The Layering System Explained

The Layering System Explained

Unlike most of my posts, this one has come about at the most opportune moment! We are under a few inches of snow, and with the arctic blast set to continue for a few more days, it’s a great time to revisit the layering system and how best to stay warm and comfortable when outdoors in the cold weather.

In essence, the theory behind this is that several thin layers will keep you warmer than one or two thicker ones. Not only that, but as you warm up through physical exertion, you can easily shed a layer to cool down. Likewise, if conditions deteriorate, you can add a layer to stay warm. Effective and practical! It might seem complicated, but there are only a couple of rules you need to know to make sure you stay warm and cosy throughout your winter adventures.

3 Layers

Basically, the layering system is comprised of three basic layers: a base layer, a mid and then the outer layer. Simple, right? Well, when you take into account the plethora of outdoor gear that’s now available, it can be a little daunting. Hopefully this beginner’s guide will provide all the information you need for normal outdoor activities (I’m talking walking the dog, maybe tackling a few hills at the weekend), if you’re heading to the mountains, or more extreme locations, I’d advise a more in depth look and some expert advice.

Base Layer

The primary function of the base layer is to regulate your body temperature and one of the most effective ways to do this is to keep moisture away from your skin. Imagine you’re out walking on a cold day. As you start moving you perspire, if this stays in contact with your skin and you slow down or the weather worsens, it will cool you down very quickly. Cotton is a bad choice for a base layer as it holds on to the moisture. I personally use synthetic tops, the type of t-shirts you’d wear running or to the gym are perfect. I often wear a long sleeve ‘technical t-shirt’ in the winter, or if it’s particularly cold, I will wear a thermal base layer.

I have definitely needed my thermals this week!

I have been wearing my new Sub Zero Factor 1 Plus thermal top pretty much everyday this last week, including on Sunday when I had to walk to work due to the snow. It has been a godsend and kept me so warm. I love the fact that it is seamless, meaning that it is so comfortable next to my skin, and it also fits really well. It was long enough to tuck into my trousers, which I love. (It might not look sexy, but trust me, you don’t want a cold draught up your back!) I would go as far as to say that this is the most comfortable, well fitting and warmest thermal top I’ve tried.  If you are planning on spending time outdoors in the winter, a decent quality thermal layer is a great investment.

I have been seriously impressed with my Sub Zero thermals, and it’s always good to support products that are made in England

Mid Layer

The mid layer is your insulating layer, this is the bit that is going to keep you warm. My first choice is the humble fleece. Lightweight, cheap and cosy, a fleece is always in my rucksack. I have a few inexpensive ones that I practically live in (luckily they wash well!) throughout the autumn/winter. I usually find that if I’m out walking a decent base layer, followed by a fleece and a coat will be sufficient, however there are other options available. If it is particularly cold, a down jacket is super insulating. Recently, I have taken to layering up with a body warmer. I like the fact that it keeps me warm without being too bulky. At the moment I am loving my Jack Wolfskin body warmer from Outdoor Supply, which has helped to keep me cosy when a fleece is not quite enough.

The Jack Wolfskin Glen Vest has kept me toasty during the recent cold snap.

Outer Layer

The outer layer is your protection against the elements. It needs to be wind and waterproof in order to keep out the worst of the weather. A good quality waterproof will have taped seams, storm flaps and be breathable. Again, if you’re planning on being outside for long periods during the winter, a good quality coat is a wise investment. It’s worth investing in a quality brand, that is going to last a long time and keep you warm and dry. For example, Musto Sailing Clothing is a great option for staying dry in the British winter. For days when it’s not going to rain for long, a soft shell jacket can be a good option. I find that these tend to be warmer and more comfortable, however they are not 100% waterproof. A soft shell can also make a good mid layer on freezing cold days.

A good waterproof is a necessity, as demonstrated here by me and Luke in the Lake District last November


So we’ve talked about keeping your core warm, but please don’t forget your extremities. The layering principle works well for feet too: a couple of pairs of thinner socks is warmer than one thick pair. Also, a pair of gloves and a hat can make a massive difference to how warm you feel. Any old bobble hat will do, but this year I’ve fallen in love with my rather stylish fleece-lined fedora from Sunday Afternoons.

As you know I am all about the practicalities, first and foremost outdoor gear has to work well. Having said that, it’s always a bonus when you find something that is great quality and also looks good. This hat certainly ticks all the right boxes!

I was impressed with the summer offering from Sunday Afternoons, but this warm and cosy fedora is the best winter hat I’ve ever owned. Warm enough for a winter’s walk, but stylish enough to wear out, in fact I loved it so much I was even confident enough to post some selfies on one of my recent instagram stories-and I never do that!

Hopefully this whistle stop tour has given you some ideas on how to stay warm this winter. If you have any tips, or questions, leave me a comment below.

I was gifted a hat by Man OLeisure, a gilet by and a thermal top by SubZero for the purposes of this post. All opinions are my own.



  • Stephanie Lane Stephanie Lane December 20, at 14:20

    First off you look too cute! This is a great post. It drives me crazy to see folks out on the trails in their sweats or a pair of jeans. freezing their butts off!. Even worse, when it’s their kids. #adventurecalling

  • Ashley Beolens Ashley Beolens December 21, at 04:46

    Great advice, layering is such an important part of getting outdoors. #adventurecalling

  • Maid in Dartmoor Maid in Dartmoor December 21, at 18:50

    Loving the hat… that its all. ? #adventurecalling

  • Travelling With Our Kids Travelling With Our Kids December 23, at 21:15

    Great post. Got to love a decent base layer. I wear them even when im not hiking ha! #adventurecalling

  • David - Potty Adventures David - Potty Adventures January 02, at 19:40

    Great advice. It’s so important to get your clothing right, particularly at this time of year. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year. #adventurecalling

  • I am also a big fan of tucking in my base layer so avoid those dreaded draughts up my back! Great post, very informative. I still can’t believe the number of people (parents) who swear by cotton all year round!


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