Beginner's Guide to Layering
Outdoor activities like walking and trekking are rising in popularity, being a great way to escape the stresses of modern life, get some fresh air and see some amazing sights...it's also the best type of exercise; the sort that doesn't feel like a workout at all!
Walk into any outdoor shop or browse the web and you'll find a massive selection of outdoor clothing, which can be confusing to the first time shopper. Over the next few weeks we'll be jotting down a beginners' guide to outdoor clothing to try and help you understand some of the key principles, fabrics and features that you'll come across.
Your clothing system is going to need to keep you comfortable for many hours. You will ideally want to be wearing one set of clothing to walk in throughout your day/weekend/week's trek, only carrying the minimum of spares for emergencies like when you happen to fall in a river and the only way to stop hypothermia is to get a new set of clothes on you!
The key thing to remember is "layering", which is the fundamental principle around which all outdoor clothing is based.
Outdoor clothing is really designed to do one thing...keep you comfortable through a range of conditions. To achieve this, there are two factors which need to be controlled: warmth and moisture.
Warmth & Moisture
Like Goldilock's porridge, you will be uncomfortable if you are either too warm, too cold or wet. Modern layering systems are designed to be able to both provide warmth and cooling with minimal fuss, thanks to intelligent use of fibres.
Simply put, the fibres and layers are designed to remove moisture from your skin, thus cooling you when warm (which is called 'wicking'), and trap air near the skin, thus warming you when cold. Shell layers like Gore-Tex and eVENT also prevent water entering from the environment, whilst still allowing your body's moisture to escape...this is called 'breathing', or 'breathability'.
Most outdoor clothing is designed to fit into one of 3 layers, which you may see called a few things, but this is what we call them, and their functions.
>> Base Layer - Worn next to skin, designed to 'wick' moisture for cooling, and trap air for warmth. The base layer (often called thermals) is the foundation layer, and very important to get right. There is a huge variety of men's base layer tops and bottoms and women's base-layer tops and bottoms available, for all conditions and activities, from synthetics, to merino wool. Read Guide
>> Mid Layer - Provides insulation and allows moisture from the base layer to pass through. Men's and women's fleece and insulation is available in many weights, from thin 'microfleece' tops for versatile warmth (like a technical sweatshirt), to common-or-garden fleece jackets, to down and synthetically filled jackets for maximum warmth in cold conditions. Read Guide (coming soon)
>> Shell Layer - The outer layer, and sometimes referred to as 'protection' or simply, 'waterproof'. They're designed to keep wind, rain and snow at bay, whilst allowing moisture inside the jacket to escape. The most famous of these fabrics is Gore-Tex, although we will explain some alternatives later. Of course waterproofs are available in men's or women's fit (and colours). Read Guide (coming soon)
Layering with outdoor clothing allows for maximum versatility, protection and comfort. You will find many different types of each layer, designed for different activity levels or conditions, and many cross-over well, so the same top you use for cycling will work for summer walking etc.
Because outdoor sports have gained mainstream popularity, you will also find that many of them will also look good down the pub, unless you have a particular urge to look like Ray Mears of course! (Personal hero of mine)
So layers make it easier to regulate your temperature, rather than having a t-shirt and a huge jumper, and are designed to perform with your body's natural processes to keep your skin dry, and provide protection from the elements