Technical Layering For Harsh Weather Conditions

Autumn is undeniably here and slowly but surely, winter is on its way. Some curl up on their sofas and wrap up in blankets, with a mugful of tea to warm their hands, while others get out there, brave the cold, and keep on adventuring. If you’re more like the sofa people but dream of climbing through winter, worry not, climbing at this time of year doesn’t have to be hot aches and shivery spotting. In fact, technical layering systems can make even the harshest conditions feel warm and cosy. Here’s a brief how-to guide to help you get started.

base layer


This is the first layer of clothing you put on, the one that’s in direct contact with your skin.


A common mistake when selecting a base layer is to chose cotton. While it might seem that sweating isn’t your biggest issue in autumn or winter, nothing could be further from truth. Imagine the feeling of having a wet back after a walk-in, just when you’re about to stand in front of a boulder, motionless, and suddenly your core temperature drops at the speed of a rocket. Cotton is the culprit.


A good base layer provides breathability and moisture wicking, as well as thermal insulation even when damp. Choose wool or synthetics that are designed to absorb moisture and quickly move it away from your body. Wool is naturally antibacterial, and many garments feature smart solutions such as silver ions that prevent odour.


An ideal base layer is close to your body, snug and soft. Think long sleeve, or even a turtle neck for added thermal insulation. Merino leggings are also a powerful weapon in the battle against cold.

Base layer with vest


The second layer of clothing wicks moisture further from your body while trapping the heat in. Polyester fleece known as ‘polartec’ is the most common choice. Polar materials come in a variety of thicknesses (eg. 100, 200, 300) and loft levels. The loftier (fluffier) the fabrics, the better its thermal insulation properties. Tight or adjustable hems further help to trap the heat in.



For your second mid-layer choose a down vest or a down sweater. Goose down filling is known for its exceptional thermal isolation qualities, as well as packability, but synthetic equivalents are not far behind. (Think lower lofting levels but more reliability when wet.)  A comfortable, close to the body softshell jacket, worn over or instead of a fleece, is also an excellent ‘Mid-layer 2’ choice. Softshells are reinforced fleece garments, often featuring windproof panels, ventilation zips, inner liner mesh, a hood, etc. They’re usually water resistant but won’t withstand a serious downpour.



The hardshell jacket is the final and most rugged protection against the elements. It is the outermost layer that is both waterproof and durable, but keeps sweat from collecting in your layering system. This quality is due to a technical membrane: Gore-TEX, for example, allows moisture to be pushed outside, while retaining a high waterproof level from the outside. If you’re adventuring in mostly dry conditions or planning on moving fast and light, skipping a hardshell and opting for a more robust softshell is usually a good idea.



Protecting the core of your body from the cold is paramount but won’t be much use if you lose heat through your feet and head. Fluffy merino socks are a good addition to any autumn/winter wardrobe, and a warm hat is a must. Especially while bouldering, when much of the time is spent standing around. Borrow some items from a skier and you won’t regret it! A neck-warmer can also be pulled up on your face to protect it from the cold wind and mittens will keep your fingers warm and send-ready.


Layer up and make sure you’re #StillGettingOut this season!

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