base layer helps to move moisture away from your skin as it spreads out onto the top of the fabric, which in turn allows it to easily evaporate. Synthetic materials like polyester or nylon excel at this, as does Merino wool. Avoid cotton layers as this material clings to moisture and does not dry out quickly.

Your base layer may change depending on the temperature outside and activity level. There are different degrees of thickness to base layers. On days you find yourself more active, a thinner base layer will be better to as to avoid sweating as much. On colder days, or days where you find yourself not moving as much, you may choose a thicker layer. While there are different degrees of thickness, this layer will not be your main insulating piece. That is where your mid layer comes in. 

Pictured: Men's Patagonia Capilene® Midweight Crew Neck Shirt, Men's SmartWool 250 Base Layer Bottom, Women's Merino 250 Base Layer 1/4 zip, and Women's Capilene® Midweight Bottoms


After you have your base layers, the next layer is your mid layer. This layer is key for insulating and staying warm outside. Depending how cold it is, this layer could be made up of a couple different pieces. For light insulation on warmer days, a fleece can serve you well. Fleece tends to made of polyester or wool and has different degree of warmth based on its weight. Fleece lined pants can be a great mid layer for your bottoms.

As it gets colder, a down or synthetic puffy will keep you warmer. There are a few different reasons as to what makes a better insulating piece between the two. Down packs down small but loses its insulating properties when it gets wet. Synthetic maintains heat when it is wet, but it tends to be heavier and not pack down as well. You also want to be sure to not oversize your puffy. The more room you have in the jacket, the more heat you will lose. You want your layer to be fairly snug, but not so much that you are losing mobility in it.

If you find yourself still getting cold, you may choose to go with a thicker insulation, or double up on your mid layer. A good option is to go for a vest as it doesn't restrict your arms and keeps the warmth in the core, where it is most needed. A fleece and a puffy is a good option as well, without adding as much bulk.

Pictured: Men's The North Face ThermoBall Eco Vest, Men's Marmot Avant Featherless Jacket, Men's Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun Tight, Women's Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket, Women's Black Diamond Factor Hoody Plum, Women's Patagonia Crosstrek Bottoms


The top layer is usually a shell of some sort. Hard shell, soft shell, wind shell, rain shell: there are a few different terms you may hear when shopping around for your top piece. Whatever it ends up being, this is the layer that protects you from the elements.

Hard shells tend to be on the higher price point, but are waterproof, windproof, and breathable. Many feature Gore-TexⓇ or the brand’s own version of a breathable waterproofing. Hard shells are easy to distinguish with the fabric made out of a stiffer material. Hard shells also tend to make a crinkling noise as you move. This type of shell is good for days in extreme weather. The breathability in the shell allows sweat to escape but keeps rain and snow out. Hard shells are typically windproof as well. Almost all rain jackets will be a hard shell.

Soft shells are better for days where there may be light precipitation. They are usually not fully waterproof; however, the stretch in soft shell jackets typically allows for more movement, making it a good option for days where rain is not expected. They are wind resistant as well. Some have a waterproof membrane built into it while still maintaining the soft shell material. These jackets do well with a light to medium precipitation. They also tend to be slightly warmer than a hard shell.

Pictured: Men's Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell, Men's Black Diamond Recon Stretch Ski Pant, Women's The North Face AllProof Stretch Jacket, Women's Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Pant

What pieces you use for your layers will change depending on the weather, temperature, time of day, length of trip, and personal preference, but this guide is a good outline for any time of year. 

If you have more questions, stop into one of our stores, shoot us an email us, or leave a comment below!