There’s no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. That’s why if you’re not wearing the right clothes, a 6-mile hike can easily feel like a 16-mile one. This article looks at how to dress appropriately when out in the great outdoors, whatever the activity, using the three-layer clothing system.

The Three-Layer Clothing System for the Great Outdoors

Wearing inappropriate clothing when you’re out and about in the great outdoors can spoil even the most leisurely of pursuits. While a combination of everyday clothing may keep you warm and dry while being active outdoors, it’s inconvenient if you have to keep stopping to take layers off and put them back on. Anyone who wants to get the most from their time outdoors should dress using the three-layer clothing system, comprising a base layer (or next-to-skin layer), an insulation layer, and an outer layer. Most of the clothing you see in today’s outdoor stores is manufactured to be worn as part of this three-layer system, which is designed not only to protect you from the elements, but also to enable your body to maintain a comfortable temperature before and after exercise, regardless of the weather conditions.

The Base Layer

The base layer is the layer that’s worn next to the skin (hence its alternative term, next-to-skin layer). When hiking it’s probable that you’ll sweat, as a result of exertion, and then cool down, and repeat this cycle a few times during your time outdoors. And if you’re not wearing appropriate clothing this process can result in
“after-exercise chill.” Because while an everyday cotton t-shirt will capture moisture in the form of sweat from your body, it will stay cool a long time after your body has begun to warm up again, making you feel uncomfortable as well as increasing the chances of your body under-cooling as it’s forced to increase its heat production to compensate. A proper base layer, however, will retain moisture and transport it away from the skin to the surface where it can evaporate. The typical characteristics of a base layer are absorption of a small percentage of its weight in moisture making it very quick drying; manufactured from very lightweight and durable
fibers treated so as not to irritate the skin or retain body odors.

The Insulation Layer

The insulation layer is the next layer worm over the base layer. The purpose of the insulation layer is to retain body heat. It does this by creating a layer of still air which helps to decrease the heat exchange between the body and the outside elements. Insulation layers are mostly manufactured from polyesters, the fibers of which are treated to enable them to trap air. This trapped air forms the protective layer that provides the main insulation. Treated polyesters also have the same moisture wicking properties as base layers, transporting moisture to the outer layer and drying very quickly. The most popular materials for insulation layers are natural fibers (e.g.wool), and polyester fleece. However, natural fibers have to be kept dry for them to be able to retain warmth,
whereas polyester fleece is lightweight, breathable, and insulates even when wet.

The Outer Layer

The outer layer, or shell, has three main purposes:

  • To protect from wind, rain and now
  • To rid the body of moisture
  • To protect from chafing, cuts, scrapes and anything else that may case bodily damage

Of these three purposes, the outer layer’s primary purpose is to keep external moisture out. And although the fabric is essential when it comes to making a garment waterproof, other aspects also have to be taken into consideration, such as seams and zippers which can let in moisture. Seams should be sealed and coated to help prevent leaking and kept to a minimum: Zippers should either be water proof or well-shielded.

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