If you’re heading out into the hills, before you strap on your boots and go striding off into the cold, it’s important to figure out what you’re going to wear first. You might’ve heard of “the layering system” before, but we’re going to break it down and explain the advantages, leaving you free to enjoy the outdoors in confidence and comfort (we can’t guarantee the extent of your comfort if you’re knee deep in a bog battling through a blizzard but hopefully this helps).
Funnily enough, “the layering system” is all about wearing several layers of clothing to keep warm, instead of just a t-shirt and a massive jacket. The idea being, it’s easier to put on or remove different layers as you heat up or cool down as you move around and stop for breaks on the hill. It’s also more efficient as air is trapped between the layers of clothing, acting as an extra barrier insulating you from the cold outside. There’s lots of variations to this formula so you can tailor it to suit your individual needs, but hikers worldwide would say the following is a good place to start: base-layer, mid-layer, insulating layer, shell layer.
First up is your base-layer, the layer of clothing next to your skin. This provides a little warmth but its main purpose is to “wick” or draw sweat away from the skin and dry quickly, as it will cool down quickly, and your body with it, if it has nowhere to go. The most important feature in a base-layer - after how tight-fitting it is - is the material it’s made from. Bamboo is a great lightweight, naturally high-wicking material, is more environmentally friendly than man-made alternatives and is a good all-round performer in wicking to warmth ratio.
Recommendation: Bamboo Base Layer
You guessed it - your mid-layer fits comfortably between your base-layer and your jacket. It will keep you warm against the harshest of elements, so it’s not one to be missed. It can be as thick or as thin as you need it to be depending on your chosen activity and the conditions you expect but whatever it is you’ll want it to be breathable to minimise excess sweating. It’s a bonus if the outer face is made of a windproof material, as when your most active you might only need the base and your mid-layer, but you don’t want the wind to breeze through and blow away your hard-fought warmth.
Recommendation: Hirta Fleece
This is your warmest layer, it may spend most of its time stuffed in your bag but you’ll be glad it’s there when you stop for lunch and your temperature plummets. For the best warmth-to-weight ratio, its best to go for a down or synthetic-down jacket. Synthetic has certain advantages over feather down as it is better at holding onto its warmth when it gets wet – which as we know is especially important in Scotland, as the weather is known to be wet on occasion. It is also machine-washable whereas feather down jackets require specialist cleaning. All this before we even mention no ducks need plucked, so they can keep their inferior downs to themselves.
Recommendation: Fara Insulated jacket
This is your outer layer and your main protection against those nasty elements. It needs to be waterproof, windproof and breathable, to let water vapour out when the going gets sweaty. A well-fitted hood is a must to keep rain and snow out of your face, and “pit-zips” are a good addition as they allow you to dump excess heat without opening yourself up to the wind and rain.
Recommendation: Munro jacket