Layers Clothing: A Complete Guide

Layered hike clothing
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

There are a lot of things which need to be taken care of when you are heading outdoors. Clothes are one of them. Going camping?

You need clothes which will keep you warm and dry while at the same time prevent you from feeling too hot or sweaty. Layers clothing was created for basically this purpose.

Why should you go for Layered Clothing?

The basic idea behind wearing different layers of clothes is simple.

  • You add on the layers so you can feel comfortable.
  • Wearing several layers allows you to make quick adjustments based on the weather and the conditions. For example, if you head out when the sun is shining but after a few hours it starts to rain, you need to be prepared for that.
  • You can also make adjustments according to your activity level. For example, sitting around a campfire requires different clothes type than you would need if you were running.
  • Wearing clothes layers does not just have to be about survival. It can be used to make a fashion statement, too!
  • If you have a few layering staples, they can go along with pretty much anything.
  • In winters, wearing more than one layer can keep you warmer than wearing a single thick layer.

What are the Main Clothes Layers?

Base Layer

This is the innermost layer of clothes. It lies next to your skin and helps to absorb moisture, thus keeping your skin dry. To give you more options, check out our article on the best merino wool base layer for more information.

Base layer

Middle Layer

This layer acts as an insulating clothes layer. This means that it keeps air close to the body, hence helping to keep you warm and comfortable.

Outer Layer

This layer is for protection against the weather. If you are heading out and planning to stay outside for some time, you need this layer. After all, it might rain, or snow, depending on the weather, and you need to protect yourself from that. This layer also protects against harsh wind.

How to Layer your Clothes?

Now that we understand the basics of layering, let’s move on to the important part – how to wear clothes in layers? It may seem like layering is a simple enough idea. After all, you just need to pile on random clothes, right?

Layers clothing

Wrong. You need to put on the layers carefully, paying attention to the type of fabric of each layer, as each layer has its own particular function.

What should you Wear as Inner Layer?

When choosing your inner layer, you need to keep comfort in mind. After all, this layer will not be visible so there is no point focusing on its appearance and beauty. It is best to wear an inner layer made of merino wool or synthetic fibers like polyester. This is because these fibers help in removing sweat away from the body, hence keeping you dry and relaxed.

While cotton sounds like a great idea as an inner layer, don’t go for it if you are planning on doing some heavy exercise or activity. This is because cotton clothes end up absorbing the perspiration from the body, hence becoming moist. As a result, you will feel uncomfortable and clammy.

Man wearing inner layer

Exactly what you wear depends on you, the weather, and your desired activity. Just underwear is great as an inner layer if the weather’s not cold or you are planning on a simple stroll. However, if you are going jogging in windy, cold weather, you can wear undershirts of even an old T-shirt as an inner layer.

Some Tips:

  • If you are wearing a sheer outfit, make sure that your inner layer is color-matched and of good quality. You do not want stains showing through.
  • Wearing a well-fitted inner layer can help you look smarter and leaner. Wearing a layer which is thick may make you look bulky.
  • There are proper thermal undershirts available for winters, so buy these if the weather is cold and you need to head outside.
  • Don’t go for an inner layer which is very thick. This is because you can’t easily remove the inner layer, and so if the weather changes and becomes warmer, or you go to someone’s house which is well-heated, you will start feeling hot and uncomfortable.

What should you Wear as Middle Layer?

Middle layer acts to trap the heat between the clothes and your body, so you can keep yourself nice and warm. Go for natural fibers like wool or cotton. They act as great insulators and will keep you warm. You can also choose goose down, which provides quite a bit of warmth in cold weather.

Middle layer shirt

If it is really cold, you can choose fleece as your middle layer. Just pay attention to the thickness of the fleece. Lightweight fleece works well if the climate is mild. Then there is mid-weight fleece and finally, for extremely cold weather, you can go for expedition-weight fleece.

Some Tips:

  • Middle layers can be shirts, tops, tunics etc.
  • Make sure they are not too loose, or you will look bulky.
  • Choose the length, pattern and color carefully.
  • Keep your activity level in mind when choosing a middle layer. If you are not planning on doing heavy exercise or activity, keep the middle layer thin. On the other hand, go for a heavy fleece or woolen middle layer if you will be jogging, running, or carrying out any other heavy activity.
  • Your middle layer should look good because you may need to remove your outer layer, in which case this layer will become visible.

What should you Wear as an Outer Layer?

This is the layer that protects you against the elements. As a result, it should be thick and heavy. You should get yourself a waterproof jacket as an outer layer. This will let you go out in all sorts of weather, knowing that you will be protected.

Outer layer

While these are mostly expensive, some cheaper varieties are also available. There are many options when it comes to an outer layer:

  1. Waterproof garments, as mentioned, are the most expensive.
  2. Water-resistant ones are also available. They are cheaper but cannot keep out extremely heavy rain.
  3. Soft outer layers are designed in such a way that they increase breathability. You can wear them in mild weather. The best thing is that this fabric will not make you feel too hot or uncomfortable.
  4. After your outer coat or jacket, you can always add a scarf. Not only will this add to your warmth and comfort, it will also make you look chic and stylish! A scarf around the neck can really help you keep yourself cozy in cold weather.

Some Tips:

  • Buy jackets and coats in neutral colors.
  • This clothing layer should be pristine and perfect. After all, it is what everyone will see, so you might as well buy something good.
  • Remember that an outer clothing layer may have to be removed. For example, you may go outside in cold weather but then may have to go to someone’s house, where it is warm. Therefore, choose something that is easy to wear and take off.
  • Water-resistant and waterproof jackets tend to be a little pricier, but you should invest in them if the weather conditions where you live are cold and wet.

Layering for Different Seasons


A thermal undershirt can work wonders in winters. It will keep you warm and cozy while preventing your body from overheating. If it is extremely cold, you can wear a vest and put on the undershirt on top of that. Remember, wearing several layers will keep you warmer. Check out our tips on how to choose the top base layer for skiing to find out more.

Winter hike layering

You can also choose to go for a turtle neck. These are snug-fitting, warm, and tend to cover the upper body completely. They trap the body’s heat, hence retaining warmth. An added bonus is that turtlenecks in solid colors go with pretty much everything.

Put on a button down shirt on top of your undershirt. You can choose a cotton shirt as your middle layer. On top, go for a jacket. The thickness of the jacket depends on the weather, of course. In extreme cold, choose a waterproof or water resistant one, particularly if you are expecting rain or snow.

If you are going out for a prolonged period of time, again choose a thick, water-proof jacket as you never know when it might rain.

Next, wear a scarf around your neck. You can wrap it in a way that it covers your neck completely and hence prevents it from harsh wind. Don’t forget gloves, which should be warm but comfortable. Wear a cap; it should be large enough to cover your ears. See our review of the top women’s gloves to keep hands toasty and warm.

Winter hike scarf

Now for the bottom, wear long undershorts and if it is really cold, you can always go for thermal leggings or tights. Just make sure they are comfortable to wear and do not cause any itching or irritation. Next, put on jeans. Blue jeans are a great idea because they can withstand quite a bit of wear and tear before it needs to be washed.

Wear thick, woolen socks, and then your shoes. You are now ready to go.


Layering for autumn is more difficult than layering for winters. This is because the weather tends to vary; it may be freezing cold one hour and warmer the next. How, then, should you wear layers to help you in all weather conditions:

For starters, choose your inner layer wisely. It should be of medium thickness; don’t go for a very warm one as you may end up feeling warmer than you like.

Fall hike

Again, a button-down shirt works great as a middle layer. For your outer layer, choose a jumper. This is less heavy and warm then a waterproof jacket while still being quite warm and cozy. A jumper also allows for better breathability so you won’t feel too hot if the weather gets a little warmer.

As for a scarf, wear it slightly loose around the neck. This will provide you with warmth while still giving you room to breathe. If you feel cold, you can always wrap it tighter around the neck.

Wear jeans or pants over shorts or underwear. Thermal leggings may not be required. Choose cotton socks and put on your shoes.


This is the easiest and requires the least number of layers. Just wear a T-shirt or a polo shirt. If you will be running or carrying out any strenuous activity, wear a vest under your shirt to wick the sweat away from your body, so you don’t feel clammy and moist.

Summer hike

You can carry a sweatshirt with you to wear in case it gets a little cooler. Wear jeans, pants or shorts, according to the heat as well as your planned activity. Sneakers without socks works great if you will be running or exercising. Wear sandals for a casual walk.


By now, you know pretty much everything about how to layer clothes for different weathers. Just remember, you need to keep yourself warm but not to suffocate yourself. In other words, add layers in a way that they remain breathable. For more choices in selecting the best base layer, see our must-read article to find out for yourself.

What do you know about laying clothes when you’re heading out into the wilderness? How do you make sure that you layer them properly?  


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.