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How To Build Your Spring Layering System

Spring is just around the corner, and the weather is already changing. Snow, gray skies and sub-zero temperatures are giving way to brisk, bright days and mucky ground. Before the rains start falling in earnest, it’s time to update your winter layering system for a new season.

If you’re not already familiar, a layering system offers a simple, science-backed way to keep your body warm, dry, and comfortable in any weather. A three-part layering system works by moving moisture away from your skin, trapping heat, and providing protection from the elements (in the spring, that’s mostly wind and rain.)

Of course, your personal layering needs will depend on temperature, conditions, length of time you’ll be out, your activity level, and your “inner HVAC system” – in other words, how warm or cool you personally need to be to stay comfortable.

But no matter your personal variables, the three basic foundations of layering remain the same:

The Base Layer

Think “your favorite synthetic workout shirt.”

The base layer is typically thin and snug, and it’s the layer worn closest to your skin. Its purpose is to wick moisture away while trapping warm air next to your body, and typically made from either merino wool or a synthetic material.

Merino wool offers more warmth than synthetics, and it continues to keep you warm even if it gets wet. Wool also doesn’t retain body odor like synthetics may do.

However, synthetics dry much more quickly than wool, and they are known to be more durable over time. Your choice will depend a lot on your personal preference and needs, so feel free to get in touch with us to ask for our advice!

One thing you don’t want as your base layer? Your favorite cotton tee. Cotton might be a comfy choice for a night in front of the TV, but when wet, cotton loses its ability to keep you warm and takes a long time to dry. So why waste room in your pack? Instead, we suggest you opt for a synthetic base like the Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt. Made for both men and women, this shirt offers rapid wicking technology plus odor control that will keep you both comfy and inoffensive on the trail.

PS: for those ladies who run particularly warm (you know who you are) there’s also a Capilene Cool Trail Tank for all your hot-blooded needs.

The Mid Layer

Think “your favorite springtime jacket or zip-up hoody.”

The mid layer’s purpose is to manage the moisture passed on through the base layer by absorbing some and allowing some of it to escape. This layer is usually insulated with either down or synthetic material to keep you warm.

For rainy days, opt for synthetic insulation like polyester fleece. Fleece stays warm even if it gets damp, breathes well, dries fast, and is available in light, medium, and heavy weights. Fleece does allow wind to penetrate, so you’ll either need a shell or wind fleece which is built to block wind. 

Synthetic fleece dries much faster than down and retains its ability to keep you warm even when wet. In warmer weather, you may choose to forgo a mid layer all together, or opt for a lightweight zip-up hoody.

For a versatile, all-around spring midlayer winner, we recommend Kuhl’s The One Hoody for both men and women. Designed to be stretchy, breathable, and warm, The One Hoody lets you move while keeping you comfortable during unpredictable spring weather.

The Outer Layer

Think “your favorite rain jacket.”

The outer layer, or shell, is your protection from wind and rain. As the outer layer keeps wind and water away from your body, it simultaneously moves sweat vapor away from your skin. A breathable, waterproof shell is a great choice for an outer layer in spring, when weather can be unpredictable and a relatively small swing in temperatures can make a big difference in your comfort level.

In dry and still conditions, your mid-layer may also wind up acting as your outer layer. But a word of caution: unless you’ll be very close to your home base or vehicle, it’s a good idea to have a shell layer on hand even if you don’t anticipate needing it. Rainy or windy conditions can spring up quickly, leaving you vulnerable to the elements and potentially wrecking your fun.

For a solid spring outer layer, we recommend the Outdoor Research Foray Jacket for men, or the Aspire Jacket for women. GoreTex construction will keep you dry, while hem-to-bicep TorsoFlo™ venting makes it easy to cool down. Plus, these jackets boast other cool features, like a key clip, carabiner loop, and a hand pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.

Putting It All Together

Once you understand how layering systems work, outdoor adventures will be more enjoyable as you will be able to adapt to changing weather.

If you get too hot, you can shed your mid-layer. If it starts to rain, you can pop on your rain shell. If the sun comes out and temps increase, you can go down to your base layer.

By following the simple three-piece layering system, you’ll be prepared to get out and stay out – no matter what the weather brings.

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