There’s no such thing as bad weather if you’re wearing the right gear, but without it you could end up treading that fine line between overheating and hypothermia.
The generally accepted way of dressing yourself for the elements is a layering system that, according to our Gear Guru Robin Boustead, lets you control your body's microclimate through selecting a range of garments that work individually or in combination.
“The goal is to use your layers to provide the right amount of climate protection wherever you are and whatever you are doing,” Robin says.
There are three distinct layers out there, two of which can be removed or added as you need them. According to Robin, duplicating the layers will reduce the flexibility of the system.
The layers all come with different climate options, so he also advises considering your activity and perspiration levels and dressing accordingly, trying to ensure that layers have the same moisture management ability. “It is important to have similar breathability and wicking potential across all your layers.”
Base layer As the first line of moisture management, the base layer sits closest to your skin and will collect the most sweat throughout your walk, so it needs to wick moisture away while providing you with some insulation.
Don’t make the mistake of wearing your favourite cotton t-shirt on a walk – cotton tends to retain moisture, quickly turning into a cold, clammy layer next to your skin and forcing your body to increase its heat production to counter this.
Most walkers prefer to wear wool or synthetic materials as base layers instead, as they remove sweat and allow it to evaporate across a larger area, keeping you dry and preventing that after-exercise chill.
This is the one layer that you’ll definitely be wearing the whole day, so make sure it’s comfortable, sits snugly against your skin so it can do its job and doesn’t retain any odours. Before you put it on, stop and think about the conditions you’ll be walking in and how much work you’ll be doing – even in cold conditions, a thin base layer may be a better option if you’re tackling a tough trail and building up a sweat.
Insulation While getting rid of excess heat is important, you don’t want to lose too much as this makes it harder to maintain your core temperature.
This is when you’ll need to put on the insulating layer, which should trap some of the warmth you’re radiating without making you feel as though you’re being suffocated by your own body heat. The beauty of this layer is that it can be removed as the day gets warmer or added when you stop for a rest break and begin to cool down.
Some of the popular insulating materials out there include fleece, wool or even down for colder days – they all have the ability to retain warm air and should be able to wick moisture to the outer layer, where it will dry.
Like the base layer, these will come in different weights for the varying conditions – just remember that you will warm up as you walk, so don’t pick the heaviest fleece out there for a slightly chilly day. For the top, you may want to consider a hoody as it gives you additional warmth for very little extra weight.
Outer shell If it’s a cold, wet and generally miserable day, you can still get out there and walk, but you’ll need to prevent the loss of valuable body heat and a way to stop the elements from getting in.
This is where the outer shell comes in – these are rain jackets on steroids, combining wind and water resistance (at the very least) with breathability, so you don’t end up soaked from the inside and outside. Ideally they should also protect you from scrapes, cuts and any other external damage.
There are two options available and you’ll need to think carefully before you decide what to wear – soft shell jackets are more flexible and usually water-resistant (but not necessarily waterproof), while hard shells are waterproof, windproof and less breathable.
Some of these may include extra insulation, but there’s still the warm-up factor to consider – if the weather is fine, you may end up shedding it to reduce sweating.
But don’t leave it at home even if the weather looks good, because if a sudden change comes through and the rain kicks off you’ll be glad to have a jacket with you.