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Layered Clothing System

The layered clothing system is a clever and practical way of dressing, that implies wearing a series of different garments (layers) in a well defined order dictated by the specific function of each garment. This way of dressing offers two main benefits: versatility and comfort. The system lets each layer work specifically on the task that it has been designed for and, at the same time, is much more flexible offering much more freedom to place or remove one or more elements of the system, depending on the varying weather conditions and needs.

The three main layers

  1. Base layer
  2. Insulation layer
  3. Outer shell

The layering system is composed of three main layers: a base layer, an insulation layer, and an outer shell. This basic scheme may be modified according to personal tastes, habits, and needs. For example, one can wear more intermediate insulating layers when the temperature is particularly low, while in dry conditions, when a water-proof shell is not necessary, a wind-proof garment can be worn instead as outer shell. For warm and rainy climates a protective water-proof hard shell on top of the base layer is sufficient. The optimal combination of course may vary considerably depending on weather conditions and temperature, as well as on the kind of activity we need to perform.

Base Layer

Base layer
The base layer is the innermost layer, the one that is directly worn on the skin. Breathable shirts, pants, underwear, and socks compose the base layer. The main task of these garments is to rapidly drain sweat and moisture away from the surface of the skin and to let it rapidly evaporate in order to keep the skin dry.

Base layers can be made of synthetic materials, such as Polyester or Polypropylene, or high-quality wool, such as Merino wool. Synthetic fibers offer the advantage of being more "water repellent", in the sense that they do not soak up with water, but instead "covey" and spread moisture and water droplets on a larger surface, therefore favoring evaporation. Merino wool works following the same principle, but it adds extra insulation and it is, therefore, better suited for cooler temperatures. Various combinations of synthetic fibers and wool in different ratios are also available, suited to different temperature ranges.

A helpful new addition to many of the modern base layers is some kind of Anti-odor treatment. These treatments may be very effective at limiting the "stink factor", which has always been a serious problem of synthetic base layers. Many of the new anti-odor systems are based on silver, which efficiently acts as anti-microbial, and are even advertised as "eco-friendly". 

Insulation Layer

Insulation layer
The insulation layer is the intermediate layer that is in charge of retaining body heat. Most modern insulating garments are made of synthetic materials, such as fleece and other synthetic insulating micro fibers. Also down filling is used in many of the new generation of so called "insulators". 

Fleeces offer the twofold advantage of being particularly warm in relation to their weight and of being relatively quick and efficient in drying. Thanks to their particular micro structure these fibers keep providing insulation even when wet.

Insulators are garments that can be filled up either with synthetic fibers or with down, their performances being very similar and depending exclusively on their volume or thickness. Synthetic fibers dry more quickly, they are resistant and durable, and require less care compared to down.

The insulating garments represent the core of the layering system. By virtue of their light weight, stretchability, compressibility, and durability they are very versatile garments that you might want to have handy in many situations out there.

Outer Shell

Outer shell
This is the outermost layer of the system and is the one that serves as an external protecting shell. This layer should protect us from the natural elements, such as wind, rain, or snow, but also, at least partially, from accidental hits, scrapes, and rips.

Either totally or partially waterproof, or windproof this layer not only protects us from the external elements but also helps trapping body heat close to the body surface, simply adding a further obstacle in between the escape path of heat toward the surrounding medium.

The outer shells can be broadly subdivided into two subcategories:

Hard shells, which opt for the use of more waterproof or windproof, but less breathable plastic membranes.

Soft shells, both with and without membranes, that are water-resistant to a lesser degree, but much more breathable.