Extensive Guide To Layering Clothing | Stay Warm & Dry

Are you someone who would wear a heavy jacket like me while stepping out in the winter?  Soon you start feeling hot and unzip the jacket. Next, you may be zipping it back when you begin to feel cold again. Meanwhile, you may need to scrub the zip of your jacket if it gets stuck. You continue repeating the process of zipping and unzipping depending on temperature. It’s not the case with layering clothing.  

The most sensible way to dress when you go out is layering. Layering helps you control the temperature of your body. You just need to put on or take out the layers depending upon the weather or activity. 

Table of Contents

You can also achieve a stylish and elegant look through layered clothing without much effort. Moreover, you don’t have to entirely change your costume even if there is a drastic temperature change. You may find it complicated in the beginning if you aren’t a seasoned camper. However, it’s not very difficult to learn if you understand the basics of layering and practice a bit.

The following guide will help you layer your clothing without difficulty and make you comfy and secure outdoors.  

What’s Layering

Wearing a cumbersome jacket is enticing in cold weather to many people. However, the most efficacious technique to dress outdoors in winter is layering. Layering clothing fundamentally means wearing multiple clothing instead of a heavy one and staying warm or cold using this dressing technique. You can layer not only tops, jackets, etc. but also leggings and trousers. 

Layers typically consist of thick and thin layers. A thin layer is light in weight, but it could still be warmer than the thick layer as the body heat stuck in between the layers works as thermal insulation. If you feel warm and want to cool yourself down, you just need to take out a layer or two. By taking out a layer or more, you decrease the air or heat stuck between the layers. You achieve such flexibility in layering clothing.   

It helps you get ready for a diverse range of temperatures without taking out your entire clothing. Some of you may find it a little bit intimidating initially, but if you study a bit about it and practice, you would learn it in no time. 

Types Of Layers

The golden rule of layering is three layers. You can still increase or decrease the number of layers according to the season, atmosphere,  your forbearance, and the activities you involve. So far as I’m concerned, I prefer having a little bit cold rather than hot. 

There are primarily three types of layering  – 

  • Base Layer
  • Middle Layer
  • Outer Layer

These layers act to achieve different objectives. Let’s discuss in detail about each of them.

Base Layer

The base layer is the layering clothing’s foundation that helps the wearer feel comfortable by keeping warm and dry. It’s the part of the layering that directly touches your skin. So, you want it to be smooth to avoid scratching with your skin. The base layer’s primary function is to wick away the moisture that may cause hypothermia and control the body temperature.   

What sort of fabric you would use depends upon the weather, level of activity, and the warmth you want to achieve. I can tell straight away that you must avoid anything made of cotton for the base layer. You may feel comfortable in cotton, but it’ll be of no help as far as keeping you dry is concerned as it retains moisture and makes you feel cold. If you are hiking through a dense wood, you’ll start feeling very uncomfortable in no time. 

You have an extensive range of fabric choices for base layers, the natural ones like merino wool and silk, or synthetics like polyester and nylon. Each fabric is slightly different from the other in wicking away the moisture, lastingness, and stink absorbency. You can read more about how to choose base layers here

Wool Base Layer

You might still remember how nightmarish it was to wear the woolen clothing given by your granny. It’s not the case when it comes to wearing the base layers made of merino wool, considered the best fabric for base layers. 

Wool is a mixture of water-resistant, odor control, and wicking substances. The Comfortableness of the wool depends on the softness of merino wool used in the base layer.

Merino wool can soak up 30-40% of moisture and still maintains dryness. Its soft-touch gives you an incredible experience. A similar weight of merino wool base layer would make you warmer than a synthetic base layer. 

Excellent temperature control, breathability, and long-life make the wool a fantastic choice for the base layer.

The only disadvantage of wool is it takes a long time to get dry. However, you don’t have to clean it very often as it has natural antimicrobial substances. It tends to be more costly and may last less long than synthetics. 

Synthetic Base Layer

Synthetic fabrics like polyester, polyethylene, microfiber, and recycled polyester aren’t excellent absorbent. So they take more time to get dry. However, these fabrics are low-priced. They are easy to take care of and can wick away the moisture fast. Such materials can quickly turn into nasty-smelling if antimicrobial treatment isn’t given. You may go for it, but it’s not a perfect choice for the base layer.

You should check the weight of the fabric and whether it fits you perfectly. Base layers are available in various weights – light to heavy. Go for lightweight with good wicking. Don’t bother about insulation as it’ll be taken care of by Middle Layer.  

The most popular base layers are long & short sleeve thermal tops, leggings, tank tops, long underwear, long john thermals, etc. During the hot summer, you may not want to wear long underwear. You can use the summer shirt as a base layer that can wick away the humidity. 

You can use boxers, briefs, and bras as base layers when the temperature is high. In winter, you can use it under long undergarments. You may also want to use UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) as a base layer.  

Middle Layer

Middle Layer can be called as ‘Insulation Layer.’ The objective of the middle layer is to keep you warm and give the insulation. The base layer can’t capture the warmth of your body. It’s where the role of the middle layer comes in. The middle layer retains the body’s warmth and shields the cold air from penetrating into your body. The more expeditiously the middle layer captures the heat, the warmer you would feel. 

The fitting of the middle layer must be loose to have the insulating air between the layers. But, too much gap between the layers would mitigate the moisture transmission. On the contrary, the middle layer with loose-fitting helps extract moisture through airflow.

Like base layers, you have the choice of both natural and synthetic materials. The most common middle layers are Wool, Polyester Fleece, Down, Synthetic & Cotton. 

Wool Mid Layer

Wool is one of the conventional middle layers with various characteristics. It’s popular because of its superb insulation in wet conditions. It can soak up the moisture quickly. The most extraordinary thing about wool is it doesn’t let you feel wet even when it contains and transmits considerable humidity. 

Fleece Mid Layer

Fleece made out of PETE or other synthetics like polyester has many characteristics of wool. You can stay warm even when you get wet in fleece. It can dry fast as it absorbs too little moisture. It is unlikely to get overheated as it can breathe well. 

There is a disadvantage of good breathability. The wind can run through and take away the warmth. So, you should wear a shell layer along with the fleece or a wind fleece that has a wind-blocking membrane. 

Down Mid Layer

The warmth and weight ratio of down are great, so you feel more warmth than other materials used for insulation. You can easily pack it as it’s compressed. Down jackets have excellent resisting power against moisture and wind as it comes inside the shell fabric.

The disadvantage is it tends to lose its insulating effectiveness in wet conditions. It’s also a bit expensive. 

Synthetic Mid Layer

The usage of synthetic insulation is the same as down. The only difference is it doesn’t have a pleasing warmth and weight ratio like down. It’s ideal for the rainy season as it can hold the insulation even when it’s soaked. 

It can dry instantly and retain a tiny amount of moisture. Synthetic insulation can give extra resistance against water and wind as it’s inside the shell fabric. It’s not very expensive as well.

Cotton Mid Layer

Cotton can be considered as an inexpensive option for the middle layer. You can go for a cotton option if you need less transfer of insulation and moisture. Cotton is the wrong choice if you need to engage yourself in outdoor activities. 

Outer Layer

The outer layer is also called the shell layer, your frontline of protection from wind, water, and snow. Technically the outer layer helps moisture go out and shield wind and water from coming inside.

The fabrics used in the outer layer have breathability and water-resistance to prevent the elements like rain, snow, and wind from penetrating.  It also lets the moisture and heat escape your body to keep you cool. 

The outer layer shouldn’t be too loose to ensure that all the warmth doesn’t go away. It shouldn’t also be too tight, so you stay comfortable. 

You can regulate the temperature of the body yourself by using the layering system. If you start feeling cold, you simply need to take out the fleece from your bag. You need to reduce the layers if you feel hot after hiking or workout. It’s something that is not possible without a layering system.  

Read on to understand the different kinds of outer layers below. 

Hard Shells

These are the most effective and expensive options to protect yourself from the most hostile weather. A waterproof hard shell is the best choice if you’re expecting constant rain. Hard Shells are waterproof, breathable, and durable. 

Taped seams and convenient waterproof zips are the critical features of hard shells to make it fully waterproof. These are made of the materials that have breathability despite being waterproof. One of the best brands for hard shells is  Gore-Tex.

Soft Shells

You have the flexibility to choose between hard and soft outer layers depending on the weather condition. You can opt for soft shells if the weather is cold and dry. In such a climate, waterproof is not necessary; water-resistant may be adequate. The standard fabrics of soft shells are polyester or tightly woven nylon.  

Soft shells are known for their breathability, comfort, flexibility, and low-cost. It’s generally more breathable than waterproofs, but it doesn’t have the same protection from heavy rain or snowfall as waterproof outer layers typically have. Nevertheless, some waterproof soft shells like polartec neoshell or DryQ Elite have been developed recently with the advancement of the technology. 

You don’t have to use a middle layer if you combine soft shells with a waterproof outer layer. 

Insulating Outer Layer

An insulated or synthetic jacket is the best bet as an outer layer in chilly weather. These aren’t as flexible as layering options, especially if you’re expecting fluctuation of temperature and getting involved in intermittent activities. 

Plastic Raincoats

The basic shells like Plastic raincoats may be adequate on a rainy day with light activities like fishing or no activity. They can give you total protection from rain and wind but may not help control the moisture. You can address this air circulation issue by picking up a raincoat that’s loose at the bottom and has flap-covered holes. 

How To Do Layering

You have no absolute system of layering clothing that would be suitable for everyone and in all weather conditions. This is where the layering clothing system comes into play. You just need to add, remove or interchange some layers depending on the following factors –

  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Level of Activity
  • Comfort


Temperature is the most critical factor that influences your selection of layers. You must take the external and internal temperature into consideration while layering your clothing.

Layering in Cold weather

Your inner layer should be insulating yet breathable. You are highly likely to sweat at one point or another if you wear a perfect insulated layered outfit regardless of how chilly the weather is. So, you should have the internal layers that are capable of managing temperature and sweat both. 

Medium-weight long undergarments made of wool, polyester, or silk are ideal for keeping you warm and dry.

You may opt for the fabrics suitable for cold weather for the rest of your layers. It could be the amalgamation of a wide range of insulating fabrics like wool, corduroy, cashmere, flannel, heavy cotton, etc. A jacket with synthetic insulation and medium weight fleece pants can be perfect. Leggings made of wool or leather are warmer than the ones made of nylon. 

Accessories like gloves, scarves, caps, etc. have more significance in cold weather to stay warm. You can use layering in these accessories too. You have to follow the same rules of layering here. 

For your hands, you may pick lightweight, stretchable glove liners to maintain proper blood circulation. The same applies to your feet. You may also wear a hat beneath your hood during freezing weather.

Another stylish way to stay warm is layering the scarves. One of the most well-known styles is to tie one scarf more firmly around the neck and to let the other one hang loose. 

Layering in Warm Weather

You should have the outer layer light in weight. It may be a light sweatshirt, windbreaker, cardigan, etc. that you can wear in warm weather.

Warm weather fabrics like poplin, linen, light cotton, etc. are perfect for warm weather. These are lightweight, and insulation is lesser than cold weather fabrics. Such fabrics help whisk away the sweat. 

Avoid visible inner layers as warm weather clothing is often translucent. Inner layers of gray color are the best choice to reduce the visibility.

Keep things simple. One of the most traditional casual styles is to wear an unbuttoned shirt over a tank top or short-sleeve synthetic t-shirt. Lightweight wind jackets and nylon hiking pants are also commonly used in warm weather. Wearing a sleeveless vest over a shirt with a long-sleeve shirt is another fashionable option.  


It’s one of the most crucial elements you have to consider while choosing the outer layer for rain or snow. Don’t forget that you can always remove it as soon as the weather changes.

Dry is not always great. Dry is acceptable as long as you don’t feel boiling. You’ll understand the level of breathability in waterproof and water-resistant shells in such weather conditions.  This is what precisely distinguishes a top-quality outer layer from an inferior one. 

Layering in such weather should be like – Top & bottom long underwear made of polyester, fleece jacket, hiking pants made of synthetic, breathable & waterproof rain jacket, and pants with a lot of ventilation. Make sure that all these clothes are lightweight.

Level of Activity

Your clothing’s breathability becomes even more imperative if you plan to be involved in a high level of activities like snowshoe hiking, cross-country skiing trails, etc. These activities will burn a lot of calories, which leads to a lot of heat. Your clothing should be loose-fitting and stretchable. 


Comfort is subjective. What is comfortable for me may not be comfortable for you. So, you got to pick up your clothing as per your liking. Moreover, clothing plays a crucial role in how comfortable your trip is going to be. Nothing can be better than layering to stay comfortable during your trip.

Weather changes dramatically sometimes, and it can affect your current comfort level. You get the flexibility of adjusting to the unpredictable weather in layering clothing without much effort.   

Taking Care Of Layers

You must read and follow the instructions of everything you have bought. I generally avoid buying the clothes that need dry cleaning. If you have any such preferences, you must read the instructions before you buy them.

You may need to pay special attention to some of your top quality materials. For instance, you may need to use mild detergents to keep your down jackets clean and soft. You should give the coatings on waterproof shells from time to time.  

Avoid using a top-loading washing machine for delicate clothes. Handwashing is sufficient for such sensitive garments. 


Layering clothing is a great way to dress with lots of flexibility in the unpredictable weather. The most beautiful thing about it is that you just need to add, remove, or swap one or more layers depending on the weather. 

Share this post with your friends

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top