How to Dress in Layers for Cold Weather and Hot Weather: Enjoy the Outdoors Year Round

Dressing for outdoor recreation is a little different than your daily routine–layering clothes is going to be ideal to keep you dry and regulate your temperature. With a little extra planning, you should be able to stay comfortable whether you’re cold weather camping or hiking in the heat!

As always, we recommend finding used gear first if you can—it’s better for the environment, and kinder on your wallet— but if you are unable to, we have provided a few links to some of our favorite gear. *Please note: we receive a small commission from qualifying purchases on any links not associated with our website directly. We only recommend gear that we love and would have in our own store if we were a larger business.

The key to dressing for any outdoor adventure is to dress in layers. There are three steps to layering for cold weather or hot weather:

You can easily add or remove layers to help regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable. When you’re actively moving, you may want just a base layer on, but when you’re taking a break, your mid layer is going to keep you warm. When the weather calls for it (such as wind, rain, or snow), your outer layer is going to be your best friend, paired with your base and sometimes also your mid layer.

We encourage you to bring all three layers each time you set out, because unexpected weather or events might occur, and you may find yourself in need of the additional layers.

Let’s do a deep dive into each layer.

Base Layer

The purpose of a base layer is for moisture management. When you’re playing outside, whether it’s cold weather or hot, you’re going to sweat, and a sweaty body is likely to get chilled and make you uncomfortable. That’s why the ideal fabrics to wear are ones that are moisture wicking, and draw your sweat away from your skin.

Merino wool is a great choice, even in the summer: look for the weight of the wool: lower numbers (in the 100s) are ideal for hotter weather, while higher numbers (in the 200s or even 300s) are great for cold weather. Merino wool is also a sustainable material, which is friendlier for the environment, as opposed to base layers made entirely from synthetic materials, like polyester or nylon. 

And of course, don’t forget your undergarments: your underwear and sports bra! Sometimes these are missed when thinking about base layers and the importance of moisture wicking materials.

Some of you may have heard about cotton being your enemy in the outdoors. This is primarily true in cold weather. Cotton is not moisture wicking, and actually retains water. So when you sweat, that moisture stays close to your body. In the summer, this may actually be welcomed to cool off, but in the winter it can be dangerous.

Shop Base Layers in our Trail Wardrobe Collection

Middle Layer

The mid layer is designed to insulate. As you participate in your favorite outdoor activity, your body will generate heat, and a good insulating layer will help retain all of that warmth you worked so hard for.

Depending on your individual preference, you will want to consider the weight of your fleece, vest or down jacket. Lower weights are generally in the 100s and will provide less warmth (which is perfect for those of you who run hot!), while midweight and heavy weight materials are warmer and usually run in the 200s and 300s (wonderful if you typically run cold, and need the extra warmth!)

Types of mid layers

Fleeces are great if you get wet and need to dry your mid layer quickly. Please note, though, that if wind is a factor, it will blow right through those fibers! As long as you have a solid outer layer, though, this shouldn’t affect you too much.

Down vests and jackets are wonderful for two reasons: they’re easy to pack, and they’re super warm (note: they’re typically “filled” from 450-900, with lower numbers being less warm, and higher numbers being warmer). However, if they get wet, they’re more challenging to dry, and won’t insulate your warmth very well.

Synthetic vests and jackets will also keep you warm, and are great if you can find second-hand. The reason we don’t recommend them is because, as mentioned above, they’re made of synthetic materials, which are harmful to the environment. We do our best to find alternatives to synthetics first.

Outer Layer

Your outer layer is so important, as it protects you from the elements. Being cold or wet from the wind, rain or snow can make an outdoor adventure totally miserable, but if you have solid gear, it can totally change the experience.

There are a few different kinds of outer layers out there:

  • waterproof and breathable shells will help you weather any storm, but are more expensive. 
  • water-resistant and breathable shells are great for lighter weather conditions, and are typically less expensive. 
  • a highly breathable soft shell might be right for you if you want an outer layer that offers some protection from light rain and wind, while also providing a little insulation as well. 
  • waterproof shells that are non breathable are perfect for a lot of rain if your outdoor activity doesn’t involve high levels of movement, like fishing.

Putting it All Together

Getting outside year round is absolutely doable if you want to—all you need is a little planning and the right gear. To recap, here’s what you want to wear for cold weather and hot weather outdoor adventures:

Cold Weather

Step 1: moisture wicking underwear and sports bra

Step 2: midweight long underwear top and bottom (200-250 weight being ideal for most environments).

Step 3: insulated jacket or vest and midweight fleece pants

Step 4: waterproof and windproof jacket and pants

Step 5: hat or headband, balaclava for your face and neck, gloves

Hot Weather

Step 1: moisture wicking underwear and bra

Step 2: lightweight top (a moisture wicking base layer is great, unless you don’t mind cotton that will hold moisture) and bottoms

Step 3: waterproof and windproof jacket and pants

Step 4: hat or BUFF headwear

Remember to always research your destination and pack all of your layers. Simply add or remove your layers as needed and enjoy a comfortable, dry adventure.

We hope to see you outside whether it’s cold or hot, rain or shine.

Happy trails!

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