Written by: Cally Worden
Throwing on an extra jumper to get warm in winter is nothing new. But those clever outdoor clothing manufacturers have taken ‘layering’ to another level and turned the humble act of keeping warm into a technical art form. To outdoor enthusiasts this is old news. For years they have been shelling out good money for effective system clothing that, when used right, keeps you toasty and dry whatever the weather. As this phenomenon shifts to the high street here is your Working Parent guide to Layering that will ensure you stay fashionable and warm this winter.
Sorting the Basics – Base Layer
When layering, it’s important to remember that each successive item of clothing you layer on has a specific function to perform. Your Base Layer is the one that sits next to your skin. Its job it to keep you warm and dry and should be quite close-fitting. If you’re moving around even a little bit then you will inevitably sweat a little. If you are wearing cotton against your skin it will soak up the sweat and keep it next to your skin, potentially giving you a chill.
So, avoid cotton Base Layers and choose a ‘wicking’ fabric instead, which is one that actively transfers moisture away from your skin and shifts it outwards through your upper layers. Coolmax, Polartec and Capilene are all good wicking fabrics for Base Layers. If you are going to be out in the cold for a long time be sure to invest in both a top and bottom base layer, with socks and shoes that wick moisture too, to prevent your toes getting frosty.
Keeping Warm – Insulating Layer
The second item in your layering-armoury is your Insulating Layer. Sitting on top of your Base Layer its job is to keep you warm. This can be of a looser fit than the Base Layer, as the air in between also acts as a thermal barrier. As your Base Layer will be shoving moisture in the direction of your Insulating Layer, it’s important that this second layer does not prevent the wet from continuing to move away from your body. Again, avoid anything made from cotton. Down, wool and fleece materials are all have good insulating properties and handle moisture well, wicking it out towards your final layer.
Staying Dry – Outer Layer
The type and quality of your choice of Outer Layer will depend on what you are doing outdoors, and how long you plan to be exposed to the elements. As a general rule you will want your Outer Layer to protect you from both wind and rain. Remember too, that all the moisture from deep beneath your first two layers will need to escape if you are to remain dry. To accommodate this make sure your Outer Layer is breathable (wicking) too. I never really believed the hype about ‘wicking’ and ‘breathability’ until I spent time on a wet hill in waterproofs that didn’t have these properties. I was soaked inside and out, and very very cold. Breathable clothing was top of my outdoor-gear wish list that year. It really does work.
It’s great to layer-up and keep your top and bottom dry, but all your efforts may be in vain if your extremities are poorly protected. Ensure that you have good gloves, a nice warm hat, and preferably shoes or boots that are waterproof and breathable too.
One of the best things about layering is its versatility. If the sun comes out but it’s still cold you can remove your Outer Layer and remain warm. And if it’s wet and humid you can ditch the Insulating Layer and pair your Outer Layer with just a Base Layer. You get what you pay for with proper layering gear, but there are some excellent entry-level manufacturers operating on the high street that cater for the needs of everyone, not just those who enjoy braving the elements for fun. Mountain Warehouse and Trespass both offer an excellent range of reasonably priced gear that looks good, wears well, and does the job. Happy shopping!