How To Layer Up For Outdoors
One thing that became apparent to me after years of working in the angling trade is how little my fellow anglers know about the performance of fabrics they are wearing and how to layer up for outdoors. I’ve lost count of the amount of anglers that when purchasing a pair of breathable waders or breathable over-trousers tell me they “wear a pair of jeans underneath them” – read on to find out why you shouldn’t do this!
I believe it’s something as participators of an outdoor sport we really need to “know our onions” when it comes to clothing, especially now more and more of us are fishing all year round. For me my clothing is just as important as my tackle, I’ve spent a lot of money on my outdoor clothing, I need it to be reliable to keep me comfortable all day . That said, it doesn’t mean you have too spend a fortune to layer up for outdoors, this can be done on any budget!
So what do I mean by layering your clothing?
It’s about wearing the appropriate clothing layers to avoid overheating when active and still keep warm when not. If like me you have lengthy walks to get to your favourite fishing spots then it’s highly likely your going to break into a sweat on route. In cold temperatures perspiration left next to your skin will cool, lowering your body temperature making you feel “cold”. When your outdoors in winter there is very few ways to re-heat once you become cold, so to avoid this situation we need to layer our clothing wearing moisture wicking breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin allowing us to fish more comfortably.
So how do we do that?
Easy, I’m going to show you the “3 layer rule” that I follow when choosing my clothing for the colder sessions. In warmer temperatures you can remove either layer to suit.
Layer 1 – The Base Layer
Like all good building work it starts with good foundations. Worn next to the skin the base layers purpose is to efficiently transport moisture from your skin allowing it to evaporate, and trap a thin layer of warm air close to the body. Base layers tend to be made from two types of fabrics; Merino Wool or Synthetic fabrics. Avoid cotton at all costs! Cotton has poor moisture wicking properties and acts like a sponge, absorbing up to double it’s weight in moisture then leaves this moisture next to the skin, not good.
Merino wool is a natural fibre and is the more expensive of the two fabrics. It offers superior warmth and odour resistance over synthetic fabrics. Although merino wool doesn’t wick moisture as efficiently as synthetic fabrics this doesn’t effect it’s thermal performance, merino wool has outstanding heat retention, even when wet and exposed to the wind.
Synthetic fabrics are man made fabrics. Synthetic Base Layers can be found at varying price levels from as little as £6.99 to to over £60.00 per garment, basically the more you pay the better the fabrics performance is, i.e better moisture management, drying time and thermal regulation. Synthetic base layers are constructed from non-absorbent fibres that transport moisture away from the skin and spread it over a large area for quicker evaporation. Synthetic fibres are more affordable and have faster drying times than Merino wool, but less thermal regulation. It’s important when purchasing your base layer to make sure the garments are a close fit for colder conditions, loose fit for hot and humid conditions.
Layer 2 – The Mid Layer
The mid layer or insulating layer is worn over the base layer, it’s purpose is to provide warmth. Fleece layers make perfect mid layers, they have good insulating properties and breathability, their synthetic construction of nonabsorbent fibres also assist the moisture wicking process. Fleeces come in various weights, for example; Micro, Lightweight, Midweight or Heavyweight. As a general rule of thumb the heavier the fleece the better the insulation but the less breathable it becomes, so pick your fleece weight according to conditions and your level of activity. Like the base layer for best thermal performance they should be a close fit to prevent excessive air movement and trap in the warmth.
Also worth considering as either an addition to your fleece layer in really cold conditions, an alternative to fleece or as an outer layer in dry conditions are Ultralight Down and Primaloft garments. Primaloft is a synthetic material with incredible performance, if you ever get the chance to try on a clothing garment utilising this material you will be blown away by the instant heat retention. Unlike other synthetics Primaloft’s heat retention properties are not lost when wet. It is also highly breathable and compressible. (See my Patagonia nano puff hoody review here.)
Down gives the best warmth to weight ratio when compared against synthetic insulators. Down is ultra-lightweight, has good moisture wicking properties, amazing compressibility and superior longevity. When maintained properly down can hold it’s loft/shape for years. There are down-sides however (excuse the pun). Price is probably the most concerning, it’s simply not an affordable option to most outdoor enthusiasts. It also requires special cleaning, either dry cleaning or using mild specialist detergents to avoid damaging downs natural loft. Down also loses it’s insulation properties when wet and is slow to dry making it best suited for cold dry conditions.
Layer 3 – The Outer Layer
Worn on the outside of the previous layers the Outer Layer’s purpose is to provide the final layer of protection against the wind, rain and cold. It must be breathable or it will render the other layers work useless. There are two main types of waterproof jackets/trousers; Waterproof Membrane or DWR Coated.
Waterproof Membrane jacket/trousers have superior moisture management/breathability over coated Jackets. Gore-Tex is probably the most well known of the membrane’s, others worth mentioning are E-Vent and Patagonia’s H2NO. These breathable waterproof membranes have microscopic pores that effectively let body moisture out and keep water droplets out. Membranes tend to be more expensive although there are some affordable options available.
DWR Coated Jacket/trousers have no membrane and are instead coated with a durable water repellency. This DWR coating is applied to the surface of the fabric to repel water droplets, through time this will wear off from abrasion and dirt. This is easily re-applied using Nik-Wax TX-Direct in either “wash in” or “spray on”. The most important thing to remember is this must only be applied to a clean garment, if the item is dirty it must be washed first with Nik-Wax Tech Wash making sure there is no detergent in the machine. Then you can either apply the TX-Direct Spray On to the wet garment or put through another cycle with the TX-Direct Wash-In. People are frightened to wash waterproof jackets/trousers for fear of ruining them, truth is when done correctly it’s much better for the performance of the item. DWR coated jackets are also breathable but considerably less than membrane counterparts.
In reasonable weather with only a slight possibility of light showers, DWR treated Soft Shell Jacket/trousers can make good outer layers. They offer good breathability, wind protection and moderate rain protection. Soft shell’s are available in a range of budgets from as little as £20 to over £250. I own 2 Simms Windstopper Softshell Hoody’s, they have been worn in some healthy showers and they’ve kept me dry.
Underwear shouldn’t be overlooked, in sub-zero temperatures avoid cotton underwear for reasons we spoke about previously. I wear these Simms Merino wool socks, you can also get cheaper synthetic alternatives like these Heat Holders socks.
Buffs, I rarely fish without one these days especially the Polar Buff in winter. They come in a variety of types including Polar Buffs. UV Angling Buffs, Original Buffs and Reversible Buffs are the most common types. I confess to owning at least two of each, be warned they are very more-ish. Buffs have become an angling fashion accessory over the past couple of years, not only do they look cool they are functional and comfortable to wear.
Please note the suggested items are only personal opinions/suggestions and there is no bias. I hope this gives you a better understanding about how to layer up your clothing for outdoor pursuits. If there’s anything I’ve missed or anyone has their own layering tips please leave a message for us.
Callum Conner MD/Head Guide