It Begins with the Baselayer: Layering 101

Alpine Shop outfitter Caroline Goodin demonstrates different layer levels to Newschannel 5’s Ryan Dean.

On two occasions in the past month, our flagship store in Kirkwood, Mo., has welcomed local morning show personalities to our store to discuss how to use layering for the most comfort and safety throughout the winter season.

And even as it starts to warm over the next couple of months, the concept of layering is just as important, because the “shoulder seasons” can feature such drastic temperature and condition changes in such a short time.

The most important layer to begin with is your baselayer. This stays true for all active pursuits, no matter what season you’re in throughout the year. If it’s summer, your baselayer may be the only thing you’re wearing at times. In the winter, your choice of baselayer becomes vitaly important depending on how active you’ll be during the time you’re outside.

If you’ll be constantly on the move–hiking, running, backcountry skiing or something similar, you’re biggest concern will not necessarily be warmth, it will most likely be sweat. You need to make sure all that moisture you’re generating gets removed from your skin as quickly as possible. While sweat may help keep us cool in the summer, during the winter, perspiration that soaks our clothing can cause death due to hypothermia in extreme situations. Even at the best of times, wet clothing is just downright uncomfortable.

So, the first layer for active pursuits should be a comfortably form-fitting baselayer. We want it form-fitting so it can wick the sweat off of your body and spread that perspiration out across the entire surface of the shirt (or pants, socks, gloves or hat). That expansion over a wide area exposes more of the moisture to the air, increasing its evaporation and keeping you drier. This is why we recommend merino wool and synthetic fabrics that are specifically designed (either by Mother Nature or by man) to manage moisture and our body temperatures. More on that later.

Alex Kuntzmann (right) helps Newschannel 5’s Rene Knott (middle) prepare for a trip to PyeongChang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

If you’re not going to be consistently active – think sitting on a ski lift for long periods of time, watching winter sports from the sidelines or any other reason you may just be standing around outside in the cold for awhile, your needs for your baselayer change a bit to reflect the lack of sweat you’re creating. In this situation, we’re likely to recommend your baselayer have a more relaxed fit where it can store a layer of heat between itself and your body.

Your baselayer can cover almost every inch of your body, from your socks to the tips of your fingers, depending on just how cold your environment is. Plan wisely and use either merino wool or synthetic fabrics. If you will be involved in any active endeavors whatsoever, we can not stress enough that cotton fabrics are dangerous when used as winter layers because they lose nearly all of their insulation qualities once wet – and even worse, take an extremely long time to dry.

Patagonia Capilene, Smartwool, Icebreaker and Hot Chillys are just a few of the baselayer manufacturers we carry and recommend.

Grab an Alpine Shop outfitter and explain what you’ll be doing and we’ll be happy to help you stay warm, comfortable, and safe during this and every winter to follow, no matter what activity you’re participating in while outside.