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Outdoor Skill + Advice: Winter Layering System Basics

By Contributing Writer Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, faculty member and Diversity & Inclusion Manager and Casey Dean, writer-editor at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

As fall starts to give way to winter, the season’s dropping temperatures slowly add layers to the list of items I take on my adventures, be it climbing, camping, or backcountry skiing. Extra midlayers, such as fleece hoodies, have entered the scene, as have warm hats and down jackets.

My neighbor and fellow NOLS employee Casey Dean came across a layering lesson recently on an outing to Wild Iris, a popular local climbing destination. “I ended up donning more clothes to belay and shedding them before taking to the wall on sunny climbing routes,” said Dean.

Some tips to layering:

(1) A layering system should be a comprehensive unit; unless you’re trying to “go light,” no one article of clothing should be expected to serve multiple purposes.

(2) Proper layering should allow you to be comfortable through fluctuating temperatures and precipitation, as well as whatever activity you choose to enjoy.

(3) Plan for the worst. “You don’t want to put on all the clothes you’ve packed into the backcountry and still feel like something’s missing,” says Casey.

Excellent layer-by-layer recommendations and tips on the best materials can be found in this video by our experts in the NOLS Teton Valley issue room.