We get a lot of questions at Backcountry Essentials about layering. Realistically, it’s different for everyone because we all have different needs and these needs change throughout our lives. The best way to describe learning about layering is as a lifetime pursuit of curiosity, problem solving, and fun.
The basics of layering typically include a baselayer for moisture management from your body, a shell for keeping the elements at bay, and a mid-layer in between depending on the day and activity level. Baselayers can be synthetic, which tend to wick moisture and dry fast, or wool, that feels great next to the skin even when wet, but tends to dry slower. Shells vary by weight, durability, breathability, and price (typically, you get to choose 2 of these as a priority). But it’s in the mid-layer that the nuances live. Do you go for a fleece because of warmth, durability, or price; or maybe a soft-shell because you don’t need warmth, but will need to cut the wind and maximize breathability; or are you always cold or value pack-ability, and want to go with a body-mapped insulation piece. Or will adding a vest over a baselayer provide just the right micro-climate around your body to keep you feeling fresh while working hard? The other tip of layering is to differentiate between what you need while moving and working up some body heat vs. what you’ll want when taking a break while the body cools off.
I’ve recently been testing out the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, $149. This super thin soft-shell jacket has become my go to for spring skiing or fall climbing, mt biking, hiking, and even travel when I know I’ll want ½ a layer to minimize a bone chilling wind or get protection from the sun. Other companies (Patagonia, Rab) also make similar pieces and any of them might just become your favorite too.