Let’s Talk: Layering for Dummies
Having been born and raised in the Texas heat (and humidity), one would think that I don’t have any experience with proper layering technique.
Wait a second.
There’s actually a “proper” technique for layering?
Yep, and this Texas girl is gonna tell you how it’s done!
Now, as I said above, one might be surprised to know that I have any experience in braving the cold, but I can assure you, there’s one thing this East Texas native abhors, and that is being cold.
Now, I’ll confess, before moving to Kentucky, my running clothes only consisted of HeatGear & DryFit capris, shorts, and tops. I think I only owned one long-sleeved top, once again – UnderArmour HeatGear.
Where my true layering experience comes from is riding horses. From barrel racing in the sleet to Foxhunting in 40 mph February winds, I like to enjoy being outdoors with my horses and horsey friends… and I like staying warm.
At this point you may be thinking I’m the dummy here. I mean, what does dressing for horseback riding have to do with dressing for running or hiking or whatever it is you do (or want to do) in the great outdoors? Well, let me break it down for you.
While your specific activity, weather, and personal threshold for comfort will determine how many layers you need and exactly what clothes you wear, the principles of layering apply to all, no matter the activity engaged in. What are these principles?
1. A sweat-wicking Base Layer is a necessity. If you’re active, you’re going to sweat despite the cold, so you need a Base Layer that will keep you dry. This layer needs to be comfortably snug. Think silk or synthetic fabrics, and remember, “cotton kills!” Cotton soaks up and retains moisture: great for towels, not for cold-weather clothing.
2. For added warmth, add a mid layer.
This includes sweaters, sweatshirts, vests, pullovers, hoodies. Fabrics range from fleece to wool to synthetics. (And remember, “Cotton kills!”)
3. In windy or rainy weather, you need an appropriate outer layer. Wind proof, water-resistant or waterproof (depending on what conditions you expect it to be used), breathable, vented, taped seams – these are the basic features to look for in your outer layer.
And again, remember (as my fellow kayakers like to say): COTTON KILLS!
(Look, I’m not hating on cotton. Really, I’m not. Cotton is great for certain circumstances. Like drying off after a shower. Or lounging around the house after a hard workout and a nice, hot shower.)
So, let’s get personal here. What’s in my closet? What do I layer on when the mercury drops?
Well, of course, what I wear is dependent upon what I’m doing. And, truth be told, it’s taken me awhile to build up to what I currently have. Athletic gear can be quite spendy, so I’ve learned to get creative and improvise when necessary. I’ve also become quite the EBay shopper, and learned to look for deals at Thriftshops and consignment shops. There are some items that have been well worth the splurge of buying new, and will last me a very long time (when properly cared for).
Ok, let’s break this down.
In my closet, before I became a runner, I had few base layers to choose from. Basically, I started with street clothes that had the “right” fabrics and eventually added-to as I went along. That included a nice silk/cashmere turtleneck from Victoria’s Secret and fashion “sweater” tights. These two items became my go-to base layers for riding horses. I ended up coming across the Hot Chillys brand and added one pair of base layer pants and two pairs of mid-volume socks to my closet. Now, my friends and I are big fans of the Hot Chillys brand, but when it came to running, I really needed clothes geared specifically for running.
As I delved into running, I first added shorts & tanks to my closet, but as time went on I added clothes that now serve double duty – running gear when I need it, and base layers for other activities as well.
My go-to layers for a run in the low 20’s to mid 30’s temps are:
Base: Under Armour Coldgear tights, ProCompression socks, and either an Under Armour HeatGear l/s pullover or a Nike DryFit l/s pullover (both shirts have thumb holes and hand coverage)
Mid: soft, lightweight Nike DryFit track jacket, and MAYBE a pair of Nike track pants or sweat pants (if the windchill is dipping low enough)
Outer: I have yet to run in poor enough conditions to really need a true Outer Layer, so the only Outer Layers in my closet are geared for riding horses, camping, and kayaking, and have too much insulation to be comfortable while running. I do occasionally use a polar fleece pullover for the first half mile of a run on a really cold day. Once I warm up, I tie it around my waist. In the cool down, I may put it back on if I start to get chilled. While it could be said I’m using it as an Outer Layer, the polar fleece pullover technically falls into the Mid Layer category as it “insulates” rather than “protects.”
Extremities: I have yet to use gloves for running or add runner-specific gloves to my closet. I just fold my sleeves over my hands for now. Maybe one day I’ll get a pair of gloves specifically made for runners. I cover my ears with a light sweatband/headband I picked up at a race expo, and if it’s cold enough I cover my head with my favorite Carhartt beanie. I tried my husband’s Harley face mask one day when the windchill was 21 degrees, but really disliked it. Another day I used my silk Wild Rag (from my cowboying days) on my face, and that worked excellently as a face mask, AND packed up small when I no longer needed it.
An important reminder for running in cold weather – dress for ten degrees warmer than it is. Or, be prepared to quickly remove a top layer – you don’t want to overheat!
And always remember, “COTTON KILLS!”
So tell me, what’s in your closet? What are your favorite clothes to layer up with?