We have had a lot of questions lately from Members participating in The Great American Monkey 1000 on gear and layering. We hope this will shed some light on the approach we take on how to layer for adventure.
To understand layering your clothing for outdoor activities, you need to know the function of each layer. The traditional outdoor layer system consists of 3 layers however, we suggest separating your Outer Layer and your Waterproof Layer for added versatility:
Even if you don’t wear all four layers at the outset, You should take all layers on every outing: You can peel off layers if things heat up, but you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring.
THE BASE LAYER
The layer that's next to your skin is the most important part of the system. Good base layers are designed to work well in both hot and cold environments by transmitting moisture away from the skin to allow effective cooling or to retain heat when not exposed to airflow.
Base layer materials: There is a wide range of fabric options, including synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool and silk. Though there are subtle differences in wicking and drying for each material, and in odor retention and durability.
Base layer weights: Options are straightforward: lightweight, midweight and heavyweight. You may see terms like “ultralightweight” on one end of the spectrum or “expedition weight” on the other. Generally, heavier (thicker) fabrics keep you warmer, though that’s not really the primary purpose of a base layer (wicking is).
Warm-weather base layers: Long underwear might not be appealing when temperatures soar, but having dry skin generally makes you more comfortable in all conditions. (No one likes having clammy, drippy skin.) Here are some other warm-weather base-layer considerations:
Any summer shirt is really a base layer, so look for ones that offer wicking.
Some shirts designed for warm weather spread the moisture out through the fabric, where evaporation helps with cooling. They won’t really be marketed as a base layer, but as your next-to-skin layer they can increase your comfort in hot conditions.
Underwear should also wick (the same is true when you wear it under your long underwear).
UPF-rated base layers give you added sun protection.
Cotton, considered a no-go because it sponges up water and can chill you.
Emerging fabric technologies, like wool infused with ceramic particles, will offer base layers that literally cool your skin for greater comfort.
THE MID LAYER
The primary function of Mid Layers is an insulating layer that helps you retain the heat that’s radiated by your body and regulate temperature. The mid layer is the jacket that you wear 80% of the time. It's the one you sleep in when tucked up in your sleeping bag and the one that keeps the morning freshness off whilst making coffee. It's the first layer you take off as the morning sun shines and it’s the first you put back on as you gain altitude, or late evening sunshine starts to cause a drop in air temperature.
Middle layer materials: Just as with base layers, you have a broad range of options, both synthetic and natural. In general, thicker (or puffier) equals warmer, though the efficiency of the insulating material is also important. Below are some common middle layer materials, though other options, like wool and wool-blend tops, are also available.
Here are some of your primary choices for middle layers:
Polyester fleece: Available in lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight fabrics (sometimes marketed as 100, 200, and 300 weight), fleece stays warm even if gets damp, and it dries fast. Fleece also breathes well, so you’re less likely to overheat in it.
The flipside of breathability, though, is that wind blows right through, which can steal warmth. That’s why you need to have a shell outer layer with you if you’re going with a fleece middle layer.
Down insulated jackets: Highly compressible for easy packing, down offers more warmth for its weight than any other insulating material. The efficiency of down is measured in fill power—from 450 to 900. Because down is always inside a shell material, down jackets also offer some water and wind resistance. The drawback to down is that it loses insulating efficiency when damp.
Synthetic insulated jackets: Synthetic insulations have long tried to mimic down’s efficiency, coming closer to that standard every year. And, while synthetics don’t compress as well as down, they’re a popular option for rainy conditions because they retain insulating ability when they get damp. And, like down, synthetic insulation is always inside a shell material that offers added water- and wind resistance.
Pants: durable and weather-resistant pants are the go-to mid layer. Commonly referred to as hiking pants (though you can use them for other outdoor activities) they are lose fitting enough that you can wear a pair of base layer tights underneath. They are usually weather-resistant enough to protect against light rain and wind. Higher-end pants (like mountaineering pants) will have even better durability and weatherproofing. Riding Pants: For Adventure riders, motorcycle pants will help tremendously with reducing the amount of abrasion and impact injury in the event of a wreck. Wearing a pant can offer your protection at your hips and knees. At the very minimum, any pair of pants you buy should have CE rated armor. And better than that, EN rated armor. If you can invest a little money in motorcycle-specific baselayers, they can be a little more comfortable with fewer seams
THE OUTER LAYER
Outer layers should be designed primarily for protection, both from the elements and impact/abrasion.
Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are more suited to drizzly, breezy conditions and high activity levels. They're typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics that block UV, light wind, and light rain.
Soft shells: These emphasize breathability. Most feature stretch fabric or fabric panels for added comfort during aerobic activities. Many combine light rain and wind protection with light insulation.
If your Adventure includes motorcycle touring, off road riding, or ATV/UTV activities: A road motorcyclist might choose leather as their outer layer. Great in the event of a high-speed spill, but heavy, hot, and poor when wet.
For lightweight adventure and dual-sport riding, we recommend high-tech textile materials based upon Nylon 6-6, Kevlar ®, and Dyneema ® that are lighter, more protective, and more breathable than previous technologies as well as being more comfortable on and off the bike.
Motorcycle outer layers should accommodate body armor, however many adventure riders choose to wear their armor in an armored shirt over (or inside) their base layer. This allows our outer layers to focus on temperature regulation, abrasion resistance, and low weight.
This outer layer should help the rider in colder wet climates, but also ensuring that the body is protected from the effects of overheating, a very real problem when riding hard in hot/humid climates.
The primary function of this layer as the name implies is to be fully Waterproof and protect you from heavy rain and snow. The Waterproof Layer can also act as a breaker in high winds.
We have separated the traditional idea of an outer layer into two by adding a waterproof layer. This is led by the idea of only wearing what you need when you need it. If it's not raining then what's the point in adventuring all day in fully waterproof gear?
This layer should consist of both a rain jacket and rain pants.
We recommend waterproof layers that are super light, tough, and breathable. Look for waterproof fabric, taped seams, a Hooded jacket, and no lining.
Motorcycle riders: may want to consider a more robust rain shell that includes kevlar panels.
THE BOTTOM LINE
By dressing in layers, you can easily respond to your environment, adding or subtracting layers as you get warmer or colder or based on weather conditions.