“Cotton kills fellas, cotton kills” my Third phase BUD/S instructor yelled at us as the snow began to fall on our cold sweaty bodies. The rest of the night proved to be pure misery as various levels of hypothermia swept the class.

Though the experience was miserable it taught me to appreciate nice outdoor gear and the concept of layering.

This topic can get fairly technical and I’ve seen it broken down into many detailed layers. For our purposes I’m going to keep it straight forward and simple by covering the three core layers: The Base, Insulation and Shell layers.

Base Layer

The base layer is worn close to or directly on the skin serving to collect and move sweat away from your glistening body as well as provide a barrier between your human essence and the rest of your clothes.

Typically these layers are made from either synthetic materials or natural wool, merino being my favorite.

Synthetics can be cheap, durable and high performing, but can smell like Hobo’s crotch after a day of use. Wool, especially merino wool, can be more expensive and less durable, but does better in a wider range of temperatures and doesn’t tend to get funky smelling.

Since the base layer is basically your body’s chonies I’ve found having multiple pairs to be a huge asset allowing you to change them out before body funk or sweat do their thing.

There are a ton of options out there, but I’d recommend something with a button or zip neck style to allow you to open it up when warmer. Find one you like and buy three in different colors. You’ll thank me for this later.

Insulation Layer

This layer is meant to put some space between your body and the elements. This “dead space” is what traps the warm air, but it also pulls your sweat from your base layer and captures any moisture sneaking in from your shell. It’s like the “Catch all” of your layering system.

You want this to be a windproof shell that easily fits over your base layer and comfortably fits under your shell. This layer should not be water resistant so that it readily breathes and should look good as a stand alone jacket.

It’s common that people use down for this layer, but I don’t like to. Down sucks when it’s wet and even if it’s not raining out I’ve seen my down get matted from the humidity steaming off my body.


The shell is meant to keep the rain off of you as well as serve as the final piece of a robust warmy system.

There are soft shell options available, but they will fall short when it comes to water resistance. I rock a hard shell so that I can count on it to shed the rain as well as hold up against wear and tear.

I keep my shells as thin as possible so that they can easily get pulled on and off as the sweat or rain pours accordingly.


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Okay – So you want to buy three variations of a nice merino wool base layer with a zipper or button system, a nice windproof insulation jacket that fits into a bombproof shell.

There are so many options of each it can be mind boggling. What do you use for each layer and why?


This article is courtesy of The Loadout Room.