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The Layering System

When out walking, hiking, mountaineering, climbing or mountain biking etc. it is very important to wear clothing designed to protect you from the elements. Not only will correct clothing ensure that you are comfortable and enjoy your activity, it could, and in extreme conditions it will, save your life.

The layering system is an effective way of ensuring that you maintain a comfortable body temperature during and after exercise, no matter what the weather is like. The layering system employs three basic layers which are:

  • Outer Layer - waterproofs to protect you from wind, rain and snow
  • Mid Layer - to provide insulation and keep you warm
  • Base Layer - to provide insulation and wick sweat away from you skin

Outdoor Clothing Layering System

Not only does each layer have its own function within the layering system, but air is also trapped between each layer. The air between the layers keeps you warmer than if you were to wear one thick layer.

The layering system is very flexible. If you are hot you can remove a layer. If you are cold you can add a layer, for example you could use more than one mid layer to help keep you warm.

For the best comfort all layers should be breathable/have wicking capabilities. If one of your layers is not breathable/wicking then the breathable/wicking properties of other layers will not be so effective.

Before going on a walk, expedition or other outdoor activity it is important to think about the type of clothes that you will need to take with you. Some things to consider are:

  • How long will you be away for? The longer you will be away, the less likely you will be able to predict what the weather will be like. You need to be prepared for good and bad weather conditions.
  • When and where are you going? During the winter in Scotland you are not going to need a pair of shorts, but you will definitely need good quality waterproofs. When rambling on a hot summers day in Spain you are unlikely to require five fleece jackets.
  • How high will you be going? It may be hot and sunny in the valley, but as you start to climb the weather can soon get cold and unpredictable. Up in the mountains wind, rain and snow can suddenly appear from out of nowhere.
  • What will you do after your exercise/where will you be staying? You may be plenty warm enough while you are doing your outdoor activity, but as soon as you stop you can become very cold. This is especially true if you have to wait around for a train home, or if you are camping overnight.
  • You may also need additional technical or specialist clothing for your activity, e.g. if you will be climbing your clothing should not restrict your movement, or if you are cycling it is advantagous to have tops with extra long sleeves and back.

It is always wise to take adequate clothing to protect yourself from the elements, but bear in mind that you will have to carry these clothes while you are not wearing them. One piece of good advice is to always take one more layer than you think you need. This rule of thumb generally ensures that you will be well protected and warm enough, but that you do not end up carrying around clothes that you do not need.

Do not forget your extremities. In cold, windy, rainy or snowy conditions you will be glad that you have remembered your gloves and hat!

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Waterproof clothes form the top layer of your clothing system. The function of waterproofs is to prevent you from getting wet and cold when it rains or snows, or when it is windy.

Ideally waterproof fabrics should also be breathable. Breathable waterproof fabrics allow your sweat to be transfered from the inside of your jacket or trousers to the outside, where it can evaporate. By doing this, breathable waterproof fabrics prevent you from getting hot and wet when you are active. When you stop your activity you soon cool down. If your waterproofs are not breathable, the sweat trapped in your clothes can make you very cold indeed. Fabrics can be made breathable by incorporating tiny pores into the material. The pores are much smaller than raindrops but are much larger than water vapour molecules.

Waterproof clothes are also windproof, which helps to keep you warm. A warm layer of air, warmed up by your body, is trapped in your clothes. If your clothes are not windproof this warm layer of air will be blown away and you will become cold.

Waterproof clothes do not hold much warmth and so a fleece and/or base layer are worn underneath your waterproofs to keep you warm.

N.B. To get the best out of breathable waterproofs, the base layer and intermediate layers should also be breathable and have good wicking properties.

There are many breathable waterproof fabrics available, one of the most famous is Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex fabric is used by Sprayway, The North Face and Berghaus. Other waterproof, windproof and breathable fabrics include:

Triplepoint Ceramic Fabric for Lowe Alpine waterproof outdoor gear

Nikwax Analogy used by Paramo

Triple Point Ceramic used by Lowe Alpine

Hydro/dry P2 and Hydro/dry P3 used by Sprayway

Aqua Dry and Aqua Dry Pro used by Craghoppers

Aqua Foil used by Berghaus

HyVent 2 & HyVent 2.5 is a waterproof, breathable fabric utilizing a polyurethane (PU) coatingused by Berghaus.

Gelanots 4 Way Stretch is laminated sportswear fabric which has 4 way stretch capabilities and provides protection against the wind and rain whilst maintaining a constant microclimate on the body surface both at standstill and during intensive physical activities. Gelanots 4 Way Stretch is used by OMM (Original Mountain Marathon).

Cocona® Xcelerator is used by Sprayway and is a laminate of Waterproof Xcelerator fabrics and Cocona (Coconut) fabric, which provides rapid moisture movement and odour absorption.

AQ 2 fabric used by Berghaus is a lightweight fabric that will keep you dry in all but the harshest weather conditions.

AQ 2.5 has an additional protective layer allowing it to be used without an inner liner, making it even more lightweight and packable.

Please see the
CheapTents Glossary of Outdoor Gear for more information on these products.

summer waterproof gear

There are many different types of Gore-Tex fabric, including:

  • Taslan Gore-Tex is tough for rugged use.
  • Kinetic Gore-Tex has a 3 layer construction, is soft with very high tear strength and resistance to abrasion.
  • Gore-Tex XCR can be added to all Gore-Tex fabrics for extra breathability.
  • Gore-Tex Paclite is the lightest, most packable waterproof, windproof, and breathable outerwear garments, GORE-TEX® Paclite® Shells are ideal when weight and space are critical.
  • Gore-Tex Performance Shell has been designed to provide breathable comfort and durable waterproof protection, these shells are ideal for a wide range of outdoor activities and outerwear garment requirements.
  • Gore-Tex Soft Shell has been constructed to be soft and warm with improved freedom of movement. Ideal for reduced layering in colder conditions for your outerwear needs.

Waterproof jackets or trousers made from waterproof materials like the ones above must have taped seems in order for the garment to be totally waterproof. If the seems are not taped, water will leak through them.

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Fleece is a pile fabric that is designed to keep you warm. Fleece is usually made from polyester. It is breathable, wicks water away from the body and provides insulation. Fleece fabric is not waterproof, although it may be water repellent.

Windproof Jackets

Windproof fleeces help to keep you warm. A warm layer of air, warmed up by your body, is trapped in your clothes. If your clothes are not windproof this warm layer of air will be blown away and you will become cold. Windproof clothes are not waterproof, however they may be water-repellent. This means that they will only protect you from rain if there is a light shower. You will need waterproofs to protect you from even moderate rain. Hydro/dry P1 used by Sprayway is a windproof fabric. Some fleece fabrics are also windproof, for more information on these see below.

Garments made from light- or medium-weight fleece are ideal for use as base- and mid-layers. Thicker, windproof fleeces can be used as mid- or top-layers, depending upon the weather conditions.

The following fleece fabrics are windproof:

  • Polartec Windpro
  • Polartec Windbloc
  • Gore Windstopper
  • Craghoppers Windshield

And this is principally the technology that such windproofs use in their construction:

Gore Windstopper Jackets

When fleece material is washed it can suffer from pilling. Pilling is the formation of small balls of fleece material on the surface of the fleece. Pill-resistant fleece material does not suffer from Pilling.

Polartec Fleeces

Polartec Wind Pro is state-of-the-art lightweight and warm fleece fabric. It has a tight knit construction for high wind resistence and fast drying. It is water repellent, breathable, durable and has an anti-microbial finish. It can be machine washed.

Polartec Windbloc is completely windproof, breathable and water repellent.

Polartec 200 series is a midweight, chunky thermal fleece fabric. It provides excellent wicking, is quick drying and has an anti-bacterial finish so that it can be worn next to the skin without getting too smelly.

Polartec 300 series is a chunky thermal fleece with excellent body moisture transfer and quick drying properties.

Aleutian Fleeces

The Aleutian name describes a specially developed range of insulative fabrics, which are manufactured from fleece or pile. These technical fabrics are the culmination of many years of joint development between Lowe Alpine and Malden Mills, the manufacturers of Polartec.

Aleutian Waffle has a chunky grid texture that not only looks good but also enhances its insulation value when worn within a layering system.

Aleutian Cord shows great style when used as midweight outerwear. It also provides valuable insulation within a three layer system in spring or autumn.

Aleutian Marl combines a dense, low pile outer face - for increased wind resistance - with a deep velour inner face - for maximum insulation.

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Base Layers

Ideally base layers (or baselayers) should wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you cool and dry. One way of achieving the wicking property of the fabric is by constructing the fabric from 100% knitted polyester incorporating Denier Gradient Technology (DGT). Coarse yarns are knitted on the inner face of the fabric with finer yarns knitted on the outside of the fabric. This combination of coarse and fine yarns creates a denier gradient, which exerts a capillary pull on moisture from the inside to the outside of the fabric. DGT also vastly increases the surface area of the fabric which accelerates wicking and evaporation so garments dry very quickly. DGT is a physical property of the fabric so will not wash out with time.

Some base layer fabrics are impregnated with anti-bacterial treatment. This prevents the bacteria that produce body odour from developing in the fabric when the garments are worn for prolonged periods.

Polartec 100 is the lightest Polartec fleece fabric. It can be worn alone whilst hiking during warm weather or as a base- or mid-layer in any season.

Polartec Powerstretch is ideal for next to the skin baselayer use and as an intermediate layer. The outer face is a low pill nylon jersey and the inner is a low pile polyester velour. Lycra provides 60% stretch across the length and width for a close fit. The inner pile is treated with a wicking anti-microbial finish to move the moisture away from the body and prevent the build up of odor. Powerstretch is easy care, machine washable and quick drying.

CoolMax Alta is made by DuPont and used by The North Face. It is pill-resistant and engineered to combine excellent moisture management with long-wearing comfort. It is natural feeling fabric, it dries faster than other fabrics available, provides unparalleled moisture wicking, and will not pill wash after wash.

Very light in weight, Aleutian Micro Grid is a double velour with a small grid design on the baselayers face and a lightly brushed back surface. The open structure and light weight makes Micro Grid very breathable. Wicking performance allows these garments to be worn next to the skin.

Dryflo® is made by Lowe Alpine and used in their outdoor clothing, especially baselayers. It is made from 100% polyester fibres that are hydrophobic, resulting in a wicking process that does not absorb moisture (unlike cotton), but uses a unique denier gradient system that mechanically transports moisture away from the body. Dryflo's open knit construction offers high breathability making it the ultimate choice for wearing under waterproof/breathable garments. Dryflo is quick drying, giving next to the skin comfort. Dryflo's wicking and breathable properties also make a Dryflo top the ideal shirt in summer. Thermal properties are often a consideration for the consumer. All Dryflo apparel offer optimum warmth without any adverse effect on the wicking or breathability. There are several types of dryflo, for example Lightweight Dryflo, Fullweight Dryflo, Dryflo Seamless.

Dryflo by Lowe Alpine helps with wicking and breathability

Paramo's reversible shirts are constructed with Parameta S, which S is an asymmetrical wicking fabric that directs water to one face and traps still air in the other.

If you are active or are hot, you need water close to your skin to evaporate and cool you down:
Wear the non-fleecy, water-attracting face next to your skin to keep you cool.
If you are resting or cold, you need a layer of still air next to your skin to keep you warm:
Wear the fleecy, air-containing face next to your skin to keep you warm.

Cotton is a lightweight fabric that will keep you warm and comfortable, however it has no wicking properties and can become saturated with sweat. This is undesirable, especially when you stop exercising and cool down.

If you have any further queries about what outdoor clothing is most suitable for you and your outdoor activities, please do not hesitate to give us a call on 01925 411 385, or alternatively email us.


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