Love your layers: A guide to winter layering

When temperatures drop, our bodies do what they can to keep warm. Our muscles shiver, our teeth chatter and we get ‘goosebumps’. This evolutionary reflex is left over from when our ancestors were covered in long hair. It was useful for them - helping to insulate their body - but it’s useless for us! Wearing strategic layers of garments can help keep our skin dry, our body heat in, and the elements out.

But the simplest yet most critical reason to layer? You can remove layers and replace them as weather conditions and activity levels change. So what is ‘layering up’…?

A Base layer

Base layers - a vest, short or long sleeve top, bottoms or shorts - are worn next to your skin. The purpose of this critical layer is to keep your skin dry - and therefore warm - when you exert yourself and begin to sweat.

A base layer should be breathable, transporting moisture vapor away from your skin. It should also ‘wick’ perspiration from the surface of your skin. The best base layers are made from wool or a synthetic polyester blend - both are excellent at wicking.

Synthetic base layers are quicker-drying and can be more durable. On the other hand, they offer virtually no added insulation. Wool traps body heat effectively, and continues to insulate even when wet. It’s breathable too, helping to regulate your core body temperature.

Mid layer

One of the main roles of a mid layer is to provide insulation - trapping body heat in and keeping cold air out. In extreme cold, you might opt for two or more mid layers – perhaps a wool sweater over a wool base layer, followed by a third layer or jacket. If it’s wet, you might add a breathable waterproof shell over the top..

Wearing wool as a mid layer gives your body many advantages, mainly that it is water-resistant and breathable. Yak, merino and other fine wools are much softer and lighter than traditional sheep wool. Wool is naturally antibacterial (so it smells fresher for longer) and hydrophobic, so you can even wear wool as an outer layer in light rain. It also has strong insulation qualities, even when wet (yak wool especially since its fibres are hollow, trapping more heat inside). Some people find wool itchy, but that’s not usually an issue with ultra-fine yarns.

Outer layer

In winter it is advisable to have an outer layer to hand. Its main job is to protect you from the elements, while also allowing excess body heat and vapour to escape. If you’ll be exercising strenuously, a breathable outer layer will help to prevent perspiration building up inside your garment and chilling you when you stop to rest.