What are the Basics of Layering for Cold Weather Outdoor Activity?

What are the Basics of Layering for Cold Weather Outdoor Activity?

When dressing for cooler or colder temperatures there are a few basic guidelines to help you keep warm and dry, and to prevent you from overheating if you are going to be active outdoors. This requires a technique known as layering that gives the wearer the ability to easily put on and shed layers of clothing to effectively manage changing weather conditions as well as body temperature control during activity.

The base layer is the thinnest layer and is designed to be light, fit snugly to your body contour, and possess the ability to wick moisture/sweat away from your skin. The warmth layer (middle layer) is to provide insulation to help keep you warm by trapping body heat that radiates from your body, and must also be sweat absorbent and breathable. The shell layer (outer layer) must shield you from the elements of wind and rain and snow and should also be breathable.

The Art of Layering

The below schematic is to help you visualize how to apply layering according to varying environmental conditions and to provide some examples of layering characteristics and materials or fabrics typically used.

Cool or Warm Weather Dry Weather Cold Weather


Base Layer (thinnest layer)

Base Layer Characteristics

  • Moisture/sweat-wicking
  • Thin (thinnest layer)
  • Fitted to body with the ability to stretch for mobility, possible crewneck
  • Long sleeves w/ thumbholes for draft protection between sleeve and gloves
  • Leggings


  • Synthetics like polyester or nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool or silk

Base Layer +
Warmth Layer (thick layer)

Warmth Layer Characteristics

  • Insulation – to trap the body’s own radiating heat
  • Sweat absorbent
  • Breathable


  • Wool, polyester synthetic polar fleece, goose down, cashmere, Gore-tex
  • Zippered jacket with hood – that can be cinched with a drawcord
Base Layer +
Shell Layer (thickest layer)Shell Layer Characteristics

  • Outer Waterproof shell & breathable membrane inside – to keep you dry
  • Wind protection
  • Taped seams & zippered pockets
  • Large enough to fit over everything
  • Treated with durable water repellent


  • Tightly woven and/or coated nylon or polyester fabrics
Base Layer +
Warmth Layer +
Shell LayerThe summation of all three layer characteristics for moisture-wicking, insulation, and wind and waterproof protection.


















Rainy or Snowing Weather



Clothing Layering for Cold Weather Outdoor Activity