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Layering 101


Original Post
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

So, I have to add winter activities to my outdoor mix. I'm a bike commuter, and bike a lot, weather permitting, and have close access to great foothills trails and 50+ miles of paved greenbelt literally just out the door from work. Lots of hilly hikes on up to real alpine stuff, not far away.

The big ticket stuff is off the table, as is skiing, for now, but hiking, walking, and maybe snowshoeing up a "peak" are all possibilities. "Peak" meaning maybe 1-2,000 foot gain, probably still not much elevation, and freezing, but not frigid, temps, say, teens/high single digit on the low end, in calm conditions. I want to be comfortable moving at those temps, and safe if it goes to crap.

What I don't have is the proper clothes, or the knowledge to shop. Up until now, it's just been a matter of wearing enough to slog through whatever to get to the bus, and not freeze to death standing there.

I've got a nice pair of waterproof over the ankle Asolo hikers, so my feet are dry and warm. Other than that, I have to make a bunch of purchases. I don't have much money, so I'll be shopping at a great gear consignment shop here, but need to know what to be watching for, and general things to keep in mind or avoid. That might not translate to the "best jacket in the world" is "this", the typical sort of thread on here, so thanks in advance for helping out my noobness. Please assume I know nothing.

Besides, sooner or later, someone else will want this, and might as well blaze the path of ignorance and save them the embarassment of asking!

Yes, almost sixty years old and she's asking for help on dressing herself. Ah well.

Best, Helen

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

I would say a good place to start would be with warm base layers. This is where a bit of splurging will actually be worth it, as the merino wool (Icebreaker, Smartwool) will keep you warm and also dry quickly if you exert yourself and sweat, which is a big concern for winter hiking (there is a phrase that is not exactly hyperbolic: cotton kills). Same goes for socks...definitely worth having one $20 pair of socks, even if it seems ridiculous. You might be at a disadvantage since it's winter season, but you can usually get this stuff at a steep discount if you shop around and are patient.

Steve Williams · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 235

I agree about the base layers.
But I prefer capeline (patagucci). You might find some
for sale on ebay or craigslist, or even here on MP.
Then fleece for a next layer. If nothing else, you could
probably find fleece at a local thrift shop for cheap.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

As for layering, you want your bottom layer to be moisture wicking (think something like under armor type shirt). You want your outer layer to protect you from wind and rain. If you plan on skiing in the future, this outer layer must be 100% waterproof and really wind resistant. The middle layers which are insulating can be wool which is a bit heavier, not quite as nice, dries slow as fuck but it much easier on the wallet. Your run of the mill polyester or other synthetic material jacket can be a really good mid-layer. For bottoms, long underwear (polyester or other synthetic) as the base and then a synthetic pant and/or rain/wind shell on the outsides depending on conditions. For bottoms I really like polyester long johns, 100% polyester pajama pants and then lightweight water/windproof pants. If I'm skiing and it's fucking frigid I'll upgrade the lightweight outer layer to insulated ski pants.

Your layering system will really have to be a trial and error system you develop over time and adjust according to conditions. The above stuff about bottom, middle, and outerlayer functions is pretty universal, but you can play around with materials and styles of apparel based on personal preference, budget, local conditions, etc. Also, don't expect to just find the perfect layering system because it takes time. I've been struggling with it for almost 5 years now and I'm just starting to get the hang of it.

P.S. If you're having problems with frozen/cold extremities (where I really struggle) the following stuff helps:

good hydration improves circulation and therefore warmth
Warm core and legs allows blood to focus warming efforts on the outer extremities
When it's just fucking freezing and the above doesn't help, hand/foot warmers can be the difference between toastiness and screaming barfies, especially if you have bad circulation in your outer extremities.

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162
Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,745

Re. base layer material - I usually wear wool long johns. They don't typically get wet unless I sit in a puddle, and I've had them forever and just like them. Upper body is another story. I've had just about every fabric there is, and for me there's no substituting for a thin, lightly napped polyester long sleeve. Fit should be fairly snug but not body-hugging (Under Armor, I'm looking at you). Nylon is bad - it's just about as cold as cotton when it's damp. Polypro is passe; I threw out my stinky PP items years ago. Wool is the old "warm when wet" choice, and you can pay $$$ for the new stuff. But for me - grinding uphill with a pack pressed tightly against my perspiring back - wool stays wet all day. By contrast, my polyester will get just as damp on the 1 hour approach hike but is dry by the top of the first pitch and stays dry all day. My merino wool tops (I've tried several) stay wet for at least a few hours and often all day. Warm, sure, but I'll take DRY and warm over DAMP and warm any day. Others clearly disagree; but it's my $0.02.

Mid layer(s) is fleece or Primaloft-insulated layer (the latter slides into a shell more easily than fleece) of a thickness that suits the temperature and your exertion level.

Outer layer is to suit the precipitation and wind. If it's sunny and calm, no shell is needed. Breezy? A lightweight jacket of any tightly woven material is good. My favorite? OR's Ferrosi cloth. Obviously if it's wet you need a proper water-shedding shell.

mark felber · · Wheat Ridge, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 28

Like everyone said, a good base layer and a good pair of socks are crucial, and a good hat is important, too. In my experience, wool long underwear is warmer than synthetics like Capilene, but it costs more and doesn't seem to last as long. The synthetics also retain body odors more than wool, but they dry out faster after you wash them.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Thanks, all! First question, is wool washable for these underlayers? All the other materials too? Meaning, in a washer and dryer.

Kyle, thanks for all the links! I'll get to them, but it's also nice to have a conversation with live bodies.

OLH

Sunny-D · · SLC, Utah · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 700

For base layers I really like the wool blend that gives you the benefits of wool and synthetics OR and Rab both have excellent ones.
Mark Twights book Extreme Alpimism has an awesome chapter on clothing. This system works for more then just climbing.
Light base layer
100 weight fleece power stretch, R1 (Patagonia), any light grid fleece
Wind shirt or softshell
Then layer over this as needed
I find that I don't wear hard shells 95% of the time. This is working outside 6 days a week even in the snow. It has to be raining or blizzarding to warrant hard shells.
My favorite piece of clothing that I own is a marmot driclime wind shirt it's a little old school but is still one of the best pieces of kit you can get (underwear, mid layer, and outer wear all in one) you can find them for cheap.

Bottoms
Wool blend base layer or stretch fleece
Soft shell pant.
I almost never wear hard shell pants

Pm for more info I have full class syllabuses for my college courses on this topic
Dallen

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Old lady H wrote: Kyle, thanks for all the links! I'll get to them, but it's also nice to have a conversation with live bodies. OLH
You have to read the responses with the "live bodies," so why don't you read the educational articles? Either way, you are forced to read! The travesty!

Edit: The main thing to remember is, "Cotton kills." There's some truth to that adage.
Michael Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 765
Sunny-D wrote:For base layers I really like the wool blend that gives you the benefits of wool and synthetics OR and Rab both have excellent ones. Mark Twights book Extreme Alpimism has an awesome chapter on clothing. This system works for more then just climbing. Light base layer 100 weight fleece power stretch, R1 (Patagonia), any light grid fleece Wind shirt or softshell Then layer over this as needed I find that I don't wear hard shells 95% of the time. This is working outside 6 days a week even in the snow. It has to be raining or blizzarding to warrant hard shells. My favorite piece of clothing that I own is a marmot driclime wind shirt it's a little old school but is still one of the best pieces of kit you can get (underwear, mid layer, and outer wear all in one) you can find them for cheap. Bottoms Wool blend base layer or stretch fleece Soft shell pant. I almost never wear hard shell pants Pm for more info I have full class syllabuses for my college courses on this topic Dallen
beyond his info not included that one wind shirt in three sizes
One as the base layer (skin, undergarment, Marmot Dri-climb)
One sized medium to large as a climbing layer over mid weight vest and the1st wind shirt.
And an extra large size it can be worn when snowing till it is saturated.
The choices for water proof Non-breathable 'hard Shells ? Look to paddling and fishing
'bomber' or short torso length jackets.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
Old lady H wrote:Thanks, all! First question, is wool washable for these underlayers? All the other materials too? Meaning, in a washer and dryer. Kyle, thanks for all the links! I'll get to them, but it's also nice to have a conversation with live bodies. OLH
Wool is washable, but shrinks in the drier - I line dry mine. For synthetics, it depends, but most can go in the drier under low setting. It should also be mentioned that wool doesn't absorb odors in the same way that cotton or synthetics do, so you won't feel like you have to wash it as often.
Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162
Old lady H wrote:First question, is wool washable for these underlayers? All the other materials too? Meaning, in a washer and dryer.
http://www.icebreaker.com/en/customer-service/product-information/service-product-information.html

smartwool.com/discover/why-…

patagonia.com/product-care.…

Old lady H wrote:Kyle, thanks for all the links! I'll get to them, but it's also nice to have a conversation with live bodies.
What knot should I use to tie two ropes together for rappelling?
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

@Frank no reply, really, just wanted to "at" ya. Bumped into an ancient thread yesterday with baby pics!

@ Sunny Geez. Syllabi? If I get stuck I might take you up on it.

@ Michael, why a bomber length for the topmost, especially if it's pouring/sleeting/blizzard sideways? I would have guessed longer.

All, I am working outside tomorrow, up to 5 hours in and out of a vehicle and buildings, loading and unloading outside. Wind chill -20, they say. Oh boy.

Wish I got this project rolling a month ago!

Well, at least it's carte blanche to eat like a pig.

All, thanks. I'll compile the works, do my homework from Kyle, and add in questions. Unfortunately, pay day's aways out.

Best, Helen

Uh, so. Remember where I said to assume I know nothing?

"Hard shell" tortoises, "soft shell" crabs, if ya live in Maryland?

And, sorry, OR is the state next to ID?

Ignernce is bliss, but embarrassing. At least I'm old enough I know nobody expects much! Ha!

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Kyle Tarry wrote: icebreaker.com/en/customer-… smartwool.com/discover/why-… patagonia.com/product-care.… What knot should I use to tie two ropes together for rappelling?
I know how to tie a proper hangman's noose. Will that do?

Actually, if I remember correctly, it's the euro death flat eight Flemish fold. Wait. I think that's a cat breed. Bother.

Kyle, be careful or I'll expect ya to come say howdy some time.
FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

OLH,

You mean baby pics like these, when Missy the German Shepherd was a small fry?

When Missy was smaller than Champ

Knee high to a grasshopper
Lovey Harwood · · MA · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 325

If you sew, you can make your own base layers. In addition to hats and neck gaitors, I make my own merino wool top and bottom base layers - purchase the fabric from California. It's super easy to make and costs less than buying ready-made. I re-use the same style of sewing pattern over again.

Michael Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 765

Edit :
nice pups!
And yes
sow your own!

Hey there!
Short Vrs long?
. The long Mnt parka is a standard.
But paddling and fishing Waterproof/breathable (?!) jackets Rule for wet weather.
The need for a skirt like coat with cargo pockets & a full length back 'skirt' are nice (for sitting)
but when skiing, snow shoe or hiking in less than perfect conditions, The tails or that
extra length is only helping 'Osmosis' the common way that drawing moisture from the open bottom trapping it between & finds its way through layers. The inside 'tail or skirt is always the culprit.
If you have a hard shell with daul zippers you will inevitably slide the zipper up to get at a harness tie in point,( if you have need for a harness )

Fritz N. · · Durango, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 115

OLH, it's always a pleasure reading your posts.

I used to do a respectable amount of winterplay (ski/snowshoe mountaineering and snowbiking, mostly). Here are a few pieces of kit that have worked well for me in temps down to -30F around Lake City, CO. For what it's worth, I spent a winter at 9200' sleeping in the accommodations pictured below, so I feel like my warmth systems were pretty dialed.

- OR Windstopper balaclava. Countering the wind chill is always high-priority for me.

- Patagonads Houdini windshirt or OR Helium shell. When moving, all I usually need on my core is a base layer and windshell.

- Down or fleece vest to throw on over the shell when stopped briefly, or under for extra warmth.

- Hooded down jacket for longer breaks.

- Gaiters to prevent snow from burrowing into my socks.

- Hand/foot warmers have had a 0% success rate with me despite many and varied attempts. I prefer a thermos of hot tea and a diet rich in cayenne pepper to promote circulation.

Just for fun -- home sweet home for winter 2010-11
Sunny-D · · SLC, Utah · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 700

OR=Outdoor Research Seattle based company
Hard shell= goretex, Event, H2no, any waterproof/breathable. Some are better then others.
Soft shell= (open a can of worms). My definition is something that blocks wind slightly water repellent and very breathable. Patagonia Houdini, OR ferocity soft shell jacket, marmot driclime ( one of the original soft shells) breathable is key for me.
Dallen

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 998

OLH,

I've had really good results using Kenyon base-layers. You can get them cheap through STP ( Kenyon at STP) ). You could get a couple sets of tops and bottoms in various weights for the same price as a single Patagonia capilene piece. I really doubt you'd be able to tell the difference in performance. I originally got a few pieces for work, because I didn't want to trash my "good stuff". Turns out it works just fine and I have been using them for skiing, ice climbing, hiking, working etc for the past few years. It is surprisingly durable and at $10-20/piece, you won't cry when it gets worn out. I haven't (the wife hasn't) noticed any nasty odor issues and they don't really require any special care. Made in the US, FWIW.

The rest of the layering system is somewhat condition/activity dependent. In 90% of winter conditions (down to say 5F), I usually will run the following:
-Base layer (light to mid weight)
-A gridded fleece (MH Desna, Pata R1)
-Softshell jacket/pants
-A puffy over the top for light activity periods

If I know it will be wet (skiing, melty waterfalls), I'll change out the softshells for hard.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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