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The basic idea of dressing in layers is that is allows you to adapt what you are wearing to what you are doing. There are three main components to layering, the baselayer, the midlayer and the outer layer. The different opinions on what material each layer should consist of vary with who you ask. Should the base-layer be synthetic or wool, do you even need a midlayer, and should the outer layer be a membrane or natural fabric. The debate goes on.
The baselayer. Its purpose is to transport moisture away from your body. Here at Nordic Outdoor we are of the firm belief that wool baselayers are the way to go. It regulates temperature well, both in cold and warm weather. It also insulates well when wet. In short, the qualities of wool are next to magical. While most people know that cotton becomes very cold when wet and that wool still isolates when wet, fewer people know why. To explain, a visual example is easiest. Below you can find a series of images of raw cotton and raw wool being soaked in water and then squeezed. As you see from the images, the cotton fibres collapse completely while the wool regains its original shape. Why is this important? Well, the way insulation in clothing works is that it basically traps pockets of air against your skin which then creates a warm protective layer around you while at the same the letting moisture through. The collapsed cotton fibres will not be able to do this, and instead of working for you they will start working against you.
That leaves the synthetic materials. While there are many good synthetic alternatives out there, we believe that a natural material like wool is still preferable. For one, the wool does not absorb odour, while the synthetic materials do. This might not sound like a big deal when making a decision in a nice and fresh shop. After a week in the field it is a different matter. It also means that you have to change the baselayer less frequently, which means you don’t have to buy as many!
The midlayer. This is the layer that should keep you nice a snug during the colder days of the year. Its purpose is to absorb moisture from the layer underneath while simultaneously protecting you from the cold outside. The midlayer is the layer that offers you the most flexibility of any of the layers. Think of this as the lining to your jacket. By adapting the thickness of your midlayer you can easily adapt to the level of activity you are undertaking and the temperature you are doing it in. In fact, during warmer days you can leave out the midlayer completely.
The outer layer. The layer that is supposed to protect you from the elements. Should it be water proof or not? This is a highly debated topic. Nordic Outdoor stand on the side of the breathable, natural fabrics as the best option for the average user. Instead of launching into long tirades about the virtues of natural fibres, which can easily happen, let us just stay focused on shell jackets here, without getting into whether they are waterproof or not.
Basically, the concept of the shell jacket ties into what we previously said about the midlayer. A shell jacket is just that, a shell, which you can then line with whatever lining you choose to wear. This means that this can be a thin and light jacket for the warm summer days. Or, with the right layers underneath, a good option for the coldest days of the year. The options are endless, and can be adapted to what you are doing.
In really cold conditions it can be a good idea to bring an extra reinforcement layer to wear underneath, or an extra outer layer such as a down jacket. However, make sure not to wear the garment during when you are active – instead save it for the breaks so that it isn’t wet and useless when you really need it.
Even the people who do know of the layering principle often forget that it should be applied not only to your clothing, but to your head, hands and feet as well where being active with your layers is just as important.
The brilliant thing with being dressed in layers is that you don’t have to wear them all at the same time. Instead, breaking down your clothing into distinct layers allows you the possibility to mix and match to come up with the perfect combination for what you are doing. Something that can never be accomplished by buying one or two products that are supposed to be the ultimate performers, no matter the circumstances.