The 3-Layer System: What to Wear For a Hiking Adventure And For Tackling The Cold

When it comes to outdoor adventures, hiking clothing and kitting yourself out for the cold, the 3-layer principle is the ultimate style law to follow. Part of the ABCs of hiking, this basic and easy-to-follow clothing technique really is fundamental, regardless of whether you're just off on a ramble through the countryside or ascending peaks in hostile temperatures. Apt for all seasons and all levels of intensity, and applicable to a range of outdoor recreational activities, the golden rule of garment layering promises to keep you dry and adequately insulated. So, what does each layer consist of, and what function does each garment fulfil? We're here with all the top tips to help you master this clothing hack...

Base layer: a basic first item of clothing to whisk away perspiration and keep you dry

Often referred to as the base layer, the raison d'être behind your first layer of clothing – which sits directly next to your skin – is to transport sweat away from your body. When hiking, especially at an incline which drives the physical intensity of your undertaking up a notch, it's very normal to perspire. But, if your top or t-shirt does not fulfil the function of drawing away perspiration from your skin, your clothing will start to feel damp and, as soon as you stop walking, you're guaranteed to get cold quick. So, to stay warm and dry, choose a breathable and quick-drying moisture-wicking garment for your base layer – short sleeves for warmer weather, and long sleeves for chillier climes. To minimise moisture absorption, avoid cotton designs and either go for wool or synthetic fibres, like polyester fabric or polyamide. Lightweight, crease-free, and fast-drying, these latter models are also a great addition to any spare outfit you take with you on your adventure, as you can slip them into your backpack without any bother!

Mid-layer: important insulation

The purpose of your second layer of clothing, otherwise known as your mid-layer, is primarily to keep you warm and well-insulated. However, this layer also needs to be somewhat breathable. Just like your base layer, it should help limit sweat and transport any perspiration in the direction of your outer layer, for eventual evaporation. Whether you go for a jumper or full zip jacket (the choice is entirely yours), we suggest opting for a mid-layer that is made from fleece. The reason for favouring this synthetic fibre is three-fold: it's isolating, warm and breathable. On top of that, it's ultra-lightweight and dries in the blink of an eye, ticking all boxes! Of course, depending on the season, it's wise to consider the density and grammage of your chosen fleece mid-layer. There's a wide range of options available, from heavy-duty fleece for a thick layer of insulation, to fine and featherlight microfleece. While fleece is our favourite pick, you could also opt for a moisture-wicking wool mid-layer.

Outer layer: a jacket to protect you from the elements

Now we've addressed the two essential inner layers, it's time to finish off your hiking look with a third and final layer: the outer layer. The main purpose of this external layer of clothing is to offer protection from the wind, rain and snow, as well as any other obstacles you might encounter en route, like spray or brambles! In an ideal world, your outer layer will still let your body breathe too, but oftentimes this factor must be compromised a little to ensure adequate shielding from the elements. A lightweight and durable water-repellent windbreaker is the perfect match for fine weather, and on particularly nice days you might simply want to stow it in your bag rather than wearing it all day long. But, when the temperatures dip it's better to up the ante! In the mid-season (transitional times of year like spring and autumn), a softshell jacket will provide extra warmth. If, however, the clouds overhead are looking a little threatening, then a hardshell, waterproof hooded jacket is a safer bet, even though it'll offer a little less breathability. In the very depths of winter though, nothing beats a robust parka or waterproof coat with a warm lining, a hood, and extra insulating details like an adjustable hem and cuffs.

Next level know-how: why layering clothes is so effective, especially in winter

The reason why layering your clothes is so key is quite simply because this style system makes your outfit entirely adaptable and super-versatile. Having a range of clothes and layers at your disposal will leave you prepped for every circumstance and give you the freedom to explore without constraint. Let us paint a picture... In the course of one day's mountain hike, you could end up striding in the sunshine before trudging in the rain. While you may enjoy warm summer temperatures as you set out, the weather conditions could suddenly transition, dropping several degrees, especially as you advance towards higher altitudes. Just ask any regular climber! Luckily, having 3 layers of clothes – a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer – enables you to remove items or add others to the mix when necessary, dependent on your ever-changing environment and the strenuousness of your physical efforts. You don't necessarily have to wear all 3 layers at once, but they're there if you need them. For example, even in cold winter weather, if extreme physical demands lead you to sweat it out and overheat, you'll still want to strip back to your inner layers to help your body temperature stabilise, before adding your insulated jacket back on top. And thankfully, when you do need total insulation in the face of biting winter weather conditions, 3 layers is the magic number. In a nutshell, the layering system is an effective way to ensure you're dressed appropriately for your adventures and the unpredictable weather you're confronted with!

What is the best way to layer clothing? Now you know how to build your hiking outfits...

So, now you know exactly what's needed to compose a great hiking outfit! Of course, there is a whole range of technical gear that you could invest in but, for beginners or amateurs, standard outdoor clothes guarantee sufficient insulation and protection. Whatever clothing items you adorn or pack into your rucksack, and whatever the conditions or terrain you encounter when hiking, so long as you stick to the golden 3-layer clothing rule, you're well and truly on track for an enjoyable adventure!

    Choose your size