No matter how fancy your new “breathable” jacket and pants are, they’re rendered useless if you get the system of layers beneath wrong.


A comfortable day on the hill is in large part down to the layers of clothing you wear under your jacket. The right combination of layers will protect you from wind, snow, rain and the moisture you generate yourself, whilst helping to regulate your temperature during activity. Get it wrong and you’ll spend the day cold and damp. At the ski field that’s unpleasant. In the backcountry, the consequences could be much higher.

We’ve put together this guide to help demystify the science of getting dressed for the mountain, so that you can turn it into an art-form.
Whilst there’s no silver bullet solution to all-conditions comfort, the beauty of a layering system is that you can make changes that allow you to adapt to the conditions and your activity level, and if you think conditions might change during the day, you can always bring along an extra layer.


There are three critical elements to the system. So let’s peel back the layers and get on with it:




Your base layer is the one in direct contact with your skin. Its main purpose is not only to insulate, but also to transport or “wick” perspiration away your skin and move it toward the surface of the fabric from where it can evaporate. If your base layer holds moisture, you’ll quickly start to feel cold when you slow down or stop for a rest. Traditionally, base layer has always been close fitting, but these days there are plenty of options that mean you won’t look like a bag of sausages if you unlayer a little in the café or apres ski.


Let’s get this out of the way immediately – cotton makes a terrible base layer. Once it’s wet, it stays that way and so do you, so leave your favourite band T at home and pick one of the following:


Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and recycled polyester move perspiration rapidly and are quick to dry. They make great base layers – except that they can develop and retain odours if worn for multi-day trips or not washed daily. To combat that, many synthetic base layers have antimicrobial treatments to try to cut down on unwanted smells.


Traditional wooly undies were scratchy and uncomfortable, but merino wool is super fine and very soft against the skin. Merino wool works slightly differently from synthetic base layer in that wool fibres actually absorb water (up to 35% of its weight in moisture) and yet still remain dry to the touch. It’s also warmer than synthetic fabrics of the same weight. Wool is naturally odour-resistant, so it’s a good choice if you’ll be working up a sweat, on a long trip or overnighting. It’s also highly breathable, great for temperature regulation, and is long lasting. The drawbacks with wool? It takes slightly longer dry out and is more expensive than most synthetics.


[/onehalfcol] [onehalfcol]


The mid layer is the key to insulation. This is where you have the most flexibility to adjust your layering to the conditions. Its task is to keep you warm by trapping the heat your body generates, whilst continuing to help moisture move outward. Your mid-layer has to fit under a jacket so it can’t be too bulky, but you’ll also have to find room for your base layer underneath, so don’t pick something too close fitting either.


Materials such as fleece, or lightweight down can be a good choice because they insulate without feeling bulky. They’re also air permeable so warm, moist air can pass outward through them. The other great mid-layer options are lightweight, low-profile insulated pieces in Primaloft or wool. They’re light and will take up less room in your pack while still being warm. Again, your favourite cotton hoody won’t make a great mid layer. It’ll soak up water and stay wet, leaving you cold, damp and uncomfortable. Don’t do it.


Polyester fleece is a classic insulating mid-layer. It traps warm air, it’s durable and absorbs very little moisture although it can be a little bulky. If space and weight are a concern, look at a synthetic insulated piece that’s warm while being compressible enough to carry in a small pack such as garments that use Primaloft type insulation. Synthetic insulators are typically less expensive than down or wool are easy to care for. They dry out quickly and keep much of their original insulating value even when they’re wet.


Down provides incredible warmth for its weight. The downside is that it loses much of its insulating value when wet and is slow to dry. It also requires greater effort to care for and the wearer has to pay close attention to sharp objects – like ski brakes and edges…


Wool is another great natural option as a mid-layer, whether in a jersey-type fabric, or used as loft between an outer and inner skin. The same benefits of wool base layer apply to mid layers – it’s light and very warm for its weight, it remains warm even when it’s wet and offers superior odour-resistant capabilities. Handy if you’re car sharing…



The final, outer layer is there to protect you from the elements. It’s important that this layer is still breathable and allows the moisture from your inner layers to escape. It’s also well worth considering how things like the cuffs and hood will integrate with your gloves, boots and helmet when you try the jacket on. Your outer layer needs to fit easily over your base and mid- layers and should still allow you to move freely. And it should look bad ass too.


Depending on where you ride or ski and the kind of mountain activities you’re into, you might consider a shell-type jacket that blocks wind and sheds precipitation, or an insulated jacket that adds warmth.


These technical garments are designed to resist rain and snow. They’re lighter weight and pack smaller than other outer layer options. Typically, the fabrics are made of two or three layers bonded together to form a single textile. The breathability of these fabrics tends to increase with the price and when you choose a waterproof-breathable layer like this, look for features like durable water repellant (DWR) coatings and seam taping which increase capacity to shed water and prevent it from getting inside.


Softshell outers can be very versatile. They offer a little more insulation than a hardshell and are windproof and will shed light precipitation. They also offer good breathability, along with stretch and comfort, but they don’t offer anywhere near the same level of protection from rain or snow as a hardshell.


The classic jacket and pants with built-in insulation are useful for extremely cold conditions or people who need that extra warmth. But they aren’t as versatile as a shell type system if you’re touring or expect to encounter wide variations in temperature. And because they’re insulated, they tend to be heavier and don’t pack down small.
[/onehalfcol] [onehalfcol]





Mons Royale Merino Logo Square


  • Australia

  • New Zealand


  • Switzerland

  • Rest of Europe


  • Canada

    United States