It’s an ongoing battle that we all face. How to use layered clothing to stay warm in winter. Finding the correct layers for the weather conditions becomes even more difficult when you add in a little bit of physical activity.
If you’ve just started to venture out into the winter wonderland, you might be happy to know that even winter veterans like myself constantly struggle with getting the balance just right. In fact, I recently asked my Instagram followers how they feel and more than 60% of you said you struggled with finding the perfect layered clothing.
After years of living and working in the outdoors, I will admit that I still struggle with getting it 100% right all the time but I have developed a basic strategy to deal with varying conditions.
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When doing any sort of winter activity like skiing, snowshoeing, hiking or climbing, it’s always important to start with a good base layer that will provide your first line of temperature regulation.
On top of your base layer, you can use a combination of thinner and more insulated mid-layers to create the perfect level of warmth for your level of activity.
Lastly, remember to top it all off with a great outer layer that will protect you from wind, rain and snow. I love Gortex for this but make sure your jacket has armpit zips!
1. Why Layered Clothing is Essential in Winter
There are so many reasons that layered clothing is the only way to go for active adventures in winter!
Whether you’re snowboarding, ski touring, hiking, snowshoeing or climbing, as you exercise your body temperature will rise and fall with your activity levels.
Layering your clothing is the key to staying warm, dry and happy all day long. These are the two key reasons layered clothing works…
1. Having a number of layers will ensure that you don’t lose any of your precious body heat.
Even if you just have one really thick layer, some of the heat you produce will manage to escape. If you have multiple thinner layers, including a great base layer (which I’ll talk about later), there are more layers to catch the heat before it escapes.
2. Layered clothing also helps you regulate your temperature.
We all know that when we start to exercise we heat up and when we stop for a break we cool down. If you caught my last post with my best tips for winter adventures you will know that balancing your own temperature is key to enjoying the colder months of the year.
Layered clothing allows you to take off and put on clothing to ensure you never get too hot or too cold.
2. How to Layer Clothing For Skiing (& Other Winter Adventures)
The basic key to layering can be broken down into 3 levels. A base layer, mid-layer and shell or outer layer. Ideally, you want most of your layers to be relatively thin, lightweight and easy to pack in your bag. This means saying goodbye to your bulky ski jacket and putting away your cosy cotton hoodie.
2.1 Base Layers
Your base layer is best worn closest to the skin, right on top of your underwear. Your base layer should be made of thermal material such as polyester, merino wool or cotton and acts as your first defence against the cold.
You may think that wearing a regular long sleeve shirt will do the trick but believe me, thermal layers work wonders. They help regulate your temperature and keep you from getting to either end of the temperature scale.
These are some of my favourite base layers:
2.2 Mid Layers
Your mid-layers come next. These are what you will be putting on and taking off to ensure you stay at the perfect temperature, even when exercising in winter.
You should try and have a couple of these to choose from with varying warmth levels and densities.
You don’t need to take all of your mid-layers with you on every ski tour but having a variety available will mean you can choose the best one or two for the conditions.
I generally like to have 3 mid-layers to choose from.
- A thin, long sleeve, non-insulated layer for when you just need a tiny bit more warmth.
- A thin, insulated pullover such as Patagonia’s R1 material (totally game changer), or microfleece.
- Warm Puffer Jacket. This can either be worn under the mid-layer or sized up to fit over your outer layer for those quick breaks when you don’t want to have to unzip to layer up. (This won’t really work in rainy climates as you’ll need your outer layer to be waterproof.)
It’s also advantageous to choose different sizes and thicknesses so you can wear all 3 mid layers together on the coldest of days.
Here are some of my favourite mid-layers:
2.3 Outer Layer or Shell
Our outer layer is our protection against the harshest of elements. The wind and rain play a huge factor in if we are happy and warm on our outdoor winter adventures.
If you’re going to invest the big bucks in any part of your winter clothing ensemble, let it be your outer layer jacket.
Here are some things to look for in choosing the perfect outer layer jacket:
- Choose a shell-type jacket with little to no insulation.
If you have the correct layers, your base and mid-layers will allow you to adjust your insulation levels meaning you can still use your outer layer for protection against the wind and rain, even in warm temperatures.
- Buy the most waterproof material you can afford.
Gortex is by far the best you can buy for your outer layer but it can be expensive.
I myself made do with non-Gortex, waterproof jackets for a number of years but these always wore out and left me soaking in big storms.
When I found my Arcteryx jacket on a half-price sale, I jumped at the offer knowing that this jacket will be with me for a very long time and I haven’t been disappointed!
- Pit Zips! If you’ve never experienced having openable vents under your arms you might not know what a game-changer they are.
Since our underarms are one of the places we sweat the most, being able to zip down and expose them to the fresh air instantly cools you down and is a key factor in being able to regular your temperatures easily and quickly.
I would never buy a jacket without pit zips again!
Outer layer Pants:
I’ve gone on and on about layering your upper body but don’t forget about your legs! The reason that most of our layering goes on upstairs is to protect your core. Having a warm core means that blood will continue to circulate to the rest of the body and keep it warm.
I find that having just two layers on my bottom half is generally sufficient. We’ve talked about the base layer already but what should you wear on top?
I find there are two types of outer pants I need to have in my kit for winter adventures:
- Breathable, uninsulated, water-resistant pants, such as those used for mountaineering. They should also have vent zips and be a little stretchy for extra comfort.
- Waterproof, un-insulated Gortex shell pants. These should also have vented zips but won’t be stretchy.
These two types of pants should cover you for most if not all of your winter adventures. The key here again is to be able to zip open vents and allow a little airflow when you start to get sweaty.
If you’re going to choose just one pair of winter adventure pants, think about the climates you will find yourself in the most.
90% of the time I wear my stretchy mountaineering pants as I generally spend my winters in extremely cold, snowy conditions and water-resistant is enough. When I spend the winter in the mountains of Australia, I choose waterproof shells every time. If you’ve ever skied in Australia you will understand the need for Gortex, even on the sunny days! haha
Here are some of my favourite Outer layers
3. Things to Consider When Perfecting Your Layered Clothing Game
The trick to staying warm, dry and happy on your winter adventure doesn’t just lie in your basic 3 layers. Here are some extra tips and things to consider when creating your perfect level of warmth…
3. 1 Starting Cold
If you’re heading into the mountains to ski tour, split board, hike or snowshoe, chances are you will start to work up a sweat quite quickly.
Start cold, and wear fewer layers than you would like for the temperature. As soon as you start exercising you will warm up, eliminating the need to stop and de-layer 5 mins into your adventure!
3.2 Hands, Head, Pits and Feet
These areas of the body actually control how hot or cold you get much more than you might think.
Before removing a layer, try taking off your hat and neck warmer, undoing the vents in your clothing and exposing your wrists.
These simple acts can have a huge impact on cooling you down and are much quicker than removing a layer. Save that for when you’re really ready.
On the flip side, these places can also help to warm you up a great deal. In really cold climates, make sure to keep your head, feet and hands as warm as possible.
Think about adding an extra pair of gloves and a hat, neck warmer or hood before adding an extra mid-layer.
These micro-adjustments are nearly as important as your main 3 layers in creating the perfect balance.
I always carry these extra items on my winter adventures to round out my complete set of layered clothing:
- Breathable, durable mid-warmth gloves
- Thin thermal glove liners
- Thick winter mitts or gloves
- Neck warmer / buff
3.3 The Difference Between Wet and Dry Cold
When you think of humidity, you usually think of rainforests and tropical islands right? The thing is, cold climates can just as easily be humid.
As I mentioned before, winter in the Australian mountains can be wet! Not just wet because of the rain either.
Australian winter, even in the mountains consists of an incredible amount of humidity. This means, even when it’s cold enough to snow, there is still a lot of water in the air and snow.
-3°C in this kind of wet cold can actually feel A LOT colder than -15°c of dry cold.
Wet cold manages to make it all the way into your bones, no matter how many layers you wear. There have been many times this winter when I have been out below -10°C in just my thermal and shell here in Norway. There is no way I would do that in Aus!!
Mountains with this kind of humid/wet, cold, are generally found near the coast or in places of mild temperatures. Places where it is generally below -10°C most of the winter, generally have a much drier climate so you can generally get away with fewer layers in colder weather.
You may be thinking ‘I’m not jumping straight up to 4,000m peaks, what does acclimatisation have to do with anything?’.
The acclimatisation I’m speaking about is the temperature. Are you flying for a winter getaway, halfway through your summer? If you’re not used to the cold, you’re going to feel it much more and need some extra layers.
3.5 Do You Run Hot or Cold
This one is something you will have to experiment with if you don’t already know. As I mentioned in my winter adventure tips, one of the biggest parts of staying comfortable is knowing your own body.
For me, I know I head up very quickly with physical activity. This means when I head out for a ski tour, I usually start off with fewer layers than my friends and am still often pulling off my beanie within the first 15mins.
On the other hand, I have Raynauds. This means my fingers and toes get incredibly cold as the blood flow is restricted to my extremities when my body temperature drops.
So for me, I know I need fewer layers on my core but also extra warm gloves and socks. Sounds backwards I know, but it’s the only thing that works for me.
4. FAQs about How to Layer for Skiing & Other Winter Adventures
How do you layer your legs for skiing?
The are many ways you can layer your legs for skiing, generally, a base layer underneath insulated ski or snowboard pants is enough. However, if you don’t have insulated pants, add a puffy pants layer.
What should I layer under my ski jacket?
Same with your legs, for most people a base layer and insulated snow jacket is enough. But if it’s particularly cold you can add a thin mid-layer.
What’s the best way to layer to stay warm while outdoors in winter?
Having different options with varying insulation levels and weight allows you to balance out the pieces and find the perfect level of comfort to warmth and breathability ratio.
How many mid-layers should I use in winter?
1-2 mid-layers are usually best for winter. One thin fleece and an insulated puffer jacket cover most levels of warmth and temperatures.
So, after all that info you should be ready to make some new purchases, fill out your winter adventure wardrobe and hike, ski or climb in comfort, no matter the weather!
I hope you found this post helpful in staying warm this winter. Do you have any other winter tips for me? Leave me a comment about what adventures you’ve been having this year, I’d love to hear them!
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