Essentials of Layering

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

-Wild Whatcom Mentors

In our years of experience exploring outdoors, we see the difference appropriate clothing makes for a person’s comfort and safety. Follow these essentials of layering and you'll be set for a fun and comfortable time exploring outside!


Even though this layer is the last to go on, we put it first for importance!

The shell layer (outer layer) shields you from wind and rain. Always pack shell layers including rain pants and a rain coat with a hood in your backpack. Make sure they are waterproof, not just water resistant. Shell layers aren't just for rainy or windy days. They are essential for service projects and after rainy days when it is muddy and damp in the forest. Some days we even wear two rain coats!

Rounding out the shell / outer layer are:

  • Waterproof, insulated boots that fit well (room for a thick pair of socks without squishing toes)
  • Waterproof, insulated mittens or gloves
  • Warm, wool or wool/blend hat


The base layer is the first layer and goes against your skin to manage moisture. Long johns or long underwear made of wool or wool/silk blend are best for warmth. Close-fitting athletic clothing made with stretchy, poly-blend fabrics work well as tops and bottoms too.


The insulating, or mid, layers protect you from the cold. Shirts and pants made of wool or wool/blend or athletic clothing made with poly-blend or other technical (non-cotton) fabrics, including light fleece, work well.


An insulated coat (down, synthetic insulation, fleece, etc.), wool or poly-blend sweater, or warm vest is handy for warmth under your shell/outer layer. Wool is a good bet as it adds warmth without adding excessive bulk (thus restricting movement).

Cotton is rotten! Avoid cotton and cotton-blend clothing.

Cotton wicks moisture which not only makes us cold and uncomfortable, but can be a safety hazard for hypothermia in temperatures lower than 60 degrees. Fortunately, appropriate outdoor clothing doesn’t have to break the bank.

Athletic clothing made with poly-blend or other technical (non-cotton) fabrics are readily available in local secondhand, consignment, and thrift stores. Wool shirts and pants can be found there too, and can be worn over base layers for comfort.


Wild Whatcom has loaner gear available. Please don't hesitate to ask as you should not have to purchase gear to participate in our programs. If you've outgrown your gear and it is still in good condition, consider donating it to us. We'll put it to good use!

To inquire about loaner gear or make a gear donation, contact us:


This layering formula assumes a shell layer is always present.

  • Above 60° — Mid Layer
  • 60° to 50° — Base Layer + Mid Layer (or Mid Layer + Extra Layer)
  • 50° to 40° — Base Layer + Mid Layer + Extra Layer
  • 40° to 25°and below — Base Layer + Mid Layer + Extra Layer + Outer Layer