Staying Warm in Winter – Layering 101

Don’t let the cold keep you inside all winter long. Learn all about layering for the snowy season so you can keep adventuring!

  • What does layering do? It helps you pick the right clothes for the weather forecast and activity. On top of keeping you warm and dry.

Remember that everyone’s comfy temp is different. I start to get uncomfortable around 0° F, but 6 years ago when I first started I froze in anything under 45° F. Choosing layers will depend on you.

Jump ahead to…

Layer Order

It goes… 1) base layer 2) insulating/mid layer then 3) outer layer.

  • Coat should be well insulated.
  • Socks should be thick.
  • Base layers thinner than outer layers so you have the ability to move around.

Base Layer

As sweat evaporates off your skin, your body begins to cool down. Cold wind on your sweat is also another way to become too cold for comfort.

The base layer’s main job is moisture management, not keeping body heat.

Consider the snow sport and how much you sweat while working out or hiking. Look for clothes that say “moisture wicking.”


  • Merino wool – low intensity activity.
  • Nylon.
  • Polyester *synthetic materials.


  • Remove moisture.

What I Wear

  1. LeggingsBurton midweight base layer from REI.
  2. Lightweight jacket/sweaterPatagonia Capilene midweight zip-neck long underwear from REI.
  3. Long-sleeved shirt Long-sleeve crew neck from North Face.

*Remember to avoid cotton.

3 Weight Options

There are 4 different types of base layers to choose from.

*Remember to bring a heavier layer in your pack every trip!

  • Microlight = moderate to cool temps.
    • Rare, bright sunny winter days.
    • Warmer, spring afternoons.
  • Lightweight = cool temps.
    • For harder hikes and if you run hot. (I wear lightweight, but always bring a mid-weight base layer in my pack. The weather can change in an instant in the winter on the mountain!)
  • Midweight = cold temps.
    • Cold, snow days.
  • Heavyweight = below freezing temps.
    • Freezing, cold, harsh days.

Temps & Base Weight

  • Below freezing = 32° F / 0° C.
  • Cold temps = 32°-46° F / 0°-8° C.
  • Moderate to cool temps = 70°-46° F / 21°-8° C.

Mid/Insulating Layer

This is the layer that keeps you warm! Mid layer and insulating layer are terms both used for this layer.


  • Down insulated jackets.
  • Polyester fleece – bring a shell layer. Best option in my opinion.
  • Synthetic down jackets.
  • Wind fleece.


  • Insulation – Retain radiated body heat.

What I Wear

  1. Fleece zip-upThe North Face Flux 2 Power Stretch Quarter-Zip Fleece from REI Outlet.
  2. Fleece sweater.

Outer Layer

If wind and/or water soak inner layers, you will chill out! And not in a good way. Look for shells that have underarm zips and core vents.

For your outer top layer, you want a shell jacket and/or vest – all waterproof, not water-resistant & breathable. For your bottom layer, you want snow pants or waterproof pants.

Different Shells

  • Soft shell.
  • Waterproof, breathable shell.
  • Waterproof, non-breathable shell – coated nylon.
  • Water-resistant, breathable shell – woven nylon or polyester fabrics.
  • Snow pants.
  • Waterproof pants.
    • Leggings can work, but if you get into deep pow, temperatures drop or you fall, leggings probably won’t be enough to keep you warm and dry. Be sure to bring gaiters if you’re only wearing leggings.


  • Protection from rain, snow, and wind.

What I Wear

Types of Jacket Shells

  • Breathable.
  • Hard Shell.
  • Non-breathable.
  • Stiffer shell.
  • Waterproof.

Hard Shell

Waterproof, breathable, stiffer shell, and non-insulated. Your heat will come from the base and mid layers, not these jackets.

Hybrid Shell

Refers to a variety of jacket constructions. Soft/hard shell combo, waterproof and windproof fabrics on top/front, breathable and flexible fabrics on sides/underneath arms, back. Hard shells and traditional soft shells have more durable fabrics in the front/high-wear areas.

Insulated Layer

Most are water-resistant and breathable. Although some are waterproof and breathable, but they must be sealed. Usually filled with down or synthetic fill.

Soft Shell

Best for high exertion outdoor activities. Insulating layer and a water-resistant shell to make a single piece serving as both mid and outer layer. More breathability, but less protection.


The kind of headwear you use is a personal preference. Someone who heats up quickly won’t be as comfortable in a beanie. And someone who stays cold will benefit more from a beanie than a baseball cap.

  • Headbands/Ear Warmers.
    • Retain heat (wool/synthetic) are a good choice for people who heat up quickly or women who have a lot of hair.
    • I stick to headbands because I run hot and my hair is unbelievably thick
  • Beanies.
    • Good for people who have thinner hair or run cold, underneath hoods and goggles.
  • Baseball cap/brimmed hat.
    • Keeps the sun/snow out of your face. I wear this on super sunny day or a snowy day.
    • If you’re a hip-instagrammer, those brimmed hats will work too, just make sure it’s waterproof.
  • Face mask.
    • Never a bad idea because the wind can change. Not to be confused with balaclavas. I try to avoid cotton face masks if I can and wear dri-release merino wool. I buy mine at Next Adventure.
  • Buff.
    • Buffs are good for those rare warm days up on the mountain.
  • Balaclavas.
    • Great for those harsh, cold winter days. These can become a bit hot if the weather isn’t freezing.

What I Wear

Hand Gear

Cold hands can be an annoying issue that can turn a fun time into a not-so-pleasant one.

  • Waterproof gloves.
    • A must! You want to keep your hands dry and warm, and this is the only way.
  • On colder days I wear shell gloves over my liners.

What I Wear

  • Arc’teryx Alpha SL Gloves from REI ($99.00).
    • The fabric is windproof, breathable and repels water. There is fleece on the inside so your hands are constantly warm.
  • VersaLiner Gloves from REI Outlet ($55.00).
    • These gloves have pockets on the side to store hand warmers in and water resistant. There are actually two gloves, an insulating layer and a water-resistant shell. Plus, they have touchscreen compatible finger tips!
  • Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Knit Gloves from Next Adventure ($44.99).
    • On warmer days I wear my liners, but still bring my shell gloves just in case.
Interested in snowshoeing?

Check out my Snowshoeing 101 post for everything you need to know.

Need somewhere to explore?

Check out these spots

Figuring out what type of winter recreation pass you need?

Read through my All You Need To Know About Oregon & Washington Sno-Park Permits.

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