We may all have our preferred layering system for winter but the principle remains the same: layering makes it easy to make quick adjustments based on your current activity level or changes in the weather. Each layer has a function and they all work together to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable when playing outside all day.
I personally operate on a five-layer system up top. I don’t always wear all five layers of course, but instead they come off or on throughout the day depending on what I am doing. Layering for me is always a delicate balance between keeping my core warm enough so that my fingers and toes stay toasty and not overheating. Here’s my layering lineup:
Before I even get to the base layer, I throw on a merino wool tank over my sports bra. I like that extra bit of core warmth and I find that if for some reason I get really sweaty on an approach, I can simply shed the tank once I get to the base of the climb as it will have absorbed most of the moisture. Keeping dry throughout the day is one of the keys to staying warm in winter. The Icebreaker Siren Tank ($60) is my go-to here–made from 150 gram merino wool, it is lightweight yet cozy against the skin.
Base layers serve to add a bit of warmth but they are really about moisture management–you need one that will quickly wick any sweat away from your skin, dispersing to the outer layers where it can evaporate. Made from Polartec Power Wool, the Mammut Kira Pro Half Zip ($130) offers you the best of wool and synthetic fibers–the wool retains insulation and breathability even when wet and pulls moisture vapor away from your skin, transferring it to the outer synthetic layer where it expands and evaporates more quickly. Warmth, wicking, and next to skin comfort–this base layer has a really great hand feel and the high zip neck keeps cold air from blasting down your shirt.
There are many different variations on the midlayer–fleece, wool, insulated, non-insulated, hybrid. The key here is to add a layer of warmth without cutting down on breathability. On nicer days, your midlayer can even operate as your outer layer. With the new Summit Series collection from The North Face, I like how they have defined the layering pieces for you, labeling each item of gear L1–L5 indicating its intended use. The Summit Series L2 Jacket ($250) is made from a Polartec hardface fleece that not only adds durability, but makes it easier to slide under your outer layers. The patterned knit back plays just the right balance between warmth and zoned breathability. All the Summit Series pieces are made using a one piece construction–this really cuts down on excess bulk, something that is important in layering. I like the nice high neck on this piece as well. The Mammut Kira Pro ML Jacket ($179) is another good midlayer option–made from Polartec Power Wool, it combines well with the Kira Pro base layer by adding a bunch more squishy warmth while helping to wick away any sweat buildup at the same time.
A shell jacket, whether hardshell or softshell, works to block wind, snow, and rain. Unless the weather is truly foul, I find a softshell offers enough protection and breathes a bit better when working hard. I have been wearing the Eddie Bauer Sandstone Shield Jacket ($149) this winter–a hybrid construction jacket, you get waterproof breathable softshell fabric on the hood, shoulders, front body, and upper sleeves, with more stretchy water-repellent fabric at the sides, under the sleeves, and at the upper back in order to give you maximum maneuverability. The fully adjustable hood is helmet compatible and there is a large, internal stretch pocket for stashing an extra pair of gloves. For women that don’t like to use the chest pocket for obvious reasons, you will be happy to find that Eddie Bauer placed theirs higher near your shoulder so you don’t end up with awkward enhancements.
When I stop moving, such as to belay another climber or take a snack break, I throw on an insulated layer to trap in all the warmth I generated. If it’s REALLY cold, I may throw the insulated layer on under my shell. The North Face Summit Series L4 ($300) is the perfect jacket to serve both purposes. Stuffed with PrimaLoft ThermoBall synthetic insulation, a nylon mini-rip stop liner and minimal seaming cuts out any cold spots. Because of its black color and sleek quilt construction style, the Summit Series L4 makes a great urban puffy as well–you will fit right in to New York City or London. While the new Summit Series is a limited edition collection which The North Face plans to revive again in Fall 2016, you can still find current season pieces online. Get them while you can.