Layers Clothing: Doing It The Proper Way

Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

There are quite a few things to take into account when you go camping out in the open. Weather conditions, of course, will almost always be at the top of your list. With this in mind, one of the paramount things you need to take into consideration is layers clothing.

This is the process of stacking a few different layers of convenient clothing, each of which serves a particular purpose. The designation of the task is to deliver warmth, dryness, comfort and serving as the ultimate protection against weather conditions.

Keep in mind that camping is no joke. A lot of people are going to underestimate the challenges it poses, and are going to suffer as a result. There is nothing worse than wearing inappropriate clothes when you camp out.

You never know what the weather is going to be like and trusting the weather forecast might not always be a great idea. What is more, if you plan to scale any mountains, the higher you get, the colder the weather is going to be.Soon, your clothes might be insufficient in providing you with the warmth you need to stay comfortable.

backpacking and preparing layers of clothes

What is more, the layering of clothes provides not only insulation but also protection from moisture. If it suddenly starts raining, the last thing you want when you are out hiking or camping out is to get wet. This is going to make you feel extremely uncomfortable.

Not to mention that it’s rather dangerous as your health can start to suffer. With all this being said, we’ve taken the liberty of providing you with some insight on how to get it done properly. This particular guide is going to help you go through this undertaking so that you’ll know how to layer your clothes the right way and get the most out of them.

What to Take into Account

Layering your clothes is a tested method that guarantees to safeguard your comfort when you are out in the open. The best thing about this simple undertaking lies within the fact that it enables you to make rather quick adjustments which are thoroughly based on the activity level, as well as with the changes in weather conditions.

There are three different layers, and each one of them has a particular function that it serves.

  • base layer: is stacked closely to your skin, and is designed to manage the moisture.
  • insulating layer: is located right atop the base layer, and is designed to protect you against cold weather.
  • shell layer or the outer layer: is designed to shield you from the wind as well as from rain.

In order to adapt to the particular situation you can simply add or remove a layer as it’s needed. That way, you’re in maximum control of your comfort without having to lug around a ton of extra gear.

A hiker in the woods resting on a bridge

We are going to take a look at the specifications regarding layered clothing and the things that you need to take into account in order to achieve the optimum levels of comfort. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the different layers individually and determine their specifications and purpose.

The base layer – managing the moisture

As we mentioned above, the base layer is located right next to your skin. It is designated to regulate and manage your body temperature. The way it does that is by moving your perspiration away from the skin, thus ensuring that you don’t get sweaty and wet as a result.

By keeping you dry, the base layer is going to ensure that you keep a cooler body temperature during the hot season and it’s going to help you avoid conditions such as hypothermia during the colder months.

If you’ve ever worn a T-shirt made of cotton underneath your waterproof coat when you’ve gone hiking during a rainy day, you are likely to be no stranger to the feeling of being cold, clammy and wet regardless of whether you were protected against the rain. This is because cotton is is going to retain your perspiration, which will actually make you feel chilled.

Marmot Ansgar Jacket as a base layer

If you want to ensure that you’re as comfortable as possible when you are camping, you should have a base layer of clothing made out of merino wool or some synthetic fabrics like polyester. What is more, the less-active users can use silk as the main fabric of their next-to-skin layer.

These particular fabrics are specifically designed to transport the sweat away. They do so by dispersing it out of your clothing, and there, the sweat can easily evaporate. The main result is that you are going to remain dry even when you sweat.

Now, the truth is that a base layer can be anything ranging from briefs as well as sports bras or an actual long underwear set, tights and even T-shirts. Its design is also optional, as it could be designated to fit your body tightly or it could remain loose. It’s all based on your preferences and camping needs.

The middle layer – ensuring thermal insulation

This particular layer is solely designed to retain the heat of your body by trapping of the warm air closer to your body. It is important to place an emphasis on it, especially if you are camping out in a mountain terrain where it’s likely to get cold as the sun sets.

Now, the thing that you should take into account is that some natural fibers much like wool as well as goose down are particularly excellent fabrics for insulation. Merino wool sweaters as well as shirts, for instance, are quite soft and are great at retain the heat very well, even when they are wet.

If you are going camping or hiking in very cold weather conditions, then you might want to consider wearing a layer that has goose down as stuffing. It is without a doubt the best for this situation.

Layers Clothing: Doing It The Proper Way

It offers incomparable warmth-to-weight ratio and the entire thing is particularly compressible, making it portable and easy to stack away. However, the main drawback of this material is that it needs to be kept dry in order to maintain the high insulating ability.

Classic fleece made out of different synthetics are going to provide you with warmth for a wide range of different conditions. They are lightweight, they are breathable and they are going to provide insulation even when you are wet.

What is more, they have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than wool and are also known to dry rather quickly. However, they are rather bulky and they won’t insulate perfect from windy conditions.

Of course, just like thermal underwear, fleece tops are actually available in three different weights which are divided as it follows:

  • Lightweight: for mild climates or aerobic activities
  • Mid-weight: for rather moderate activity and regular climate
  • Expedition-weight middle layered clothing: for very cold climates and when you do little to no activity at all.

The shell layer – protection from the weather conditions

Now, the shell layer is particularly important as it’s going to protect you from the fury of the elements such as rain, snow and wind. Shells are going to range from extremely expensive and specialized mountaineering jackets to some simple windproof solutions.

See also: Best Ski Clothing Brands: How to Find Your Best Fit for the Slopes

The majority of them are going to allow at least some of the perspiration to escape and literally all of them provide waterproof capabilities, as they are all treated with durable water repellent. This basically means that the water is going to bead up and fall off the fabric instead of soaking it.

GORE-TEX® Active Shell Laminate

The outer layer of clothing should be windproof as well, especially in bad weather. However, it’s important that it’s also breathable, as without the ventilation of your sweat, it wouldn’t be able to evaporate, and will condense inside of your shell instead. This can leave you feeling colder, no matter ho many layers you’re wearing.

Another thing that you have to consider is the fit. The outer layer of clothing needs to be spacious enough so that it easily fits the remaining layers without restricting your movement in any way. To sum it up, the shell layer can be split into these categories:

  • Waterproof and breathable shells: These are by far the most functional ones and that’s why they are also the ones which are most expensive. They are best for wet and cool conditions, and for alpine camping activities. They use laminated membranes in order to ensure the highest possible performance. These coatings are usually categorized as rainwear and mountaineering wear, which offer different levels of packability.
  • Water-resistant and breathable shells: These are specifically designated for light precipitation as well as high levels of activity. They are less expensive than the above solutions and they are typically made out of fabrics which are tightly woven like mini-ripstop nylon, for instance.
  • Softer shells: These are usually going to emphasize breathability. This means that they are going to be focused towards getting the perspiration dispersed. They manage to combine two layers in into one, increasing their isolation properties. They come designed for cold and for mild weather.
  • Non-breathable waterproof shells. These are typically made out of rather sturdy and polyurethane-coated nylon. This fabric is windproof and waterproof but it’s also not going to allow the sweat to escape. They are perfect for rainy days and if you plan on rather light activities. Check out our comparative article on the hyvent vs. gore-tex to give you more insight.

Now, the best thing about this particular concept is that you can easily adapt to the designated weather conditions. For instance, when you walk out in the late summer season for a camp in the woods and you start getting to significant altitudes where you want to establish your camp, you will quickly find that the nights are going to be particularly colder. That’s when your two layers – the mid- and the outer ones are going to come in quite handy.

However, through the day, when you are hiking in rather hot summer temperatures you can easily remove them and hike in your base layer in order to ensure your comfort. This is particularly convenient and it brings quite a lot of versatility in your hiking undertakings.

Don’t Forget Accessories

Even with all of your layers, you can still feel a bit cold and comfortable if you don’t pack the essential accessories that you need. This includes gloves, hats, socks, and the proper boots. Do check out our review of the best women’s winter gloves to find out more. The human body regulates its temperature through the feet, so even if you’re wearing three layers of clothing, you can still feel the chill if your feet are exposed.

Blue marmot light jacket and hand gloves

Keep in mind to being along socks of various materials to compensate for any fluctuations in temperatures: light, breathable, moisture-wicking socks for hotter climates, and thicker, wool socks for colder climates. See our must-read article on how to choose the best ankle socks to keep your feet dry and toasty.

The boots or hiking shoes you wear should also be tested to withstand the varying temperatures you may face, especially if you’re planning on traveling to or through higher altitudes. Getting frostbite is no laughing matter.

Final Words

Remember that layered clothing is by far the simplest and easiest way to ensure that you are well-protected from the weather conditions. What is more, the chance to remove and to add layers on demand is going to be very beneficial.

Green marmot jacket

Of course, it’s good to take into account the levels of activity as well as the preliminary weather report in order to determine the type of clothing that you are going to include in each layer. Keep in mind that they are going to be different if you are hiking out in the middle of the winter and in the middle of the summer.

One would require you to go for lightweight water-proof shells in cases of rainy days and stable mid layer for insulation while the other might actually require you to wear expedition-weight clothing to deliver the highest amounts of heat retention.

In any case, these are considerations that you’d have to figure out on your own. Once you’ve gotten and implemented this particular concept, everything is going to be a lot more convenient and appropriate for your camping undertakings.


Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.