Layering 101: Layering fundamentals

  Layering 101:
Fundamental Concepts and Traditions
Why is layering fundamental?


= Why is layering back country, cross country, down hill. The powder, fresh, the conifer scent in your nostrils. Exhale the fog. Skis, carving, snowboard, riding, your snowshoes crunching in rhythm, boots on the earth. Inhale the elemental green, linger the dry red leaves, sweat the crisp air. Paddle, track smoothly across the glassy blue, paddle, drop a line in the water and wait. Contemplate. Left, right, hike, bike. Layer the rhythm, drink the roots, eat the sun. Glide the water, ride the dirt, scramble the exponential stones and why do we climb. Higher.

Whatever your outdoor pursuit
When we endeavor to face the unforgiving alpine elements
We must also face the cold truth about cold sweat.



Climbing sweat volume = over 2 litres (0.6 gallon)

When you climb a mountain, you sweat a lot more than you think. As a baseline, consider a female climber on the lighter end of the weight spectrum, at 60kg (135lbs). On a vigorous 6-hour trek, she will put out 1800 ml (0.5 gallon) of sweat as she ascends. For 7 hours of activity, that would be 2100 ml (0.6 gallon) of liquid! Now imagine an 80kg (176lbs) male on that same trek . . .

Sweat-soaked clothes rapidly reduce body temperature, as if you were immersed in cool water. Even if you are wearing winter clothes at the summit of your climb, wet clothing that sticks to your skin robs your body of precious heat. Losing your body heat directly means losing your energy, increasing your risk of hypothermia.


+1000m = -6°C      (+3200ft = -10°F)

For every altitude gain of 1000m (+3200ft ), the temperature drops 6°C (-10°F)

So, even if the temperature is 30°C (86°F) at ground level on a beautiful summer day, the temperature at 2000m (6400ft) will be a cool 18°C (64°F), while a peak of 3000m (9600ft) will be a chilly 12°C(54°F).


+1m/s = -1°C  (+2.2mph = -2°F)

For every 1m/s (2.2mph) increase in wind speed, sensible temperature drops 1°C (-2°F). 

This means that a wind speed of 5m/s (10.1mph) can feel like a 5°C (10°F) drop in temperature. Assuming a 12°C (54°F) objective temperature at the summit, if we factor in a wind speed of 12 m/s (26mph), the sensible temperature will, subjectively, feel like a freezing 0°C (32°F). Beyond the treeline, there is nothing to protect you from those chilling winds other than your own warmth, wits, and gear.


= All of these factors sum up to a loss of heat and energy. Imagine you have just ascended a mountain on a moderately challenging climb. If you took a break to refuel and contemplate the panoramic view on a 3000m (9600ft) summit where the objective temperature was 12℃ (54°F) and the wind speed was 12m/s (26mph), making for a sensible temperature of 0℃(32°F), what would that feel like? Awesome, of course, on top of the world, but you worked hard on the climb, producing more than 2 litres (0.6 gallon) of sweat. Now, how does it feel with cold, sweaty clothes stuck to your skin, thermally conducting your body heat and energy away? Are you shivering yet? Most of us have experienced this situation many times. We shiver when body temperature drops, a natural reaction to the cold, an involuntary attempt to warm up, accelerating fatigue, increasing the risk of hypothermia. In any outdoor activity, keeping your skin dry to conserve warmth and energy is paramount, and the base layer of a good layering system will help wick sweat away from your skin quickly and efficiently dissipate it through the outer layer. Enjoying outdoor endeavors is inextricably intertwined with wet, cold discomfort and the risk of having your body heat and energy sapped away. 

= That is the layering why, the roots, the cold sweat truth of the elemental matter.


Traditional layering

For centuries, layering has been used for warmth and dryness. The traditional 3-layer system consists of:

  1. a base layer, which ideally will help wick sweat away from the skin
  2. a middle layer to insulate and retain body heat
  3. an outer layer or shell to protect against wind, rain, and snow

This tried and true layering method allows for versatility, as the 3 layers can be added or shed as necessary in response to changing conditions. This is how layering has always been done, and, in recent years, there has been much improvement in base layer materials and their ability to wick moisture and dry quickly. There are many excellent products on the market today; at finetrack we acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants in the outdoor wear industry.


The limits of traditional layering

However, despite the advances in base layer material technology that help us keep up with continuous sweating, even “quick-drying” outdoor wear has its limitations. These materials are called “fast-drying” because they dry in 1/3 the time it takes cotton to dry. With cotton as a baseline, any synthetic material will appear to dry faster in relative terms, but it still takes an average of 70 minutes for these materials to dry completely. Respectfully, no matter how advanced and refined the product, it’s impossible to surmount that 70 minutes of cold, sweaty lag time to get completely dry. At finetrack, we understand the limitations of even the finest quality base layer materials as we have faced the same problem in our own engineering.

Is it comfortable to have cold, sweaty clothes stuck to your skin for more than 1 hour? Is it safe to shiver as you lose your precious body heat and energy? If you’re admiring the spectacular view on that 3000m summit and begin descending toward the treeline, keep in mind that the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature, the longer it takes the base layer to dry. It is impossible to prevent the drop in body temperature with only “fast-drying” clothes that do not dry for 70 minutes. Ultimately, wearing only “fast-drying” clothing alone cannot stop the chill of cold sweat.


Layering has evolved

At finetrack, our relentless drive to innovate and continuously refine our layer technology and materials, and to fundamentally rethink the layering concept from the ground up, has paid off with an evolutionary leap forward: finetrack’s integrated 5-layer system. 


>> See Layering 201: finetrack's 5-Layer System >>