Layering clothing and mountaineering

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Vivvi 23 Oct 2009
I don't know the basic principles of layering - could someone please help? I'm going to be doing my first winter mountaineering trip to Scotland next year (likely to be mostly walking rather than climbing) and don't know what best to wear/buy.
 Dan_S 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:

The basic principles of layering are:

A baselayer - a synthetic or wool layer that draws sweat away from your body to keep you dryer

A mid-layer - a layer to keep you warm, something like a fleece jumper or jacket

An outer-layer - a layer to keep the weather out, so something waterproof is normally used.

For example, clothing for Scotland, if you aren't a particularly cold person could consist of a Helly hansen Polypropelene baselayer, a 100 weight fleece top, and a gore-tex or event waterproof jacket.
Vivvi 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Dan_S:

Really helpful. Thank you. As I DO tend to feel the cold, anything else you'd recommend?
 TobyA 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi: I've written an article on this for UKC that should be published soonish. It will hopefully answer this exact question. I'll see if I can find out from the UKC editors when it is likely to be viewable.
Blackadder 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi: Note, however, that relatively recent advances in the outdoor clothing industry have led to the blurring of the lines when it comes to layers.

For example, the Rab Vapour Rise smock/jacket can be worn next to the skin and is water-repellent*.

(* Unlike Nick Griffin, who is simply repellent).
Vivvi 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Blackadder:

Thanks. I think that's why I've been finding it a bit confusing.

Toby - will very much look forward to that article.
 Dan_S 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:

If you really feel the cold, you can get different weights of fleece, 100, 200 and 300 weight which get warmer as the weight increases. You can also get "fluffy" fleeces made out of "thermal pro" which are supposed to be very warm for their weight.

Gore-tex and event have no real thermal benefit as they're just basically plastic bags designed to keep wetness from passing through. Paramo make waterproofs that work on a different idea, but are considered by most people to be very warm.

If you really feel the cold, then also have a look at Bufalo DP system or Montane extreme clothing, which consist of a fluffy pile lining with a windproof, and water-resistant outer. These are very very warm jackets though.
 fimm 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:

You may also go for layers on your legs; for example, I wear thermal leggings, then a pair of warm trousers, and then a pair of waterproof salopettes when it is really cold. Others have warmer trousers (and might have a different pair for the warmer condiditions where I wouldn't bother with the thermals) or trousers that are mostly wind/waterproof (thus potetially dispensing with my salopette layer).
Sharket 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:

I'm a cold sort too and I go for:
On the top -
Thermals (helly hansen lifa, smart wool, or similar)
A fleece (thickness depends on how cold I think I'll be)
A soft shell jacket (e.g. North Face Apex or similar, most companies do one)
A hard shell waterproof jacket

On the bottom -
Soft shell trousers (pretty wind and water proof but not totally)
Hard shell waterproof if needed

Downside to all of this is it's not cheap, I've collected all my layers over the years through various activites and shop sales etc. Also I don't often have to wear smart clothes to work so do come in in soft shell trousers if it's reasonably minging, and wear my climbing hard shell as a winter waterproof.
Jon Hemlock 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Dan_S:
> (In reply to Vivvi)
> For example, clothing for Scotland, if you aren't a particularly cold person could consist of a Helly hansen Polypropelene baselayer, a 100 weight fleece top, and a gore-tex or event waterproof jacket.

By way of verification this ^^ is how I roll. I'm generally a warm person.

If it's really cold, i.e. constantly 0 or below, I'll usually add a cotton shirt over the base layer.
Blackadder 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:
> Thanks. I think that's why I've been finding it a bit confusing.

Yeah, it used to be simple and straightforward - a wicking baselayer next to your skin, with a warm, insulating layer over that and a waterproof (e.g. Gore-Tex) on top.

Now, people like Rab and Paramo are doing weird and wonderful things with new fabrics and designs.

Having said that, you won't go far wrong with the old layering technique in a Scottish winter.
 marsbar 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi: You could have more than one mid layer if you tend to get cold, just make sure you don't end up unable to move! I tend to wear a vest type top, a long sleeve thermal, a thin fleece, a thick fleece and then a waterproof if needed. My outer fleece is windproof so I don't always bother with the waterproof. I wear thermal leggings under my trousers. Make sure your hands and feet and head are nice and warm too.
 fishy1 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi: I wear an icebreaker 260 top as a base layer, then over that, a paramo alto jacket (I think it's the alto, it's about 7 years old and appartently is a three season jacket.) This would keep me warm if I'm moving around. If stopped for the day, I'd wear a paramo trail shirt as well as a mid layer. For belays, I put a generic polypropelene fleece over the top. But I am eying up a proper belay jacket.

And on my legs, I wear paramo cascada trousers. These are brilliant, waterproof, cool enough to wear on cool summer days, but warm enough to wear in winter. I've never had cold legs with them, I wear them next to skin, and have never put hardshell trousers on top, don't need it. Although in winter I have gaiters almost up to my knees which may account for some of the warmth. The pocket zips (not the venting ones) on the trousers are crap though, always jamming, but it's a small price to pay.
 jamestheyip 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:

Surprised no one yet mentioned, the main benefit of layering is that you can adjust the amount of clothing you wear according to the weather change so that you don't get too warm or too sweaty. For example on a normal Scottish winter outing I might have 5 layers:

1. thermal underwear/silk/thin woolen top
2. a thin fleece top (Powerstretch)
3. a thicker fleece/softshell
4. hardshell (Goretex/Event/H2No)
5. belay jacket (water resistant with lofty synthetic insulation)

-start walking in 1&2
-remove 2 as I warm up
-put on 4 as it starts to rain
-as I got above snowline it gets cold so I put on 2&3
-climb in 1,2,3,4 or 1,2,3 or 1,2,4 depending on temperature and wetness
-as it gets cold at belay I put on 5
-remove layers during descend

For trousers I normally just use tight thin fleece pants (Powerstretch) plus hardshell when required. This year I'll try single layer softshell trousers as my skin is allergic to some fleece material. Our legs are normally more tolerant to temperature changes.
 Joe G 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:
I think it's important to mention that you don't have to break the bank on fancy gear. Cotton next to the skin is not a good idea and you need a windproof (ideally waterproof and breathable as well) jacket and trousers. You can get wicking baselayers from Aldi from as little as £3 if they're in stock, there are plenty cheap but ok waterproofs these days. Cheap fleece tops from tesco and woolly jumpers from charity shops are all fine, just see what works for you.
In reply to Vivvi: Rather than fleece you could consider one of the lightweight jackets filled with Primaloft or such like. Just as warm, some windproofing and water resistance which could delay having to put the outer shell on.

In reply to Vivvi:

> I don't know the basic principles of layering - could someone please help?

The essence of layering is balancing the heat generation of your body aganst the heat losses to the environment.

For active sports, body heat is generated largely as a consequence of your muscle activity, and there is a wide variation in heat output between high activity, and rest; factors of 7:1 are not uncommon.

The body controls the loss of excess heat by sweating (and thus heat of vaporisation of the sweated water), so you need a way to allow this evaporated water to escape from your clothing system. Body heat is also lost by radiation, convection and conduction.

When your body heat output becomes lower than the heat losses from body to environment, you need to stop the loss of body heat.

So, a layering system will usually start with a base, or comfort layer next to the skin. Its purpose is to wick sweat from the surface of the skin, and encourage evaporation of sweat. This wicking helps to keep the skin feeling dry and comfortable, and the evaporation aids heat loss.

Next, we will generally add a mid, or insulation layer. The purpose of this is to trap warm air next to the body, whilst allowing the evaporated sweat to escape from the clothing system. If we're not working hard, we need the insulation to keep us warm. If we are working hard, we may need to remove this mid layer, or somehow allow the trapped warm air and evaporated sweat to escape. Thus, mid layers usually consist of material with a fairly open structure, that is efficient at trapping air, and yet allows air moisture to pass through it if necessary. Fleece is very good at this.

Now, in windy conditions, the open, permeable nature of the mid layer means that the warm air can be easily stripped from it, so its insulating properties are severely reduced. One way to overcome this is to use a thicker layer of fleece. However, the downside of this is that it can be too hot when there is no wind, or if you add the next layer.

The next layer is a protection layer or shell, to keep out wind and rain. Traditionally, this is waterproof shell, to keep out rain, since rain conducts heat from the body much, much better than air does, and encourages evaporative losses as well. If a mid layer gets saturated with water, it will no longer insulate, since the trapped air has been replaced by much more thermally conductive water.

Traditionally, the waterproof has also been used as a windproof, to stop the mid layer losing heat. However, despite all the manufacturers claims, their fabrics really aren't breathable enough to allow enough sweat to escape; "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry" should have the caveat "from the outside". You will get wet from sweat on the inside.

A solution to this is to adjust the layering system slightly from a traditional base, 200 weight fleece, waterproof, to add a lightweight windproof layer. This layer is significantly more breathable than a waterproof, and will increase the efficiency of any insulation worn under it, since it will stop warm air being blown out of the insulation. As a result, a lighter mid layer insulation layer can be used; a 100 weight fleece, for instance.

Even then, it can be useful to have good venting options in the outer layer, to control the amount of air that passes through the mid layer, thus allowing you to regulate your temperature.

Now, since you will probably become inactive at some point during the day, since we have reduced the level of fixed insulation in the mid-layer, we may need to add another insulation layer to cope with the reduced heat output of the body at rest. This can be done by adding another mid layer under the shell layer, or by adding an insulating layer over the top of all the other layers. This latter approach is usually called a belay jacket, since it's often worn when your static on a belay... Ideally, this layer will be very weight efficient, using down or a good synthetic down equivalent, so that it's light and compact to carry, but adds a lot of insulation. It might usefully be water resistant, or even waterproof, depending on where and how you intend to use it.

So, we have a five layer system:

base layer
mid layer
windproof layer
waterproof layer
static insulation layer

If it's not raining, your 'action system' will generally consist of some combination of the first three items. When you stop, you add your static layer to reduce heat loss.

With this system, we can cope with a wide range of conditions:
If it's warm and still, you wear a base layer
If it's warm and windy, you wear a base layer and windproof shell on top
If it's cool and still, you wear a base layer and a suitably warm midlayer.
If it's cool and windy, you wear a base layer and a suitably warm midlayer, and a windproof shell to stop the warm air being blown from the midlayer.
If it's raining, you decide whether your windproof will provide adequate water resistance, and, if not, replace it with your waterproof.
If you're static, you can put the belay jacket on over all your other clothes.

Now, there are further complications with the 'soft shell', a very vague term that covers items that span the layer system, depending on the type of soft shell. They can range from things that are base and shell layers combined, to things that combine base, mid and waterproof shell. I find that, whilst they have advantages for specific climatic and activity conditions, they can be a little too narrowly-focussed, and lack versatility. And I have 25 of the things...

If you're new to the layering system, I'd suggest starting with the five-layer system I mentioned above, as it is versatile, and can cope with most conditions. Only when you've got some experience of using it, and knowing what you need, and what seems to work for you, would I suggest that you thinking about getting a soft shell.

Individual layers have advantages over combined layer items:

You can choose the weight of midlayer to suit the weather conditions; lightweight for warmish weather, heavier weight for cooler weather.
You can pick the windproof to suit the activity; lightweight for walking, more robust for scrambling and climbing.
You can replace each of the items as they wear out.
You can wash and proof each layer as appropriate.

On the other hand, individual layers have disadvantages over combined items:

Venting arrangements are harder to combine (i.e. geting vents to line up)
Multiple layers may bind on each other, making movement harder
You can end up faffing with donning and doffing layers all the time.

Hope this helps.
 ring ouzel 23 Oct 2009
In reply to captain paranoia: If this site had sticky posts that would surely be one of them! Very good post.
 csab1978 23 Oct 2009
In reply to Vivvi:
At the end of the day you need to find a layering system that works for you. You can take the above great advice and modify it. Go out and practice, everyone is different. e.g i was in -15 in Jotunheimen, Norway 2 weeks ago, i had only a Patagonia R1 fleece and a ME Kongur, as apossed to my friend who had a thin baselayer, thick Brynje 3 layer fleece and then a Norrøna primaloft jacket and still complained he was cold.
Practice makes perfect.

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