Dressing Right for the Outdoors: The Logic Behind Layering

One of the most important things to remember whenever you step outdoors is that to enjoy what you are doing, you have to be dressed right. It’s a cardinal rule of staying fit on an outdoor or adventure trip.

It’s easy, in today’s climate controlled environment, to dismiss the vagaries of weather when indoors. On a hiking trip or a climbing expedition or a camping holiday, however, you don’t have that luxury. Not dressing right can lead, at the least, to extreme discomfort and unhappiness, and in graver situations, can cause serious health problems like dehydration or pneumonia.

There’s a catch, though. How do you dress right when you are going to be out all day in weather that’s changing from cool to warm to hot to windy and suddenly squally, all in the course of a day’s hike? Or when you are going to be out for a couple of days and need to be prepared for a whole range of eventualities?

Why Outdoor Experts Recommend Dressing in Layers

The trick, as seasoned outdoor experts will tell you, is in layering. That’s right, dressing up, or down, as the weather dictates, in layers. What this means essentially, is breaking up the required warm wear into several units that you can put on or take off one by one, allowing your body to warm up or cool down gradually, in keeping with your level of activity and the temperature you are exposed to at that time.

For instance, if you’re hiking on a cold morning, you begin by wearing several layers of woolens rather than one big overcoat that would keep you really snug. It is recommended that the first layer, especially if you tend to perspire, is an absorbent garment like a cotton vest or thermal wear. The second layer would ideally be of material that traps in the warmth and keeps out the cold, like a figure hugging poly-wool tee. Subsequent layers would be a light woolen garment, then warmer woolen wear, and so on, depending on the chill factor. The outer layer would be a windcheater that keeps you warm and protects you from early morning dew or rain. Of course, you might want to take it off as your activity level increases and your body gets warmed up.

Layering for the Peripherals

Layering of socks would be similar, with the first layer being absorbent cotton socks, then a nylon pair and topped off with woolen socks for really cold conditions. Headgear is equally important. In extreme cold weather, it would be ideal to wear a snug scull cap as a first layer, followed up by a woolen cap, and then if required, a leather cap or a balaclava that also covers your ears and throat. For hands, begin with cotton or woolen gloves, and use leather gloves as an additional layer.

As the day progresses and the temperature rises, peel off one layer at a time. This way you are never too warm or too cold, and your body is in sync with the outside temperature.

How Layering Works to Maintain Body Temperature

The minute you stop to rest, however, your body will start cooling down. Since you don’t want to end up with a chill, this is the time to pull out one of those layers you discarded and get warm. Similarly, if you’ve been in the sun and suddenly walk into a patch of shade, or clouds roll in, the sudden change in temperature might warrant an additional layer of clothing,

If you’re  moving from warmer to colder weather, especially on a hike or climb,  you will need to begin with dressing for warm weather, and carry the layers with you to be pulled on one by one as the temperature drops.

Keep Those Layers Handy

The obvious corollary to this? Yes! You need to provide space for all the layers in your backpack or rucksack, whether they are to be carried and pulled on, or peeled off and carried! And make sure that all of it is within easy and quick reach – for that time when you’re going to begin adding the layers again!

So next time you prepare for an outdoor trip, remember the rule of layers. And be ready to dress up or dress down, come rain or shine or snow!