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Skiers, climbers, and any outdoor enthusiasts getting after it in changing conditions need to be on top of their kit whether they’re going up, down, or just around town. Mastering how to layer helps you regulate your body temperature and stay dry so you can have the most fun possible no matter where your adventure takes you–from hiking in the desert heat to racking up the splitboard vert on frigid backcountry days.
In this Marmot® Layering Guide, we'll walk you through the three different types of clothing layers—the base layer, mid layer, and outer layer—and show you how to dial in your kit like a pro.
When choosing which base layers to wear consider these three factors: the material, the weight, and your personal preferences.
For the best base layer materials, merino wool base layers, synthetic fabrics, and blends of both stand above the rest. For instance:
1. Merino wool base layers are known for natural odor resistance, moisture management capabilities, and regulating body temperature thanks to its breathability.
Pro Tip: If you’re worried about itchy wool, choose a fine merino base layer that’s 17 microns or below and you’ll be A OK.
2. Synthetic base layers are also known for their breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities, but offer a quick-dry and lightweight substitute to Merino wool.
3. Wool blend base layers combine the natural advantages of wool with the adaptability of synthetic materials for the best of both worlds.
Pro Tip: Cotton should never be used as a base layer in backcountry pursuits because it holds moisture next to the body. This means you’ll feel damp and clammy during frigid days, which can lead to hypothermia or even fatalities. Remember: cotton kills.
When waffling between weights, just know base layers are lightweight for high-intensity activities, mid-weight for moderate temperatures, and heavy for extreme cold.
Finally, you should also choose the type of base layer that suits your preference and the climate you'll be facing, like the ones we’ve listed in our Layering Clothing by Activity and By Season sections.
When choosing the best mid layer, like base layers, it’s ultimately up to your preference and the right material for the weather and activity:
1. Goose down mid layers offer the highest quality natural insulation and the best warmth-to-weight ratio with its fluffy, yet lightweight, breathable, and packable features. Because of their packability, down jackets are easy to bring along, allowing you to add or shed them during changing conditions or outputs. Down can also double as a mid or outer layer.
In wet conditions or on multi-day winter backpacking grips, water-repellant treatments like our Marmot® Down Defender can help down retain its insulation capabilities.
Our Marmot®’s WarmCube Active Alt HB is a breathable down insulation that features temperature regulating technology that circulates air through insulated cubes in the core and back of your jacket to keep you cool as you move and retain warmth when you stop, so you’re always ready for the path ahead.
Pro Tip: Suit up in the Alt HB collection when heading into the backcountry or during intense activities during colder months.
2. Fleece mid layers are also popular due to their softness, versatility, and breathability. Plus you can find your fleece layers in just about any style and color imaginable.
Pro Tip: Pull on the fleece when heading to the resort or when you won’t shed or add layers as often.
3.Synthetic insulation mid layers are best known for their breathability and ability to insulate even when wet, unlike down insulation, making synthetics invaluable during survival situations. Synthetic insulation is often more heavy-weight and less packable than down, but is also used for mid or outer layering.
Our Marmot®’s WarmCube Active Novus is a breathable synthetic insulation with temperature regulating technology that circulates air through insulated cubes in the arms, core, back, and hood of the jacket to keep you cool as you move and retain air when you stop, so you keep warm as you keep going.
Pro Tip: Our Active Novus collection is at its best at the resort, on hiking trips, and for everyday exploration in any cold conditions.
Windproof and waterproof jackets and pants are outer layer essentials, especially when wet and windy conditions are frequent. To choose your outer layer, consider:
Pro Tip: Look for features like adjustable hoods, pit zips, and waterproof zippers for added convenience and protection.
Don't forget to protect your extremities. Gloves, mittens, hats, and socks are essential for shielding your hands and head from frost, wind, and rain. Choose between gloves vs. mittens, hats, beanies, balaclavas, and socks by keeping in mind that:
Pro Tip: Add a glove liner to protect your hands from get clammy and cold.
Pro Tip: Look for ones made with a combination of wool and synthetic fibers to maximize warmth and adaptability.
Pro Tip: Add a thin liner under your heavier wool or synthetic socks.
When you head into the mountains with your crew, layering up or down depends on your destination. On warmer days hanging around the resort, you may opt for a mid-weight base and ski mid layer. On colder days venturing into the backcountry, you may want to go with a warmer snowboard base layer, insulation, and shell.
Here are examples of ski and snowboarding layers for cold protection, comfort, and performance:
When riding lifts maximize comfort. Go with a:
For exploring the backcountry, prioritize flexibility and ventilation. Try these on for size:
Pro Tip: In the backcountry you’ll have a pack on your back, so you can add or remove layers based on weather conditions.
Hiking and camp layers should focus on versatility and adaptability. Here’s an example of lightweight and breathable camping and hiking layers:
Pro Tip: When camping, carry additional insulation layers like a down jacket for colder nights.
Ice climbing demands specialized layering for agility and cold conditions. Here’s an example of ice climbing layers adjusted to the intensity of the climb and weather:
For running, focus on comfortable, moisture-wicking layers that allow easy movement. Here’s an example of lightweight and breathable layers for outdoor runs:
Pro Tip: For around-town activities, shed layers based on your comfort level.
Cold weather layers require extra insulation and protection from frigid temperatures. So use heavier base layers, insulated mid layers, and durable, waterproof outer layers to stay warm and dry like this option:
Spring and summer layering are about adapting to rising and falling temperatures. Start with a lightweight base layer with excellent moisture management. Add a breathable mid-layer for cooler evenings or skip altogether to keep cool. Finally, carry a packable waterproof jacket for unexpected rain showers like this layering system:
Get ready for dawn patrol or a day at the crag with the crew. You’re ready to layer clothing like a pro. Proper layering is a skill that improves with experience, so don't hesitate to experiment and adjust your layering system based on what works for you. Get prepared, stay comfortable, and enjoy getting out there.