Layering Up

As we move into Autumn and start thinking about the Winter it is important to ensure that we are dressing correctly.  Winter walking does not mean chucking on a think jumper and hoping for the best.  This approach is more likely to do more harm than good.  The secret to proper dressing for all the seasons, but especially for Winter, is layering-up.

There are three main layers: Base, Insulation  and Outer.


Base Layer

  • As the name implies is worn next to the skin.
  • Keeps the skin dry by wicking away moisture.
  • Ideally it should be lightweight and dry quickly.

Avoid cotton as this does not offer any insulation when wet and takes too long to dry.  The best material options to consider are merino wool and polyester.

Insulation Layer

  • This is the layer that provides warmth
  • It traps air, keeping the warm air in and the cold air out.
  • It controls the moisture being wicked by the Base layer and ensure adequate heat control.
  • This could, in fact, be several layers rather than one thick layer.  It is better to be able to add or remove layers to help regulate the heat.

The best insulation layers are made of fleece, down and synthetic fibre variants such as Polartec

Outer Layer

  • This is the layer that protects against the rain, snow & wind.
  • It needs to be water and windproof and must be quick drying and very durable.
  • It needs to be long enough that you can sit on it.
  • Ideally it should also be made of breathable material such as Goretex or similar fabric

The Extremities

It is a well know fact that a large amount of our body heat is lost through the head, especially if like me you have little or no hair!  But a large proportion is also lost through the hands and feet.  How many times have you found that your hands and feet are getting cold first?



Headgear is very much down to personal choice but I prefer a hat made from Merino wool with a fleece lining.  Make sure it is large enough to pull down over your ears.  In windy and wet conditions, ensure your outer layer has an attached hood with a stiffened peak.  If conditions get very bad then the use of a balaclava should be considered.

Do not forget the neck either.  I use a buff or similar tube to provide the warmth and insulation I require.


As with the body, the best way to protect the hands is through layering.  Start off with a thin liner glove made from merino wool or a synthetic material.  They must be breathable and light weight.

As the temperature drops, add a further insulating layer of merino wool or fleece gloves or mittens and finally to protect you hands when its raining.  Add a pair of breathable water and wind proof outer gloves.

Each of these layers can be used individually or in different combinations. such as inner and outer when wet but not too cold.


The most important priority with regard to your feet is to keep them dry as well as warm.  To achieve this, again use the layering system.


  • Socks – start with thin merino wool liner socks as the base layer over which I use a wool blend medium to heavy weight sock.
  • Boots – these should be waterproof and preferably breathable as well.
  • Gaiters – finally the outer protective layer is the gaiters.  These need to be waterproof and breathable and should prevent water or snow entering the top of the boot.  Although ankle gaiters are popular, I personally prefer the full calf length gaiters as it also prevents the lower trouser leg from getting wet.

There is no definitive answer or structure to layering.  It is primarily what it says – layers of clothes added to and taken away to control heat, & moisture and protect against the wind and the rain/snow.  Wear what you feel comfortable in but the most important thing to remember is –

At the start of a walk do not dress to be nice and warm in the car park.  Dress to ensure you will not be too warm in 15 minutes time.  If you over dress from the start, you will get too hot and sweet excessively and make your layers too wet and uncomfortable.


One thought on “Layering Up

  1. Pingback: Stay Warm this Winter | Trekmates News

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