As temperatures drop and we experience a blast of winter weather in what has been a mild season so far, the importance of proper layering for outdoor activities becomes paramount. From skiing in high mountain passes, hiking snow covered peaks, or just a chilly dog walk, layers are a key part of my winter wardrobe for many reasons: but comfort and adaptability are at the top of the list!
When I’m planning my layers for any adventure, I always consider where I’m going (altitude, weather forecast, terrain) and how intense the activity will be (the higher impact/more energy expenditure). These two factors are key to plan out the correct number of layers, and if you will need to bring anything extra.
Read on for my tips on how to select the best layers so you can explore no matter the weather.
Start at the Base(layer)
Every warm outfit starts with a baselayer. Choose a baselayer option that is moisture wicking, stretchy, and has a close to body fit. These features will ensure that you can easily layer over the base, as well as hold warmth close to the body. For moisture wicking and temperature regulation, I love to go with a Merino blend baselayer like the Leno and Collant. These pieces are as high performance as they are soft and cozy, and I love the fleecy feel to the inside of this baselayer.
Bonus! The Collant tight is thick enough to be worn as a stand along legging, which is rarely the case with baselayer pants.
I’d argue that the midlayer selection is the most important piece in the puzzle - this is usually the piece that you are wearing for the entirety of your activity, and needs to perform accordingly. For example, when dressing for a winter hike, consider that you will likely be wearing a midlayer for the ascent, summit/lunch/breaks, and the descent. Choose something too hot, and you’ll be down to your baselayer - choose something too cool, and you’ll have to layer with something less breathable. Indyeva has so many great choices in this category, but this season I have been loving the Polartec collabs! These fabrics breathe very well for how much warmth they keep, making them an excellent choice for midlayers. I have been using my Kaula or Pecora fleeces for midlayers on winter activities non-stop this winter, and they are also a great seasonal transition piece, or outer layer when it is mild.
These are the pieces you will use to add warmth to your outfit so far, and are very weather dependent - could be a vest, hybrid jacket, down puffer, or skirt. When choosing which insulators to bring, I usually consider the weather more than I do with the other layers.
For example, on a warmer winter day I may only pack a down jacket to pop on at the summit, while on a colder day, or one I know I will be at a higher elevation for a longer time period, I will bring a heavier down jacket as well as a vest or tunic to layer with. I love the Sulka jacket for how small it packs down, and I’ve also brought my Short Short on several hikes this season as a cozy summit piece.
The Boon Skirt has also been a mainstay in my bag for warmth while moving or sitting to take in the view!
The right shell pieces can make (or break!) your winter outfit. Be sure to remember that while we normally think of shells as a waterproof layer, it’s good to consider them as your escape from the cold winter windchill, as well.
Even in the dry Rocky Mountain climate I call home, I never leave the house without a shell piece to help protect myself from the high winds.
The best shell pieces have a good level of waterproofness as well as breatheability, and I also like to select shell pieces that are made from fabric that doesn’t feel stiff or crunchy in cold temperatures - like the Schale and Maskorra pant/jacket combo.
Extras and Secret Tips
We’ve almost got the perfect setup - but we can’t forget about accessories and extras! Here are a few things I like to add to my bag to make even -25C days a bit warmer.
- Extra pair of merino socks! It’s bad news if your feet get cold or wet in negative temperatures, and having a dry, warm pair of extra socks in your bag is a must.
- Hand warmers - and I break out these bad boys in the parking lot at the start of the activity, even if I’m unsure that I will use them. My hands get cold very quickly, and by that time, I don’t want to wait for the hand warmers to reach a good temperature. I just activate them and stick them in a pocket where they can use body heat to warm up until I need them.
- I usually bring two hats for a hike, ski, or snowshoe, because you will generally get pretty warm on the ascent, and it feels so good to switch to a fresh toque at the summit. I typically bring a running cap style hat for ascending, and switch to my Barrett tuque for major coziness.
- Gloves/Mitts - same as with shell outerwear, a glove or mitt with wind and water protection is key here! Be sure to invest in some good options, and bring multiple pairs (I always have both a glove and a mitt option in my bag).
- A thermos of something warm - my go to is chai tea, but whatever floats your boat. It’s so nice to have something hot to sip on during a winter adventure.
- Apres! Almost as important as the clothing for during the activity - I always make sure to pack a fresh fleece or midlayer, as well as my fleece Hatmi pants, a cozy pair of boots or clogs, and my favourite parka. The parka may seem like overdoing it sometimes, but I’ve never regretted having that layer available if I feel chilled when I arrive back at the parking lot.
Voila! Keep these packing tips in mind this winter, and you’ll go farther, higher, and colder in comfort (and style!). Happy adventuring!