Layering Upper Body for Spring Weather

In this two-part series from Campmor, we will explore proper apparel selection and effective techniques that will ensure your preparedness when heading out for your next spring excursion. The idea here is to Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Jacketprepare a multiple-layer system, so that you are ready for whatever the environment throws at you.

Now that Spring is upon us, it’s time to get rid of cabin fever and start planning your next hiking trip. And, while Spring hiking can offer a unique environment of foliage in bloom, it can also be much trickier to dress for, than the summer season, because of the variability of Spring weather. Spring weather is unpredictable, with temperatures widely ranging from cold to hot, from one day to the next. Because of this unpredictability, it is important to prepare yourself with the proper gear and clothing.

In this first part of the “Layering Up” series we will explore the importance of layering different kinds of upper body wear, to prepare you for the warm sun, cold winds and a lot of rain.

Base Layer

Columbia SportswearThe base layer is the layer worn closest to your skin, and should act as a protective, moisture-wicking layer to keep you dry and warm. There are several lightweight fabrics used in the construction of base layers, including such fibers as polyester, polypropylene and wool. Fabrics made of synthetic fibers repel moisture, resulting in perspiration passing through the fabric to the outer layers, keeping your skin drier and warmer. Lightweight wool base layers actually hold onto moisture unlike synthetics, helping to prevent your skin from drying out. Though wool holds onto moisture, it retains warmth when wet, which makes lightweight wool a great choice for cooler wet weather. Whether you choose synthetic or wool, a light to mid-weight base layer is your best choice for spring and higher latitude and altitude spring and summer outings.

Mid Layer

Wool and synthetic fabrics, such as fleece, offer unique insulation that can keep you warm, and with important features like pit zips, can provide ventilation to manage heat buildup and perspiration when really working out.

Mountain Hardwear Mazeno

While both wool and synthetic shirts and jackets offer very similar benefits, the two are quite different when it comes to absorbing water. Fleece does not absorb water well. Perspiration naturally passes through fleece, helping to keep your base and mid layer dry and warm. Even if the fleece fabric does get wet, it will still retain its insulative properties. Wool, a natural fiber, absorbs moisture while retaining its insulative properties. Cotton, another natural fiber, absorbs moisture like wool but thermally cools the body, making it a bad choice for cooler wet weather. Wool will get heavy when wet, and will take a long time to dry. This is why you will want to use nothing heavier than a lightweight wool as a mid layer.

Both wool and fleece are great insulation layer options. Their unique benefits and shortcomings should be considered, when you are planning out your layers.

Outer Layer

Sometimes the morning is cool, then several hours into the day the weather will heat up and lighter weight clothing will be what you want to be hiking in. A wind or rain shell is great for this situation. Patagonia Torrentshell Stretch JacketThe shell will provide protection from wind and a light amount of insulation. As the day heats up, you can shed the shell and hike into a warm pleasant day. This would be an example of using a shell, which provides protection from wind or rain, as a garment to help manage cooler weather until the day warms up. When the weather turns bad, you will have a rain shell to use to keep you dry. Unless you are in an arid climate, where the likelihood of rain is very low, a rain shell will be a better choice than a wind shell. That which protects you from rain protects from wind. The only drawback is that a windbreaker is more breathable.

Windbreakers are a great choice for windy, cool weather, when rain is not in the forecast and trail running or other highly aerobic activity is planned. The extra breathability of a windbreaker will keep condensation from perspiration to a minimum. This is important for keeping your core temperature at a safe and consistent level during your hike or run. While some windbreakers do offer some level of light rain protection, the longer and harder it rains, the more likely that rain will easily get through this outer layer, going straight to your insulation layer. The point of a shell is to protect your inner layers; a shell that allows the mid and base layer to get wet should be considered a bad choice. As the mountain men said, “keep your powder dry.”

Depending on the environment and climate conditions of your campsite, dressing in layers that work well together as weather evolves through the day, is the art that makes for comfortable journeying and exploration.

Part 2…

You should now have the proper understanding needed to build an effective 3-layer system to keep your upper body dry and warm. But, what about the lower body? We’ll be addressing that in part 2.

Stay tuned!

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  • Nancy

    Depending on how far north I am, or how early in the spring it is, I often use a four layer system, especially when climbing peaks in the Adirondacks. I remember one April feeling hot hiking up the mountain in short sleeves, then being a little chilly in four layers eating lunch on the very windy summit. That day I wore wicking short sleeves, an expedition weight long sleeved zip-neck, a 200 weight fleece jacket and my wind/rain jacket. Conditions in the mountains can be extremely variable.