Hiking layers: everything you need to know

Dressing in layers is almost the best way to go in any situation.  You can easily adjust what you have on to help protect you from the cold and heat. Outdoor temperatures can be quite unpredictable at times, so it is nice to have extra layers when you need them.

Layers provide comfort and another layer between you and the elements. These layers can be broken down into 4 options, typically. These are:

  • Base Layer
  • Midweight or Light Breathable layer
  • insulation layer
  • outermost layer or rain/ snow shell

The base layer is the layer that is next to your skin.  This layer is typically lightweight and tightly fitted to give you the best base possible.  Many times it should be made of a wicking material that can wick moisture away from the body.  If it is quite cool out, this layer may be a bit more insulating that in the summer months.

The light breathable layer is there to pull the moisture from your base layer and help it evaporate away without getting you cold.  This layer at times can be worn on its own. These layers work as a system, and this layer’s job is to help the system get rid of moisture that accumulates.

Other layers are…

The insulating layer may not be needed in the summer months. However, if you are starting out in the early morning and it is a bit chilly, this could be a sweatshirt of fleece that is over the other two layers. However, during cold hikes, this layer can be a super thick down-filled Michelin Man poofy coat.

The insulating layer is very important in colder weather as it keeps you warm. You don’t want to go overboard, but ensure you have the right insulating properties for the weather you plan to endure.

The outermost layer is the shell that is used to protect you from dew and rain. This layer should be waterproof, windproof but yet breathable. Typically this layer doesn’t have insulating properties other than keeping you dry, which is important.  That is the very reason for the layers is to keep you warm and dry.

How many layers?

How many layers you have depends on many factors. These factors are what the layers are made of, what the temperature is like, and the insulating properties of each of your layers.

So, when deciding to be sure you pack a little over, rather than under as you can always remove layers. Don’t go too overboard as the goal is to stay warm.  You are not going to stay warm if you are excessively sweating. So, in essence, use some common sense.

When looking to add new clothing to your hiking gear it is important to look for materials that are breathable, offer waterproof protection, wicking components, and insulation.

There are many levels to each of these but it will depend on where you are hiking and what type of hiking your doing. If you are hiking in the cold but harsh terrain, you will want to find something that is lightweight but also easy to move in. Putting on too many layers makes it hard to move around in, so keep that in mind as well.


I have been camping and going outdoors for over 15 years! My first experience was when I joined the scouts. There I learned a lot. From building a campfire to set up a really big tent. Then I know this is awesome. Around 2005 I also started Geocaching. This is a lot of fun. And every time we go camping we look at the map to see if there are some nice caches around.

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