Layers...a beautifully necessary concept

Posted on October 23, 2015 by Greg Lehmann | 0 comments

As the calendar progresses past Halloween, the morning are getting a bit chillier leading to the need to dress a bit warmer for our outdoor pursuits.  The question of dressing warm, but not too warm comes up in the store quite often.  Fortunately we live in the Okanagan so, gearing up for a 30 below run is not something we normally need to contemplate.  The ultimate goal of gearing up for outdoor exercise should be being warm, but not too warm.... and dry is nice too.  If you step outside for your workout, and you are immediately chilly... that's OK - that should be the coldest you'll be for the duration of your excursion.  The body has this bizarre adaptive warming technique which will make that initial chilliness a distant memory.

I moved from Winnipeg a few years ago, and missed very few runs during the winter, and although not an "expert" I do have some experience behind these ramblings.

LAYERS - that's the secret!!  For pretty much any activity you are about to enjoy, if you build your outfit in layers, success is almost certainly assured.  Each of those layers can be done well or poorly.... let's see if I can clear up some confusion here.

Base Layer

At the very least, having something which fits close to the skin is a bare necessity.  This can serve to provide some basic warmth, but more importantly should function to move moisture from your body and back to the great outdoors.  The longer you can stay dry the better, especially if the activity you are doing involves some downtime where you aren't intensely moving around.  Rule number one will be to leave your cotton garments in the drawer next to the PJs.  Cotton will get wet quickly and will stay wet.  It will likely kill you.  I wish I were joking, but I would never joke about things like dying.

At the very least, a synthetic base layer which provides at least a modicum of moisture management is definitely a must.  It will work to keep you drier longer, making sure that if you do stop moving, you won't immediately get cold.

BEST would involve a merino wool based layer.  We here at Play are absolutely NUTS about Icebreaker and Smartwool base layers.  The moisture management properties of merino wool are second to none.  These base layers actual begin moving moisture from the skin and regulating temperatures before you actually start sweating, thereby extending the time you remain dry.  In addition to this, merino wool is naturally anti-microbial..... It doesn't stink as bacteria just cannot find a home on the merino fibres.  If you saw the amazing creatures this fabric comes from, you would also conclude it is pretty amazing.  The wool comes from merino sheep which call New Zealand home.  Their wool has to keep them alive in a pretty significant range of temperatures (30 below to 30 above).


This layer is all about warmth.  A mid-layer all depends on what you are doing and how cold it is going to be.  It can range from a light layer to a much more significant thicker fleece-weight garment.  Going for a run during the day when it is 3 degrees, might not require a mid-layer at all depending on one's tolerance for the cold.  As temperatures plunge though, a cozy mid-layer could take a workout from fine to sublime.  This where you have to be careful not to over do it though. If you walk out the house and your reaction, is..."hmmmm... nice warm morning today".... turn around.... you've dressed to warmly.

Similar rules apply to the mid-layer as the base-layers.  NO COTTON.  Synthetics good.  Natural fibres such as wool or down, better and best.  Many of the clothing lines we carry at Play go out of their way to ensure that if they are using natural fibres (wool or down) that they have done so with the animals best interests in mind.  There are humane ways to harvest these insulators, and we encourage consumers to ensure the products they purchase have taken this into consideration. Many of the garments we sell have passed stringent certification standards which ensure this is the case.


Again, this is very activity specific.  This is the protection layer.  Is it going to be wet?  Is it going to be windy?  Grab a layer that is going to protect you from the elements.  Just make sure that the layer you grab here will stand up to the elements.  If it is going to be REALLY wet, make sure you bring something water PROOF rather than just water RESISTANT.  You might not be aware of the differences, but trust me, PROOF (although more expensive), means DRY in even the harshest of conditions. Waterproof/resistant garments all have rating systems - come into Play...we'll help you make sense of these.

If precipitation is not expected, you would be surprised at the benefits of a wind layer. Garments that are rated as having a wind blocking property can be really light, but in blocking the wind it can provide an incredible amount of extra warmth without any appreciable bulk.


Again, this is personal preference, and condition-based.  My hands get cold... therefore, I wear mittens - and there is a difference if you choose gloves.  I love the coziness of a toque, so a merino wool winter cap joins me on every bike ride or run once the calendar passes October. This may be repetitive, but avoid cotton here as well. It's not that I hate cotton, I just don't invite it on my runs.  Just like I enjoy the company of my great-uncle Pete... but his penchant for gin and inactivity would make him a horrible running partner.  

That's your intro to layers... there are many options, come into Play and check out how we can make your next outdoor adventure the best and most comfortable you've ever experienced.




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