Getting Layered – The three-layer system of base, mid and outer.

The concept of layering clothes for outdoor activity is fundamental, irrespective of the time of year. The three-layer system of base, mid and outer provides the opportunity to regulate one’s temperature whilst moving quickly or slowly for any outdoor pursuit.

BASE LAYER

The base layer is moisture-wicking layer that fits close to the skin is usually relatively thin and tight-fitting. Its primary goal is to wick sweat away from one’s body allowing the wearer to remain dry, warm and comfortable. Merino wool has long been hailed as the product to use as it has excellent wicking properties and retains heat, even when wet. Many consider the base to be just one layer, but two thin layers are often better than one thicker layer. Or a thin layer with thicker product over the top may well be required in extreme cold. Importantly with base layers, always take a spare with you. The opportunity to change to warm/ dry layers during long activities, particularly in extreme cold can be a life saver.

A base layer for the legs is only a consideration should you be adding a specific outdoor pant over the top. Again, merino works best for the base. If running, specific run tights (winter versions exist with windproof panels) are all that is usually required as the legs are moving constantly and therefore keeping warm. However, in extreme cold and wind one may need to re-think based on activity level. A base layer merino with a loose-fitting run pant over the top is an excellent scenario to start. The run pant could also be waterproof as mentioned below or for climbing, they could be down or synthetic such as Primaloft.

A merino base layer with another thin base layer increases warmth with flexibility.

MIDLAYER

Often considered as an insulating layer, the mid layer also is very important for transporting excess heat from the body and base layer. Unlike the base layer, a midlayer should be looser fitting to facilitate the capture and retention of air. Air between the base and mid helps preserve heat and transport moisture. There is no definitive midlayer and often, the choice comes down to the activity you are doing, in what conditions and how active or inactive one is likely to be. For example, 100% merino is possible, a synthetic product such as Primaloft or a down product. Each has their own unique properties and uses with warmth to weight ratio being a prime consideration, particularly for an outdoor enthusiast. Depending on the product, a Merino midlayer will usually be heavier than synthetic and down being the most lightweight. Volume is a key consideration, down compresses amazingly and can be made exceptionally small fulfilling the best of most worlds, small size and low weight. Merino by contrast will take up a great deal of space with additional weight. The weather conditions will often dictate which mid layer you will choose, Merino is good for all conditions (wet and dry), Synthetic equally works well in wet and dry with a smaller volume size and weight. Down historically has only been good with guaranteed dry conditions as the down (goose or duck, goose being the best) becomes ineffective when wet. However, many brands now treat down to withstand water. This often goes via the name of Hydrophobic. Hydrophobic down has been treated with a durable water repellent that enables the down to dry quicker and resist water for longer, meaning it will perform better in damp conditions. This makes down jackets that utilize hydrophobic down more versatile, as they can be used in cold, damp conditions without being damaged.

OUTER LAYER

Designed to protect you from the elements but equally allowing the person inside to lose excess heat, outer layers are essential for outdoor activities. Many products exist and many varieties exist such as Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, Pertex Shield, Proflex Waterproof, Hyrdroshell and the list goes on. If running and moving fast and light, your choice will be dictated by product weight and size. However, if hiking and mountaineering, a heavier duty and more resilient product will be required. Also keep in mind that pants will or may be required. Again, a running waterproof pant can be minimalist whereas a hiking pant will need to be more durable.

In Scandinavia, insulated shorts are extremely popular such as those by Haglofs. They provide extra warmth, without slowing you down or interfering with your activity. Primaloft Aerogel filling and treated with Fluorocarbon free DWR treatment to withstand all conditions.

EXTREMETIES

Feet, hands and head are key places that need protection during cold and extreme weather. Often, you can get away with less layers on your core if your feet, hands and head are warm. 

HEAD

Most of one’s body heat is lost through the head and quite simply, humans are designed to make sure the head and brain is kept warm. So, in cold conditions, hand and feet warmth will be sacrificed if your head is cold. Adding a layer to your head is a guaranteed way to warm up immediately so treat this as a priority. Equally, if you are too warm, removing a head covering is an easy way to cool down quickly. A merino wool beanie, Buff or wrag is superb for maintaining warmth and just as the base layer, it will remove moisture and still keep you warm even when wet.

HANDS

Cold hands make any outdoor activity miserable and there is no one definitive answer to how to keep hands warm as there are many variables based on the conditions you will be in. A good place to start is with a Merino liner glove. This liner can also be used as a stand-alone product on days when the ambient temperature requires. Over the liner, one has two options: glove or mitt. Mitts are guaranteed to be warmer, however, if you are climbing or doing a sport where finger dexterity is required, a mitt will not work. So, you need to assess your own personal needs. Finally, an outer waterproof layer can be an excellent idea if persistent rain and cold temperatures are to be encountered. You need to adapt the layers for the conditions and just like a hat, moving and adding gloves is a great way to regulate temperature.

FEET

Merino socks are essential for happy feet. In dry conditions they wick away sweat, in wet conditions they retain warmth. Just as with the body, layering socks is a great idea. Most of the time a sport specific merino sock will work, however, in winter, the demands on one’s feet increase. Consider a thin base layer sock with a thicker sock over the top, just like you would with your body. If you anticipate extreme cold and wet, a specific barrier sock may need to be considered such as a Sealskinz or equivalent.

CONCLUSION

Having multiple layers for any outdoor activity is a key to keeping warm and dry. There is no one-stop solution as the requirements vary from sport-to-sport. However, if you think base, mid and outer, you will be well equipped for any weather at any time of the year.

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inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ Base Layer/ Mid Layer Top

inov_merinolszm

My recent trip to Nepal for the 2016 Everest Trail Race provided an opportunity for me to try out some new kit items. I do plan to write a full article on the kit I used and provide an overview for those who plan to either run a similar multi-day race or maybe go trekking.

One thing that is key for any multi-day journey, trekking or racing is weight and functionality. You really do have to be brutal with your choices. Luxuries, in general, are a no, no as they just add weight.

Nepal in November provides some real contrasts which can really test kit choices. Days are sunny, warm (at times hot) and shorts and a t-shirt work great. However, as soon as the sun disappears, the temperatures drop dramatically. Depending on what altitude you are at and how exposed you are, those temperatures will continue to drop and exposed locations will drop well below -10.

I am all for layering my clothing and to provide some perspective, here is my kit list for the duration of the Everest Trail Race.

nepal-kit

You will see from the above, I was keeping things light and functional. 3.2kg of apparel for 7-days and that included my sleeping bag. In addition to the above apparel and sleeping bag I had an Aarn pack, Aarn front photo pockets, 2 x Canon 5D cameras and 3 lenses: 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. The camera equipment weighs a great deal. More on that in my next post when I summarise all the above kit.

One piece of kit was a stand out though. The inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ top.

Merino wool for me is essential as a base layer when working in cold climates. I make sure I have long leggings, socks, gloves and top all made from Merino.

The advantages?

  • Warmth
  • Less odour
  • Quick drying
  • Warmth when wet

So, when I first looked at the inov-8 product I was really impressed as it offered some key features that I had not seen on other Merino products:

  1. Hood
  2. Zip
  3. Thumb loops
  4. Hand mitts

The downside being that as a base layer top, it was a little heavier than the competition. However, the competition didn’t have the ‘extras’ that made the inov-8 attractive. To cut a long story short, I decided to go with the additional weight and put the product through its paces in Nepal.

If I wanted to be truly lightweight and despite the odourless qualities of Merino, potentially a little smelly, I could have gone with just one base layer. I didn’t! I took two tops. I had a simple reasoning and logic for this. I would wear one during the day and the other at night.

Unlike other products that are available, the inov-8 is not a form fitting product. Thank goodness! I hate feeling squeezed into my clothing. The AT/C MERINO LSZ is loose and not baggy and provides a snug and reassuringly comfortable warmth. The real selling points of this product are:

Hood – The hood adds great warmth, fits snuggly and if you zip up the 1/2 zip to the top you are left with a really warm base layer that works exceptionally well in the early morning before the sun rises. At the end of the day after the sun disappears and at night when inside a sleeping bag and you want additional warmth and the options to stop drafts going down your neck.

Hand Mitts – The cuff of the sleeve has a thumb hole as seen on many base layer products and what this provides is almost a half glove with no fingers. However, inov-8 have added an extra layer of fabric and by folding this back and over the fingers, it provides a simple hand mitt. Again this worked exceptionally well for early morning or late evening chills or when sleeping to keep extremities warm.

At the end of the day, the inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ is a base layer, there isn’t a great deal to write. However, this product impressed so much I was keen to give the product a nod. The addition of Superfine 18.5 micron Australian Merino wool delivers fantastic next-to-skin feel and fit, the hood and 1/2 zip is a great feature and the hand mitts is the type of simple innovation that I love.

This product is a winner.

As we are entering into the cold, dark, inclement months, an inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ would make a great addition to any kit list.

Product information at inov-8 HERE