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Buying Guide

* Layering System. We advocate the layering system, particularly in cold weather. Layering maximizes thermal efficiency and breathability while giving you the flexibility to add or shed layers as weather conditions and activities dictate.

* Goals of Layering. Selecting the proper types of clothing is absolutely critical to layering effectively. The clothing you select must:

1) Protect your body from moisture and wind.
2) Provide thermal insulation for warmth.
3) Be "breathable" - i.e., allow your perspiration to escape.

* How to Layer Properly. Effective layering systems consist (from outside in) of: (1) a shell, (2) a mid-layer, and (3) a base layer.

1) Shell. The shell is your first line of defense against the elements, and must protect your body from wind, rain and snow. At the same time, the shell must be breathable - i.e., it must allow moisture to escape through the fabric. Otherwise, you would quickly overheat or become saturated in your own perspiration. Gore-Tex is perhaps the best known fabric that is both waterproof and breathable.

a) Hard Shells. Hard-faced shells such as those lined with Gore-Tex are usually both windproof and waterproof. They are normally worn over an insulation layer (the mid-layer) and the base layer to seal out the elements.

b) Soft Shells. Soft shells are hybrid shells that combine wind and water resistance, breathability and light insulation. Many also stretch for comfort and are made of "quiet" fabrics. Soft shells are ideal for moderate fall and winter conditions, but many are not fully waterproof. The appeal of the soft shell is its versatility - it can serve as either a shell or mid-layer (or both).

2) Mid-Layer. The mid-layer provides insulation - i.e., it traps your body's heat to give you warmth. Popular mid-layers include fleece, wool, down and Primaloft. As with the shell, the mid-layer must also "breathe" efficiently. In mild, dry weather, you can do without a shell jacket, and a mid-layer jacket or pullover can be your outer layer.

3) Base-layer. Simply put, the base layer is clothing that comes in direct contact with your body, including your underwear and T-shirt. An effective base layer must wick moisture away from your body so that it can eventually escape through your mid-layer and shell. Synthetic fabrics or blends (such as polyester and nylon) and wool are much better at this task than cotton.


 

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