How to layer for cold-weather adventures

Conor McElyea Layering

The weather can change quickly this time of year. We should know--it seems like a normal occurrence in Central Oregon when it’s hailing one minute and beautiful bluebird skies the next. And with winter soon transitioning into spring, it’s essential to be prepared for all different kinds of elements that nature might throw your way. So how do you layer accordingly?

Our Product Guru, Conor, shares his tips for proper layering.

Why is proper layering important?

Layering correctly is the only way to keep your body warm and dry in extreme conditions. It also provides versatility in fluctuating temperatures or activity levels, allowing you to add or remove layers as your core temperature rises or falls.

What's the #1 thing to keep in mind with layering for the outdoors in the winter?

Error on the warmer side. You can always remove a layer if you get too warm!

What do most people do wrong when they layer?

The most common mistake I see is people using a cotton t-shirt as their base layer. Although cotton is warm at first, it will retain moisture as you sweat, which will then get cold and negate all of the warmth that the other layers can provide.

What’s your preferred layering system?

I'm a big fan of a three layer system.

1. Base layer

Like many things, layering starts with a proper base. The base layer helps regulate your body temperature and keep moisture off your skin. A base layer should be thin and fit next to the skin.

2. Mid layer

A mid layer will provide warmth. However, it should also allow a constant airflow between your base layer and outer layer. Depending on the temperature, my mid-layers will either be fleece, wool, or down.

3. Shell layer

The last step of layering is a breathable shell which protects against wind, rain, and snow, serving as your primary protection from the elements.

What are some of your favorite products for layering?

In the past year, we have featured two amazing base layers that I use on a rotation for all of my winter excursions. One is from Voormi, which incorporates an extremely thin weave of Rocky Mountain merino wool, a natural insulator. The second is a synthetic blend from Craft. Both are thin, lightweight, breathable and warm; exactly what you want for a solid base.

My Homeschool boot socks, which we featured in our November snow sports collection, incorporate “37.5 technology” that helps wick moisture away from your skin when participating in higher intensity activities. For my off-the-snow adventures, I pull out my Point6 hiking socks. These are a merino wool blend that is extremely versatile for a large range of temperatures and activities, providing an ideal mix of comfort and support.

Got any more layering questions? Ask Conor in the comments!


Get to know Conor McElyea!

I grew up on the beach in Santa Cruz skateboarding, surfing, and (oddly enough) playing golf. Despite my coastal California lifestyle, my passions always brought me to the mountains. Getting deep into the backcountry proved to be a great way to bring perspective to the stresses of everyday life, allowing me to reset with a clear mind.

As a teen, I started leading groups of friends/peers into the backcountry--backpacking, hiking, fishing, and snowboarding. After covering most of the Sierra Nevada mountain range by my mid-20's, I was ready for a new adventure and new terrain which led me North to the Cascades, and Bend, OR.

In the winter, you will find me in the backcountry on my splitboard, exploring snow-covered volcanoes. As the snow and ice start to thaw in the spring, I’ll hit the trail with my wife, Alice, and dog, Jameson, to explore the infinite amount of rivers and lakes we are lucky enough to have access to in the Cascade mountain range. The summer and fall are full of backpacking and fishing trips throughout the high country.

As the "Product Guru" for Cairn, I am one of the team members who is responsible for curating the products, promotions, and Adventure Upgrades for our subscribers to enjoy on a monthly and quarterly basis. I love finding new gear for you to take on your outdoor adventures!