The Art of Layering

If being a Wisconsin lifer has taught us anything, it’s how to dress to survive one of our relentless winters. More on that here.


There’s an art, though, to staying comfortable both inside and out. Enter layering. Before you get on your high horse and say, “well duh - a tank top, a long sleeve, a sweatshirt and a jacket,” read on. There’s more to it than that; layering done right is the creation and thoughtful execution of a smart system. If done well, layering won’t feel bulky, it’ll keep you warm (but not too warm), it’ll protect you from wind (or whatever elements are at play) and it’ll keep you dry both from the inside and from the outside.

Base layer: Layering begins with your next-to-skin layer, which of course collects the most sweat. Your baselayer’s primary role is moisture control – to pull moisture from your skin and wick it away. Secondarily, this layer is the building block of insulation, so you’ll want to opt for either a wool or synthetic wool blend garment. Both of these options offer fabulous wickability and great insulation (more on why we especially love wool here). Included in your baselayer is a thin pair of wool socks, – especially if you’re going to be wearing more than one - underwear, a top (perhaps a tank top and a long sleeve) and tights – particularly if temperatures are subzero or you’ll be in the elements for a prolonged period of time.

Essential baselayer tip: While cotton and/or cotton-lined garments can be good for insulation, it’s an awful material to use if you’re going to be a) active (and sweat) or b) in damp conditions. Cotton retains moisture and causes you to get chilled quickly.

PS – Advances in garment technology have made layering easier. Especially on the baselayer front, body mapping is a really cool technique that some brands like Icebreaker, Kari Traa and Craft are using to help make garments smarter and more efficient. Stay tuned for another blog soon on that topic.

Our favorite baselayer brands include: We Norwegians, Kari Traa, Saxx, Icebreaker, Duckworth and Arcteryx. In terms of socks, we love FITS, Point6, Duckworth and Sockwell.

Mid-layer: It’s all about the insulation! The purpose of your mid-layer is to trap your body’s warmth while maintaining some breathability so you don’t become a hot and sticky mess. Mid-layers can either be a nice wool sweater, a zip-up or a down or synthetic vest.

Essential mid-layer tip: Use the conditions to guide the intensity of your mid-layer. If you’re walking your dog in -15F conditions, it should look far different than what you’d select if you’re hitting the slopes on a 45F afternoon in the sun.

Our favorite mid-layer brands include: Arcteryx, Fjallraven, snow peak, Mountain Equipment, Woolrich, Outdoor Research and Rab.

Outer layer: Your outer layer should protect you from the elements. You can make considerations based on the conditions whether you’ll benefit more from a hard or soft shell. While a hard shell will offer you wind- and water-proof protection, it usually lacks breathability. A soft shell generally offers superior breathability and insulation, but doesn’t provide much in the way of wind and water protection.

Essential outer layer tip: Do your research! The technical aspects of outer layers differ greatly, so you’ll want to first figure out what feature(s) your lifestyle calls for then ask the team at Yellow Wood to help point you in the direction of a garment that will be a good fit. Before you buy, try it on, take it outside and test it out to really experience what it can offer.

Our favorite outer layer brands are: Canada Goose, Fjallraven, Arcteryx, Mountain Equipment and Rab.

Especially if you’re like us and feel cold 95% of the time between the months of October and May, make the team at Yellow Wood in Whitefish Bay your new best friends. You’ll learn to win at winter – and look fabulous doing it!