How to dress in the mountains: Layers are the secret!

Come vestirsi in montagna

How to dress in the mountains: Layers are the secret!

One of the main problems that must be faced when practicing mountain activities is undoubtedly clothing. In this context, in fact, temperatures can be very variable and there is the risk of wearing clothes that are sometimes too warm, others excessively light, also due to the physical effort to which they are subjected.

So when you do outdoor activities, layered clothing becomes the smartest way to manage thermoregulation.

This strategy allows you to perfectly adjust the comfort of your body, adding or removing clothing according to the level of physical activity or according to changes in weather conditions.

In colloquial jargon, it is possible to define this approach with the expression: “dressing like an onion”. Just like onion, in fact, several layers are worn and can be removed if necessary.

To better understand the importance of layering clothes for outdoor activities, it is necessary to know the functions of each level (or layer, in fact):

  • Inner layer (intimate functional layer): removes sweat from the skin
  • Intermediate layer (insulating layer): retains body heat to protect you from the cold
  • Outer layer (protective layer or shell): protects you from wind and rain

Even if you don’t wear all three levels of protection when you go on an excursion, a snowshoe walk or a skiing session, it is still a good idea to bring all the clothing with you to recompose the layers if necessary; otherwise you could only take something away if the temperature should rise, but you could not add layers without having them with you.

Let’s see more specifically what are the functions and materials that make up each layer.

Inner or base layer: useful in moisture management

As a layer close to the skin, the function of the inner layer is essentially to remove sweat from the skin, or to “absorb” excess sweat so as not to leave the skin moist.

In cold weather, basic layers of long underwear are needed to keep the skin warm, as well as dry. This is essential because it avoids, in the most extreme cases, the risk of hypothermia.

What are the best materials for the inner layer

There is a wide range of fabric options, including technical fabrics such as polyester and nylon or natural fibers such as merino wool and silk.

Although the differences are subtle both in the perspiration and drying of each material, and in the retention and durability of the smells, many people simply choose their personal preference for the fabric.

Weight of the clothes that make up the inner layer

In this case, the alternatives are very simple: light weight, sometimes it is possible to run into “ultralight” variants, medium and heavy weight.

Generally heavier (thicker) fabrics keep you warmer, even if, as we have already said, the main purpose of an internal layer is not related to thermoregulation but to the absorption of sweat.

Suitable base layers in hot weather

A particular clarification must be made on the underwear in case of particularly favorable climatic conditions. In fact, although long underwear may appear not ideal when temperatures go up, having dry skin generally allows you to have greater comfort in all conditions.

Let’s now make some other useful considerations on the inner layer to wear when the temperatures are hot:

  • Any summer shirt could be considered a “base layer”, so look for those that offer greater absorption. How to find out? First of all, take a look at the construction materials and the technical sheet.
  • Some shirts designed for the hot season disperse moisture through the fabric which, thanks to evaporation, helps to cool the body. These garments are not technically considered as an inner layer, but as a layer close to the skin they can increase comfort in hot conditions.
  • Intimate items such as briefs, boxers and bras should also contribute to the absorption of moisture. This aspect is also important when they are worn under long underwear, in winter.
  • The UPF classified inner layers offer greater protection from the sun.
  • Cotton, perfect on a dry and hot day, is instead unusable in winter because it retains a lot of water which, due to the cold temperatures, can freeze and cool the whole body.
  • The latest technologies in the field of fabrics, such as wool mixed with ceramic particles, create excellent garments for the inner layers, which literally manage to cool the skin for greater comfort.

The intermediate layer performs the insulation function

The insulating layer, also called intermediate, helps you keep the heat radiated from your body. The more efficiently this layer traps that heat, the more you will feel a pleasant warm sensation.

What are the best materials for the intermediate layer

Just as we have seen with the inner layers, even for the middle layer you have a wide range of options, both synthetic and natural.

Generally we start from the assumption that more often (or more swollen) is synonymous with warmer, but we must not neglect the efficiency of the insulating material, at least as important as the thickness of the garment.

Let’s see some fairly common materials in the intermediate layers:

  • Polyester sweatshirt Available in light, medium and heavy fabrics; sometimes marketed based on weight (100, 200 and 300 grams). Polyester has the advantage of retaining heat even when wet, and also dries quickly. Sweatshirts breathe well, so you’re less likely to overheat inside.
  • Fleece sweatshirts for men and women If the great breathability represents an important quality, it is also right to underline that the same characteristic favors the passage of wind through the fabric, and this can mean heat dispersion. This is why it is essential to also have an outer layer (the so-called shell) when wearing a fleece intermediate layer.

Alternatively, you can replace the shell with a windproof one, equipped with an internal membrane that blocks the passage of air.

Giacche sportive da uomo e giacche sportive da donna

  • Down insulation jackets Easy to compress and, consequently, to transport, down, in relation to its weight, offers more warmth than any other insulating material. The efficiency of the down is measured in fill power, varying between 450 and 900. Since the down is always inside a shell material, down jackets also offer some resistance to water and wind. The disadvantage lies in the fact that this clothing loses its insulating efficiency when damp.
  • Synthetic insulating jackets (technical): padding, or synthetic insulation, has been created for some time to try to reproduce the efficiency of down; we must say that year after year they get closer and closer to that standard. While synthetic materials don’t compress as well as down, they are a popular option for rainy conditions because they preserve their insulating ability when they get wet. As with down, in fact, the synthetic insulation is always inside a shell material that offers greater resistance to water and wind.

Outer layer: ideal as protection from rain and wind

The outer layer (protective layer or shell) protects you from wind, rain and snow. The shells range from mountaineering jackets, much more expensive, to simpler jackets, but still resistant to the wind.

Most of these items allow at least some sweat to transpire. In addition, all should be treated with a durable water repellent finish (DWR).

The outer shell is essential in extreme cases, such as a storm, situations in which if the wind and water were able to penetrate you could seriously risk freezing.

The shells can be grouped into the following main categories:

  • Waterproof / breathable shells: the most functional (and expensive) choice, this type of shell is the best option for boundary conditions. In general, in the context of mountain clothing, more expensive is equivalent to drier; moreover, the more expensive shells are often more durable.
  • Water-resistant / breathable shells: they are more suitable for rainy, airy conditions and high levels of physical activity. More convenient than waterproof / breathable shells, they are generally made of dense weft nylon or polyester fabrics, which block the light wind and light rain.
  • Soft shell shells: emphasize breathability. Most are characterized by panels in stretch or fully stretch fabric, for greater comfort during aerobic activities. Many combine light rain resistance and wind protection with light insulation, then combine two layers in one jacket.
  • Waterproof / non-breathable shells: these shells are suitable for rainy days, without activities (e.g. fishing, recreational events in the mountains). They are generally made of coated nylon, resistant to water and wind. If you do activities while wearing one, you will likely end up drenching your underlying layers with sweat.

Examples of layered clothing for the mountains, in cold, rain and heat

Given the importance of wearing layered clothes, one often wonders how to dress for the mountains in winter and summer, or in case of different weather conditions.

Any suggestions based solely on climate, however, neglect key considerations, such as effort level and personal metabolism.

The following examples are built on a hypothetical person who does not suffer particularly hot or cold, who is doing a half-day excursion of intermediate difficulty.

Dress in layers for cold environments

  • upper and lower part of underwear in medium-light polyester;
  • a jacket with synthetic insulation;
  • medium weight trousers brushed;
  • waterproof / breathable rain jacket and trousers.

Dress in layers for wet and rainy environments, with normal temperatures

  • long underwear, in light polyester, both for the upper part and for the legs;
  • light fleece jacket;
  • technical trekking trousers;
  • light and breathable waterproof jacket and pants (with many vents).

Dress in layers for warm environments

  • polyester briefs and short-sleeved synthetic T-shirt;
  • convertible nylon trekking pants;
  • light windbreaker.

Those listed are obviously only examples, in fact there are many alternatives, all valid and extremely functional for each of the hypothesized situations. The trick, trivially, consists in choosing the ideal solutions in relation to your destination, at the time of the year you move, to the sport you have to practice, to the bugdet and, why not, to your aesthetic preferences.

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Once you have made your choice and purchased the garments, it is equally important to find the right feeling with them, to manage them in the best way in any case, depending on the contingent needs. For example, if the rain and wind stop, remove the shell; if physical activity is not intense enough to generate enough heat, add an intermediate layer …. and so on!

Many people prefer to wear an additional intermediate layer and / or an external layer at each stop, just to avoid the feeling of cold and the possible consequences of a sweat. Ultimately we can say that the choice of technical mountain clothing is undoubtedly subjective, but at the same time it should be done in a thoughtful and conscious way.

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