Layering Tips - Getting it Right

Layering is a way to use your clothing system to regulate your body temperature, so you remain comfortable across several temperatures.

Layering is key to any activity outside, whether commuting, traveling, or hiking. When you layer your clothes correctly, you have a better chance to forget about the weather, allowing your focus to be centered around what you are doing. A lot of people often think layering is a complicated science, needing to understand fabrics, systems, and temperatures. But, really, layering is not complicated at all, especially in a city environment.

Let me show you a good way to think about layering, and maybe you’ll understand the theory of it.

To understand how layering works, you need to know the function of each layer:

  • Base layer (closest to the skin): wicks sweat off your skin
  • Middle layer (insulating layer): help retain or ccomfortably maintaining body heat to protect you from the cold
  • Outer layer (shell layer): protects you from wind and/or rain

The basic idea is that, as you go out, you adjust the layers as needed: remove a layer as things get warmer, or you are active, and add layers if it's getting colder, wetter, or you become static and want to retain body heat.

Below you will find some tips about basic layering choices.

When It’s Warm - Temps Over 65°F/18°C

Light-weight fabrics, cotton based, but with some synthetic materials thrown in the mix for moisture management. We all know that cotton remains wet once it gets wet. Many brands developed cotton blends that have several different synthetic fabrics mixed in. This allows for better wicking of sweat as it builds, and faster drying time of the pieces.

When It’s Chilly / Cool - Temps In The 45-55°F/7-12°C Range

A basic two-piece layering system consisting of a shirt and a light jacket. If you add some wind-resistance and/or rain protection to the jacket, you’ll be covered for most eventualities. This simple layering system should trap a little bit of the natural body heat and maintain a constant temperature inside the jacket, allowing some heat to escape. The key is to have a good, light jacket.

Colder Weather - Temps Around 32°F/0°C And Below

A more focused three-piece layer system that includes a shirt or t-shirt, sweater or light fleece, and a jacket. The jacket can be mid-weight or light-weight, depending on the sweater. If you have a light wool sweater, then the jacket should be a little thicker, whereas if you have a thicker jacket or fleece, the jacket can remain lighter. Again, the idea is to keep the warmth inside, but allow enough to escape as to not overheat.

Below Comfortable Cold - Temps Around 20°F/-6°C And Below

The full layer system: a base layer, a shirt, a sweater or fleece, and a wind resistant, insulated, puffy jacket. To complete the layering, a heavy fabric pair of pants, a beanie (wool or fleece), gloves if needed, and a pair of good winter-weight socks. The good thing about this layering style, is that if you are commuting on a train, you can remove the jacket and fleece, and be comfortable. Then don them again when you walk into the cold. Simple. The one thing I would focus, thought, is on materials. I would try to get synthetic materials as much as I can, for weight and moisture management.


I hope this brings some light into the theory of layering, and how it can help. I know it takes some playing around with, but it’s simple enough that everyone can do it. You’ll be more comfortable and ready for anything the city has to offer.