When it comes to kitting you and your kids out for the great outdoors, you’ll want to consider employing the classic layering system. Just like a good trifle, the layers that you choose, and the order in which you put them, can make or break the experience. Trifles triumph when the tried and tested recipe is followed. Nobody has ever impressed anyone ever by nonchalantly throwing a meat layer into that jelly, custard and cream delight; just as nonchalantly hiking up a mountain trail in your favourite double denim (oh, the thought!) is a massive great outdoors no, no. So, to avoid being ‘that person’ that everyone stares at, shaking their head in wonderment and pity, follow our easy guide to layering.
Firstly, a good layering system will ensure that your temperature doesn’t spike to volcanic proportions or dip to levels that would make polar bears cry and shiver. A technical baselayer will provide you with a breathable platform to wick sweat away from your body. This, together with their lightweight, insulating properties will help to keep you at just the right temperature, no matter what your activity and pace.
When choosing a base layer, you need to consider the season and climate that you’ll be out in as some heavier-weight versions provide more insulation than others. However, if you’re planning more fast-paced pursuits, where your heart rate will rise in tandem with your grin (or grimace), or you’re outdoors during warmer periods, they can be worn as a stand-alone top, which will stop you from spectacularly self-combusting, as it helps to regulate your body temperature when your effort levels rise and fall. Available in both short and long sleeve versions and in a range of weights, they’re a really flexible piece of clothing that you’ll get both great value and great use out of.
I have great long-sleeved Icebreaker and OMM baselayers (see featured image) that I’ve used for everything from winter trail running (as a stand-alone top) to skiing (as part of a three layer system). Constructed of merino wool, it provides me with that little bit of extra warmth for cold conditions while, crucially, still helping to wick moisture and sweat away from my body. Avoid cotton at all costs. As you sweat, cotton will simply soak it up and stay wet. This can be uncomfortable at best and make you damn cold at worst. Some, like my Icebreaker, also feature odour control technology which, if you’re using it for fast hikes or other fast-paced, energetic family adventures, will really please those around you!
Essentially your warmth layer, the midlayer is worn over the top of your baselayer. Again, midlayers come in a range of guises, each with their own advantages, but the main thing you’ll want them to do is keep you warm when the temperature drops.
The cheapest form of midlayer is the fleece. These are lightweight and offer good levels of warmth, but they don’t pack down particularly well, especially if you have a heavyweight version designed for colder climates. This needs to be a consideration if you are hiking with, let’s say, a child carrier and storage space is limited but, on the whole, these are very effective bits of kit. They’re also a great option for kids who grow quickly as they’re also cost effective.
Another midlayer option is a softshell. More versatile than fleeces, as they’re often shower and wind resistant, you’ll find you won’t need to stop and grab that outer shell during every short burst of light rain, which can be both annoying and slow you down. Despite being more expensive than fleeces (on average), you’ll find that softshell jackets are an ideal solution to a wider range of fast paced or high energy outdoor activities, as it’s inherently a stretch fabric. This means that users have a greater range of movement available to them and are less likely to feel restricted by their jacket. This, of course, when coupled with its weatherproof exterior, makes it an ideal layer for everything from walking and hiking to climbing and skiing. Being aimed more at the fast-paced outdoor activity market means they generally can’t match fleeces for warmth, but they will pack down a little smaller, leaving more room in your daypack for buttery flapjacks!
Your final main option for a midlayer is an insulated jacket. I’ll be honest, I live in mine throughout the year and use it for all manner of outdoor pursuits and sports, both in the summer and winter. Although I’ve had some super warm, Michelin Man-style, goose down jackets in the past for keeping me warm conquering high altitude climbs such as Mount Kilimanjaro, these are overkill unless you’re taking on something truly epic and truly cold. That said, both of our critters have Patagonia down jackets but, as parents will know, young children are far more susceptible to the cold, so for us to keep up our outdoor lifestyle throughout all of the seasons, they’re pretty necessary.
For myself, I now rely on synthetic insulated jackets as they more than serve my UK needs and also keep me toasty even on cold skiing days in the mountains of europe. Most synthetic insulated jackets also come in an athletic fit, some with stretch panels, meaningthat even in cold weather, you’ve still got a great range of movements available to you and never feel overly bulky. Most also come with technical hoods so, as well as keeping your bonce warm, they’ll fit snugly over climbing or skiing helmets and the like, ensuring a toasty head regardless of the pursuit or sport.
Virtually all insulated jackets have a weatherproof exterior, so they’ll hold up well against light rain or snow, further adding to their versatility. They’ll dry incredibly quickly too, so you won’t be waiting for an age to get back outside in grim weather to have more family fun.
Outer Layers (Shells)
Outer Layers, or shells, are there to stop you getting wet. Even in the worst of storms, these shells should be able to withstand whatever the clouds above can throw at you. With so many shells on the market, and with such varying prices, it can be difficult to know where to start.
If you simply need a waterproof jacket to see you dryly through a series of short family walks, then there is no need to pay for a jacket with the latest Gore Tex Pro membrane. Instead, you should opt for a far more affordable coated jacket. Coated jackets are the cheapest of the bunch and offer decent levels of protection for activities of a short duration in all but the worst weather. Their downside is that, if you plan on doing anything vaguely energetic, they’ll turn you into a human sweat box as their breathability levels are pretty poor in comparison the membrane jackets.
The more expensive membrane jackets which utilise technology from the likes of Gore Tex, aren’t just more waterproof, able to withstand greater amounts of rain before reaching their saturation point, they’re also highly breathable making them the go-to choice for everyone from hikers to climbers. If you’re thinking about using the shell for some fast-paced or high energy activities, consider buying one with a shorter cut and active fit to keep your range and freedom of movement at their optimum. If a slow, autumn bimble is more your style then choose something with a longer cut to offer your backside a little more protection.
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