How to Properly Layer Cold-Weather Clothing

Based on what they see in movies, people commonly believe that the more clothes they wear when it’s cold, the warmer they will be. However, in some situations, too many clothes can actually be a bad thing.

When looking at the proper way to layer clothing, you need to consider a number of things. The basic rule is the three-layer method; you have the base layer, the middle layer, and the outer layer. Each layer plays a significant role in your protection from the cold.

Base Layer

The base layer is your underwear layer. Its basic function is to keep you dry – not warm. So, you are looking for something that “wicks” moisture away from your skin, whether that’s sweat or rain and snow. This is essential when it comes to preventing hypothermia. You can choose from natural or synthetic materials for your base layer. The best choice for a base layer is nylon or polyester, since it’s wicking and dries quickly. There are two weights of base layers commonly available: Level I and Level II, with Level I being the thinnest material.

Middle Layer

The purpose of the middle layer is to provide insulation. Basically, you want the middle layer to trap the heat coming from your body, so you remain as warm as possible. For this layer too, there are a variety of materials—both synthetic and natural—to choose from. Most people use one of the following:

  • A polyester fleece
  • A down insulated jacket
  • A synthetic insulated jacket

A polyester fleece jacket comes in different weights and provides warmth even if moist. The fabric dries quickly and is breathable, which helps prevent overheating. At the same time, the fabric’s breathability allows the wind to blow right through and steal warmth from your body.

A down insulated jacket provides much more warmth, due to its design. The shell material protects you from wind chill and dampness. This type of jacket also compresses well, so it is easy to store when not needed. The downside is that once the down gets wet, its insulation efficiency drops drastically.

A synthetic insulated jacket greatly resembles the down insulated jacket. It protects you from the rain and provides insulation. However, a synthetic insulated jacket does not compress very much and takes up quite a bit of room in storage.

Outer Layer

The basic purpose of the outer layer is to protect you from rain, wind, and snow. This shell prevents the middle layer from getting damp, so that it can do the job of insulating you. You have several options for your outer layer: a waterproof/breathable shell, a water-resistant/breathable shell, a soft shell, and a waterproof/non-breathable shell.

Which one you ultimately pick depends on the weather conditions in which you’ll wear your layers. For very wet climates, you want to go with a waterproof/breathable shell. It is a pricier option, but it provides the best overall protection. A water-resistant shell is optimal for light rain or drizzle, while a soft shell usually provides breathability without water protection (some do). Waterproof and non-breathable shells are best for those days when you know you won’t do much strenuous work outside. Otherwise, you’ll end up sweating through your base and middle layers in no time.


Understanding the purpose of each clothing layer and using it to your advantage is crucial to being protected in cold weather. With these tips on how to effectively layer your clothes, you’ll be able to move around comfortably, whether it’s for work or for fun.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Jeffrey Sabins

Jeff is an experienced operations manager with a background serving in the USMC as a infantry unit leader. His education includes a Certificate in Fitness and Nutrition, Bachelor of Arts in Terrorism Intelligence, and is currently working through his Masters in Organizational Leadership. He currently writes articles, short stories, product reviews, and assists companies with curriculum management and CPI processes.
Jeffrey Sabins

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