Layering Simplified

Layering is the smartest way to dress not only for physical activities outdoors, but also for the urban environment. When done right, layering enables comfort by maintaining proper body temperature, and helping you remain dry and light, two of the key elements of the Urban Commuter Philosophy.

Layering is in its essence placing different pieces on top of each other to help with heat management, sweat prevention, cool down the body, or simply have the ability to adapt to the changing weather or pace of activities. This last point is what we want to focus on here.

I recommend synthetic or wool-based clothing for layering, but you could - if you experiment with it - do it right with cotton. Still, I would invest in good pieces that are low maintenance and dry fast. Also, remember that each layer has to work with the next, as we will see below, and that proper layering also allows you to move freely so you don’t experience restriction or chafing. If it feels uncomfortable is not the right piece.

Different Layers

Base Layer

This is the first layer, worn next to skin to provide warmth and help move sweat away from your skin. Generally, lighter weight base layers are best for warmer conditions or when you move a lot, while heavier weights pieces are great for cool conditions or when you are more static.

Best fabrics:

  • Wool: warm when wet and has natural anti-odor properties.
  • Synthetics: lightweight, dries quickly and is generally easier to clean or wash.

Mid Layer

This is the insulating layer, providing warmth while also continuing to dissipate heat during periods of movement. Consider the weather conditions when selecting the type and weight of this layer.

For the city I usually focus on light to mid-weight pieces. This enables me to remain cool or warm depending on whether I’m inside or outside, or how crowded it is.

Best insulation material:

  • Down: provides the highest warmth-to-weight value, but it's expensive and doesn’t do well in wet conditions.
  • Synthetics: remains warm when wet, and can adapt to more varied conditions.
  • Fleece: super breathable, but because of this it is less weather resistant when worn on its own, without any shell on top. This is great for movement.

Outer Layer

Outer layers protect you from the weather. This layer helps stop rain, snow, and wind. Their fabrics vary from the most weather proof - and less breathable, to the lighter and less weather resistant pieces.

Here is where you need to experiment a bit, but I found that usually a full, lightweight shell (rain jacket) is best for the city. The other fabrics are good, and they have their place, but in my experience they are less useful in an urban environment than a full on shell.

Different fabrics:

  • Waterproof shells: this is your typical rain jacket. They are fully waterproof, windproof and somewhat breathable. Pick one that is lightweight and can be packed small. Leave it in your backpack when not needed.
  • Softshell: This is a more breathable fabric with four-way stretch, helping remain agile, and with some weather resistant outer surface. These are good for light snow and drizzle but they will get soaked on sustained pour. They tend to be heavier than the waterproof shells and don’t pack small.
  • Windblock shells: super lightweight, wind and light rain resistant. These are pieces designed to cut wind. They are great and an emergency piece, for those windy days, but generally speaking they don’t provide a lot of advantage in the city, based on my experience.


Simple does it. Layer the right way and you remain fluid, warm/cool, and blend in. Learn layering and it will also help with traveling, where you can begin to pack less, and rely on layering to adapt to the different weather conditions.

EDIT Feb 15th, 2022.

A few readers requested an example of layering for the city. Here you go.

Fall and Winter

  • Base layer: Arc'teryx A2B LS Polo or Skyline LS Shirt.
  • Mid layer: Arc'teryx Atom LT or Patagonia Macro Puff. Add a sweater under for really cold days, for example the Patagonia Better Sweater Pullover.
  • Outter layer: Arc'teryx Zeta SL Rain Jacket. Or when it's really cold and rainy: Patagonia City Storm Rain Parka.
  • Bottoms: Blufworks 5 Pockets Pants.

Late Spring and Summer

  • Base layer: Arc'teryx Eris SL Polo.
  • Mid layer: Arc'teryx Atom SL Jacket or Vest.
  • Outter layer: Arc'teryx Zeta SL Rain Jacket.
  • Bottoms: Blufworks 5 Pockets Pants, or Patagonia Denim.