How To Layer For Cold Weather

Whether you’re going for a winter hike or just happen to live in an unforgiving environment, layers are always a good idea. Not only is being cold uncomfortable, but it can also have serious implications on your health. 

How To Layer For Cold Weather

There is some debate on how many essential layers there should be when dressing for the cold. This number usually jumps between four and five, but here we are going to concentrate on using the four-layer technique. 

The Four Main Layers

  1. Base Layer
  2. Mid Layer
  3. Outer Layer
  4. Accessories 

Base Layers

The base layer is considered to be the most important layer. As this layer is in constant contact with your skin, they need to be able to absorb your sweat as well as provide warmth. Keeping sweat away from your skin in winter is essential for staying warm. 

Synthetic fibers or merino wool are great insulators and help to absorb moisture such as sweat. Therefore, they are ideal materials to use as a base layer for activities or general dressing. 

Generally, base layers are sold in the form of t-shirts, vests, or long-sleeved shirts. These are tight-fitting to keep the cold out and usually provide more insulation if they have long sleeves. 

Some of these are geared toward sporting activities which means they will have different characteristics and functions. It’s important to buy the appropriate item for your needs. 

Mid Layer

Mid-layers are used to trap body heat, helping you battle the cold. Fleece material is the ideal mid-layer insulator as they help to trap body heat beneath them creating a pocket of warm air around you. 

Jumpers, sweaters, or lightly padded jackets are also good mid-layer clothing items. Wool and down are suitable for the cold, but they also come with some negatives.

For example, down tends to cause overheating when you’re doing physical activities but if you’re going to be stargazing it’s perfect. 

If you are going to be changing from one activity to another and need to manage your temperature, a fleece or hoodie with a zip can help you to do this. 

Pants can also be layered in cold weather. Wool or fleece material works best here too, wool pants or track pants can be a great option to layer up with as they are lightweight and comfortable as well as insulating. 

Outer Layer

The outer layer is there to protect you from the elements such as rain and snow, so having the right one is essential. This layer needs to be something like a thick jacket or coat that can keep your other layers dry. 

Outer layers often have different levels of breathability depending on the level of protection needed. These could be relatively thin waterproof jackets that can be easily packed away on a hike when the weather is mild or a padded waterproof jacket that is suited to colder, dry weather. 

The outer shell needs to be big enough to fit over the other layers and still remain comfortable. Parkas and puffer jackets are always great options for an outer shell. 

If you plan on exposing yourself to a lot of harsh weather, overtrousers can be a great investment. 

These waterproof layers can help keep your nice warm track pants dry when hiking or taking part in winter sports. These can be easily slipped over the top of existing clothing. 


Accessories are another key layer to help to stay warm. Protecting your extremities is so important! 

This is a sign to dig out that knitted scarf your grandma made you last Christmas, as they tend to offer you a lovely layer of warmth and protection during the colder months. 

Other great accessories include beanie hats, woolen socks, gloves, and neck warmers. Often you can find these made from fleece or wool materials in outdoor clothing and sporting goods stores. 

Depending on the activities you’ll be undertaking, these need to have a certain level of flexibility. Gloves that can become fingerless are great for those that are taking part in winter sports or are working outside. 

Everything Can Be Layered

Everything Can Be Layered

In theory, everything you wear can be layered to help keep you warmer but there probably isn’t much use in layering your underpants. Something that can be super useful is to layer your socks!

Keeping your feet warm is a challenge in winter, we also lose a fair amount of heat from our ankles and feet so it’s best to keep them as warm as possible. Playing outside in the snow as a kid would more often than not leave your feet numb and cold because we didn’t layer our socks. 

These socks should be breathable, moisture-absorbing and medium-thick in density. Woolen socks aren’t too bulky, they help to take away any moisture, and they are super warm! Thermal socks are also ideal for maintaining comfort and warmth.

A variety of different other socks are available for different activities such as winter hikes or playing in the snow. 

Note: when buying winter boots, make sure that they will allow for thick woollen socks or layers of thick materials. Take a pair of thick socks with you when you go visit a store to double-check that you don’t need to purchase a bigger size. 

Other Considerations

Depending on the types of activities you get up to out in the cold, you can also purchase a sports balaclava. Usually made from polyester, these go over the head and neck whilst also coming up over the nose to keep your face warm. 

Balaclavas are great for skiing and other winter sports as they keep the sweat away from your neck and head, which is where most of the heat expels from our bodies. The stretchy and breathable material will enable you to enjoy your time outside for longer!

The Bottom Line

Keeping warm during the winter months is essential to keep you healthy and comfortable. Layering is the key way to stay as warm as possible, use these four key layers when you’re next outside to stay happy and warm!

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