Learn to Layer

Learn to Layer - Simple Tips to Keep You Outdoors

October 23, 2014

In the pantheon of underrated skills every athlete and adventurer should have, layering is at the top of the list according to The North Face athlete Cedar Wright. After all, proper layering and an understanding of basic do’s and don'ts will keep you comfortable and outside longer. To help you feel "just right," Cedar shares a few tips, plus a layering strategy that you can easily adapt depending on your destination and activity.

For the last few weeks I’ve been climbing in Australia with fellow The North Face athlete Hazel Findlay, enjoying some of the best stone in the world. And while the climbing has been phenomenal, the weather has been all over the place. One minute it’s raining sideways, the next the sun is trying to burn your face off.

These ever-changing conditions got me thinking about layering, and what an underrated skill it is. Now when it comes to layering strategy, the exact layers you bring will of course change depending on the temperature, location, and duration of your adventure, however some pieces are universal.

So, under the guise of passing on my love for layering, which is really an excuse to have a bit of mischievous fun with Hazel, shooting our layering system and compiling it into a rather amusing animated GIF, here are a few pro tips to help keep you comfortable in any conditions.

Tip 1: Don’t be lazy and overheat. When you’re hiking with a pack on, it’s easy to ignore the fact that you are getting too warm for the simple reason that you don’t want to stop and shed a layer. However, this is important to avoid since you’ll unnecessarily expend energy and dehydrate yourself if you don’t take the time shed down. If the terrain is easy, I’ll often shed a layer without even stopping by popping off one strap of my pack at a time and then pulling off a sleeve at a time. Once the layer is off, I just tie it around my waist.

Tip 2: Don’t get too cold. You want to be like Goldilocks — find that “just right” temperature for your body. If you get hypothermic, you’ll make bad decisions, so throw on a jacket before you start to shiver.

Tip 3: Start out your hike a little cool. How many times have you made it five minutes into a hike only to have to delayer? I’ve learned from experience to know that I’m better of starting off a long hike, run, or bike a little bit on the brisk feeling side to combat this problem.

Tip 4: Don’t get wet. While this could mean throwing on rain gear, especially if you’re out for a long time, it also means don’t overheat and sweat into your bottom layer, which can happen more easily than you think.

Tip 5: Find what works for you. For me, personally, I love to have a lightweight fleece hoodie in my system. But some folks don’t like hoodies as much as I do. A lot about layering is simply common sense, and we all have to develop our own approach that adapts to our unique activities.

Now that I’ve given you some basic tips for layering, here is the layering system that Hazel and I have been using in Australia:

Layer Number 1 — For the first layer in these Oz conditions, with cool mornings and midday temperatures ranging from 64- to 75-degrees Fahrenheit, I recommend a short-sleeve, synthetic T-shirtand a pair of lightweight tights or long underwear bottoms. In more alpine conditions, I would change up the bottoms to a mid- to heavyweight, depending on the severity of the cold, and also I would add a long underwear top over the synthetic T. On this trip, I’ve been starting out in the long underwear and then stripping them off if/when the sun comes out. (Note: This may force you to dip behind a rock for quick wardrobe change. Just go with it.) For added points, add a pair of funky stylish socks.

Layer Number 2 — I’m a religious believer in the hooded, lightweight fleece (like the Storm Shadow Hoodie), but if you are more of a beanie wearer, then you could go with a non-hooded, lightweight fleece plus the hat to get the same protection. For your bottoms, I recommend stretchy synthetic pants. I often roll them up to my calves for climbing if it is really hot — hello, instant knickers! If you’re in colder conditions, you might want to consider a mid-weight fleece and a thicker fabric for the pants.

Layer Number 3 — For the third layer, Hazel and I have both been rocking ThermoBall Full Zip jackets, and I have to say I love my ThermoBall. This insulation technology is genuinely impressive: just about as compressible and warm as down, while having the added benefit of retaining its warmth when wet. Plus these ThermoBall jackets are stylish, so I can look good while I enjoy my post-climbing beer at the pub. For most climbing adventures, you won’t need another layer for the bottoms, but if it’s going to be really snowy or rainy, then it may be worth having a pair of waterproof bottoms in your pack.

Layer Number 4 — I’m really stoked on the Allabout rain jacket. I keep it with me not just for when it rains, but also to use as my final layer of warmth when it gets really cold.

Final Thoughts. I really can’t overemphasize the importance of a good layering strategy for whatever adventure might lie ahead for you. You can adapt the basic layers above to your own adventure, adding or tweaking things for the nature of your undertaking. The bottom line is that if you have the right clothing in the right order and are prepared for whatever weather unfolds and, then you’ll get to have more fun and spend more time enjoying the outdoor activity that you love.