The Layering System for Outdoor Clothing

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Wearing the right clothes when participating in outdoor activities is very important and can even be the difference between life and death. Having worked for an outdoor clothing and equipment company for the past year I have learnt a lot about what to wear in different activities and weather extremes.

If you find yourself in a dangerous or tricky situation, sometimes just the clothing you are wearing can help to keep you warm and alert so you can get yourself to safety effectively. There are many choices to make when choosing the right clothes for outdoor adventures and if you are new to the jargon it can all be a bit confusing.

Base Layer

The base layer clothing is often very thin and lightweight and its purpose is to take the moisture from your body when you sweat, keeping you dry and therefore warm too. Sometimes called the wicking layer, the material is usually nylon and simply wicks the moisture away from your skin preventing you from getting cold and wet.

Base layer tops are very thin and lightweight and are great for activities where you will be working up a sweat such as climbing, walking, horse riding, skiing. It is not a layer designed to keep you warm, so for more sedate activities such as fishing or birdwatching where you are standing still for a long time you would not necessarily need a base layer, probably more a Mid Layer.

Mid Layer

The mid layer clothing is usually in the form of a fleecey jumper or coat and its purpose is to keep you warm. Often they are windproof which helps keep the heat in, but they are not waterproof by any means. The range of fleeces out there is enormous – from the very cheap £5 to the Arctic-style £80-£90 fleece. They vary in thickness and quality and you need to choose what is relevant to your chosen activity. Fleeces come in full and half zip styles, much like a jumper or a coat/cardigan with or without hoods. This is pretty much down to your personal preference as to which style you choose.

Top Layer

Top layer clothing comes in the form of weatherproof and waterproof coats and can range in price from £30 to £300 depending on how ‘weatherproof’ you need it to be. This range starts with the bog standard cagoule waterproof jacket. These pack away into tiny bags and simply keep water off of your clothes. They are not however windproof and do often leave you feeling sweaty and sticky inside. For general dog walking, or school run everyday use, the coat only needs to be waterproof and windproof.

You can buy what is called a 3-in-1 coat which is a fleece inside a windproof and waterproof coat. The fleece zips inside the coat and can be removed in warmer weather when you don’t necessarily need it. You can buy the outer coat without the zip in fleece if you already own fleeces or want to buy just a cheap fleece but a better outer jacket.

The top layer coats then start to increase in cost and function as you get to the fully functional all-weather proof coats with Hi Vent and Gore Tex coated zips and fasteners, are multi-pocketed, have stiffened cap hoods to help them stay on and various other features and gimmicks. For example, specialist ski jackets will have a pocket in the arm suited for ski passes so when the skier passes through the barrier they don’t have to get their pass out, which can be fiddly with big ski gloves on.

The specialist climbing jackets have high pockets so that the climber’s harness does not block the pocket and it is still reachable. The specialist walker/rambler’s jacket will have pockets designed for map reading and compasses, and so on.

Remember, be bold, start cold and layer up so you can always strip layers down when hot and build them up when cold.

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