How do you keep warm at the start of walks? The Layering System


jacket may be required when walking

How do you keep warm at the start of walks? This is one of the most common questions asked by people new to hiking as they hit their first winter. They probably started hiking in spring or summer, and have got hooked. But as Autumn approaches and sets in thoughts turn to continuing in the colder months.

The simple answer is to adopt the layering system. But what is the Layering System? The layering system is a great way to ensure that you can regulate how much heat you produce and retain when walking. This involves wearing two or more layers with an outermost layer that will provide protection from rain, wind and snow.

Dressing in layers

Dressing in layers is a key to hiking success. Most of the time, hikers are going to be hot and sweaty when they’re trekking up a mountain, so it’s important to have clothing that will allow you to shed as needed. But when starting out on your walk you’ll want to have several layers to keep you warm until your muscles have warmed up and you’ve started to sweat a little.

If you start off cold and don’t have enough layers on, you will take a long time to work up any heat, if at all. Even if you aren’t wearing all your layers, at least have them in your rucksack, but it’s best to start and then take them off as required.

The Base Layer

When you’re hiking in the winter, it can be hard to figure out what you should wear. When it’s cold outside, your body needs every layer of protection possible. Your base layer is one of the most important things you need when hiking in winter because it helps keep your body warm and dry.

Base layers are one of the most important aspects of hiking clothing. They provide a barrier between your skin and potentially wet or cold outer layers. In colder weather they also protect from windchill and can help regulate body temperature during hikes.

It also absorbs sweat that would otherwise make a person wet and uncomfortable while they are walking or working out. So material such as cotton is no good as it will absorb sweat and keep you moist.

A base layer typically consists of wool, merino wool, polyester fleece or synthetic insulation material such as Thermax® polyester fiberfill with an outer shell made from nylon or other water-resistant materials like Gore-Tex®, Thinsulate™ insulated cloth fabric or Primaloft® insulated fabric.

For more on base layers check out this post.

Leggings and tights

If you’re going to be hiking in cold weather, then a good idea would be some leggings or tights. The next thing to consider is how much coverage you need for the area that will go under your outerwear.

I’m going to be honest, the first time I wore base layer leggings or tights on a hike, I felt pretty silly. I was worried people would think it was ridiculous and that maybe they weren’t designed for hiking. However, quite simply they keep your legs warmer, especially when you set off at the start of your walk. They trap heat from your body and maintain that warmth, and they are also great at avoiding chafing – which can happen in the cold without you realising, and is very painful!

The Mid Layer

A mid layer is a type of clothing that provides warmth and protection from the elements in between your base layer and outer shell. Mid layers are typically worn on top of a base layer to provide additional insulation when faced with colder temperatures.

A mid layer is an important part of your hiking gear. It’s different than a coat or jacket because it should be made of lightweight, breathable material that can wick away sweat and moisture from your skin.

The most common materials are Polartec® Power Dry®, Polyester, Acrylic and Wool. The best one to use depends on the conditions you’ll be hiking in- if it’s cold out, you’ll want something warm like wool or polyester which will insulate heat closer to your body- but if it’s hot out, make sure to choose something thin so your body can cool down with each breath!

The best types of mid layer clothing for hiking can be a life saver. In the winter, you might need to put on another shirt or jacket under your coat that is windproof and water resistant. A fleece is perfect because it’s warm but also lightweight so it won’t make you overheat during strenuous activities such as uphill climbs.

In the summer months, when temperatures rise, a long sleeve t-shirt with an athletic tee underneath will work wonders for regulating your body temperature in hot weather without adding too much bulkiness to your outfit.

The Outer Layer

A windproof and water-resistant outer layer is an essential part of any hiking kit. This is because the weather has a way of changing quickly, especially when you’re out in the countryside – and being caught out without the proper jacket can mean hypothermia or even death.

Take a look at this guide to see what to look for when choosing a waterproof and windproof jacket, and you can find the latest selection of the best jackets for various price ranges here.

If it’s dry, you may find that you want to remove the jacket first, but as it protects you from wind then you’d probably want to remove your Mid Layer instead, as a cold wind can bite through a fleece or top quickly. Obviously when you do this it’s best to find shelter first, as you’ll briefly be down to your base layer whilst you get sorted.

Other things to wear and do to keep warm when starting to walk

If it’s cold when you start walking then you would probably want to be wearing one or more of the following:

  • A hat to keep your head and ears warm – if like me you are receding badly then this will assist greatly, but with lots of heat escaping from your head it’s wise for everybody to have a hat close by when setting out on your hike.
  • Gloves – I find gloves are pretty essential in colder weather, but they will also probably be the first things to be removed too. Ideally they will have long cuffs so that you can tuck them under your sleeve cuffs and not expose your wrists to a biting wind.
  • Scarf – personally I’m not a fan of scarves when hiking but they can come in handy to also protect your mouth as well as your neck if it’s freezing cold.
  • Consider carrying a second Mid Layer in your rucksack in the most extreme of weathers. Better to be safe than sorry.

If it is cold and windy, the best thing to do when starting out is to keep your head down and walk as briskly as possible. That way you’ll soon get your heart pumping and generating heat, and with your head facing slightly in front of you the wind will have less effect on you.

Conclusion – How to keep warm at the start of a walk

As a new member of the hiking family you may well be wondering how to keep warm when winter comes, especially at the start of a walk. We’ve learned above how the layering system works, and how you can use this to start warm before you work up some heat and take off layers as required once you’ve really got your body pumping blood round itself.

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