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  • Layering - For Comfort and Safety
  • Post author
    Meghan Clark
  • backpackingdownfalllayeringsyntheticwool

Layering - For Comfort and Safety

Fall has arrived, bringing with it cool nights and warm (or downright hot) days. These drastic temperature changes can make dressing appropriately for your adventures a little more challenging. Most know the best way to prepare is wearing layers of various garments, but you may not know the purpose of each layer you are putting on. Here is a quick run down from base layers to outerwear and what you can expect each piece to do. 
  1. Base Layer
    • Key function: Manage the conditions right next to skin (i.e. keep you dry).
Many put on their long underwear thinking they are designed to keep them warm. The primary function of your baselayers is actually to keep your sweat moving away from your body so it can dry quickly. You may have heard that in cold weather "cotton kills". That is because it holds onto moisture and that moisture transfers heat out of your body. For this reason, wool or synthetic fibers are more suited to active outdoor pursuits. You can read more about the science behind the various fibers here. Remember that you want to be able to take layers off to ensure maximum comfort. Do not start with a baselayer that is too warm.
      • What to wear? Wool or synthetic underwear, leggings and tops in a weight appropriate for anticipated temperatures. 
    1. Mid-layer
      • Key function: Capture warmth through trapped air. Keep windchill out.
     Mid-layers are designed to trap warm air from your body in while continuing to let all the moisture out. These are the layers that you will be taking off as your body temperature rises and include additional shirts/pants, bulkier sweaters and fleece jackets. Remember, these items will probably be stashed in your pack at some point so it is important to consider their warmth-to-weight ratios. Although the giant chunky wool blanket of a sweater my mom knit me is amazing, I probably won't be bringing it with me on a fall hike anytime soon. 
      • What to wear? Additional 'baselayers', possibly in a heavier weight; fleece jacket; thicker wool sweater; a combination of everything. 
    1. Insulation Layer
      • Key function: Add warmth quickly. 

    So technically this is a just another mid-layer but when temperatures really drop down, you want to ensure you have a piece that will keep you warm. This is often a jacket stuffed with down or synthetic insulation. It is the piece you'll wear when you're sitting around camp and need to keep your core temperature up. As with sleeping bags, there are pros and cons to each insulation. Down jackets will pack down smaller but synthetics will retain their insulating properties when wet. 

      • What to wear? Down or synthetic "sweater"
    1. Outer Shell
      • Key function: Protect you from the elements.
    This layer is your first defense against everything Mother Nature can throw at you. Whether you're out in a downpour, snowsquall or tornado, the right shell will allow your base and mid-layers to function at their best. There are two types of shells - 'soft' shells and 'hard' shells. A hard shell is wind and waterproof meaning that it should be your go to in extreme weather. The downside is that they can trap all that moisture you've been working so hard to wick away from your body inside your jacket and therefore cause you to become cold. Technical shells made from eVent and Pertex Shield+ are considered breathable and typically include ventilation options but will eventually cause you to get sweaty. Soft shells on the other hand are very breathable but only wind and water resistant. On sunny days with a light wind and possibly a misting of rain, a soft shell will probably be the more comfortable option.   
    • What to wear? A hard or soft shell that continues to allow moisture to evaporate. 

    Additional points: 

    • You will find that many pieces incorporate one or more of the layers mentioned (i.e. a fleece lined soft shell). Always remember that the purpose of layering is to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Do not skip layers that will prevent you from having the ability to get to that next "perfect" temp. 
    • Start out a little bit cold. If you're heading out on a hike completely warm and cozy chances are you will begin to overheat within your first few kilometers. Keep that extra layer in your pack until you stop for lunch.
    • All of these principles apply to your appendages too. Layering hats, mitts and socks is always an option. About those socks though, make sure you don't wear so many your boots are tight. Your toes will get cold quickly that way! Remember, the purpose of the mid-layer is to trap warm air and tight boots don't leave any space for that to happen. 

    Here's how I layer up for a fall hike:

    Base: Icebreaker Sprite 150 Merino leggings, Siren Tank and Hike socks in Light cushion
    Mid: Icebreaker Oasis 200 Long Sleeve Crewe, Woolich Fleece
    Shell: Rab Charge Jacket or Sawtooth Softshell hoodie, Helix Pants
    Hat: Icebreaker Merino Flexichute

    • Post author
      Meghan Clark
    • backpackingdownfalllayeringsyntheticwool

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