How To Layer for Cold Weather
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
To help you perfect this practical skill and learn how to stay warm in cold weather, we reached out to Columbia Sportswear Apparel Designer Nancy Zan. “In most outdoor pursuits,” she explained, “activity level varies throughout the day. You could be huffing and puffing up a hill one minute, and sitting down for lunch the next. Layering allows you to fine-tune your heat management, depending on the activity. This keeps you comfortable and, in the more extreme cases, can prevent more serious side effects like hypothermia.”
To learn more of Zan’s tips on how to layer outdoor clothes, read our quick guide below.
How To Layer Outdoor Clothes
- Baselayer: A thin inner layer that sits directly on your skin and wicks away sweat.
- Midlayer: A thicker middle layer that provides insulation and keeps you warm.
- Outer shell: A thin outer layer that goes on the outside to offer weather protection.
Baselayers come in different weights to accommodate a range of outside temperatures and levels of activity. They’re also available in different neck styles. Some, for example, have pullover-style crewnecks while others feature quarter zips that open at the top for extra ventilation. For especially cold weather, some baselayers offer additional technology such as Omni-Heat, which reflects body heat back to you, adding warmth.
For more active pursuits, you’ll want a breathable midlayer to prevent you from overheating. This is where options like lightweight fleeces come in handy. On the other hand, a down jacket or synthetic puffer probably makes a better choice for sitting around a campfire on a cold night. Some of the warmest puffy jackets also have reflective heat technology, like Omni-Heat Infinity, Omni-Heat Black Dot, or Omni-Heat Helix.
Shell styles range in thickness from ultra-lightweight to triple-layer—and everything in between. Some feature high-tech materials such as OutDry Extreme that’s fully waterproof and breathable. Others boast their own insulating layers, which can be helpful in chillier climates. “These are great if it’s really cold and you want to double up your insulating layers,” Zan says. Other options offer interchangeable zip-out styles where the midlayer and shell are all in one.
Layering pitfalls to avoid
Confusing waterproof and water-resistant: Newbie layerers often misunderstand the difference between waterproof and water-resistant fabrics, Zan says. Windbreakers, for example, are often coated with treatments that make people think they’re fully waterproof when they’re really only meant for light drizzles.
Forgetting to use your ventilation: It’s common to see people struggling with their layers throughout the day, constantly stripping items off or putting them on. Pro-level layerers, however, know that the best way to manage your heat is to use your apparel’s ventilating features such as pit zippers, cuff tabs, or adjustable hems.