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Cold Weather Layering 101

The key to a successful outdoor experience lies in your level of preparedness, and when it gets chilly, the right use of clothing (layering) plays a major role. Have you ever been caught in a cold snap and literally frozen your bits off? No? You're either good at booking warm vacations, you're a layering pro (and you may go back to your daily Instagram scroll), or you've gotten lucky so far. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, a few helpful tidbits of layering advice can help you transition from "just guessing" to a consistent, calm and confident level of preparedness that will be a source of envy and inspiration to onlookers.

Let's look at the basics of layering as it pertains to our Wyoming winter climate...

Base layer: 

The layer that touches your skin needs to primarily wick away moisture and provide some temperature control. Whether you snowshoe in the Snowy Range this winter, fall victim to “Mad Pow Disease” up at Rabbit Ears pass, or unofficially race your neighbor skiing at Happy Jack, make sure you've got either a polyester or wool layer comfortably caressing your corpus. Additionally, built-in UV protection offers an added bonus if you'll be active in mid-day sun.

Polyester- employs great wicking properties due to the fibers ability to spread moisture across the fabric and thus keep it away from your skin. Synthetic garments often weigh less, and dry quicker than natural fibers. 

Wool- a natural, renewable resource with anti-microbial properties for high-activity, multi-day trips. Perspiration can prove deadly in cold-weather survival situations; however, during planned aerobic activity, wool fibers simultaneously absorb moisture and release heat. Super soft merino wool wins as the best base layer option in my opinion (check out our last post on Ortovox wool apparel), your body will thank you. 

(Click here to view base layers in our shop)

Middle layer: 

Also known as an insulating layer, this section of our "clothing onion" helps you retain body heat. These layers—how many you employ depends on the daily temperature—trap air in a "dead space," keeping you warmer. The fluffier, puffier, or fuzzier the material, the cozier you are. Here are some textile options: 

Down-a lightweight option offering much warmth that can easily be packed away for later. The higher the fill content, the warmer the garment (450-900 fill). It is slightly water and wind resistant but a shell (see below) is necessary to retain optimal warmth. 

Fleece-a more breathable mid-weight layer, also dries easily and stays warm if it gets a little wet. A fleece underneath a soft or hard shell outer layer is a GREAT combo.

(View our outerwear including fleece and jackets here

Outer layer: 

Outer layers, a.k.a. ‘shells’ are the life-savers when weather turns nasty. Generally, you want these pieces to be waterproof, or at least water resistant, and sturdier than your base layers. In our dry Wyoming climate, breathability is a big plus. Hoods on these outer layers extend that elemental protection over neck and head.

Hard shells-typically the harder the shell the more protection the garment offers; the downside to additional protection is lack of breathability. Gore-Tex, a durable and heavily waterproof fabric, performs very well when you need a lot of protection from the elements, and "pit zips" allow for some air circulation, when desired.

Soft shells-these come in handy when your aerobics increase, you only need some wind or light rain protection, or you’re going for that “oh shit!” layer in your daypack in case of an afternoon squall. Soft shells, finished with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating, pride themselves on being both water resistant, breathable, and more lightweight than a hard shell. 

(Take a look at the shells we carry in the shop here

If you're unsure about the forecast on any given day, pack all three layers because you can always add layers, but you can't conjure any out of thin air (if you can, let's be friends...I need some new skis). 

Additionally, warm socks, gloves, and hats cover our most-vulnerable parts from the cold. Socks can be a game changer; Darn Toughs, in addition to being darn warm, live up to their name (if not, they come with a lifetime guarantee). For your upper ten digits, if it’s not too cold out, pretty much any glove with mostly-five-fingers will do. If it’s cold out, I’d go for fleece-lined gloves. For especially frigid days, I opt for mittens. For hats, wool always keeps your noggin well-protected, and if your ears are sissies, fleece lined options tend to be cozier. 

(View gloves here and hats here