Wilderness Skills > Layer-UP and Live: V.I.P. Clothing Layering System



Statistically speaking, your first line of defense against the elements is to regulate your core body temp. (98.6°). The simplest means of addressing this is through your choice of clothing. Clothing IS shelter at its base level. The concepts which govern an effective clothing system are synonymous with those that govern more complex forms of shelter, our homes and other manmade structures. These simple concepts are illustrated below with the easy-to-remember acronym:   

V.I.P. (Layering Concept)

The concept of layering is meant to provide both comfort and protection for those who spend time in the outdoors. With just three basic elements, an outdoorsman can maintain total comfort in most temperature or weather situations.  Using the correct clothing combination should be based on the level of physical exertion.

  1. Ventilating:  “Next to skin” layer - Most importantly, this layer is non-cotton. It should also fit tightly, for the best wicking effect.
  2. Insulating Layer:  This layer provides warmth and should also be the most interchangeable, different activities/temperatures may demand more or less insulation.
  3. Protective Layer:  Wind and water rob the body of warmth, therefore, choosing outerwear that are both wind and waterproof will benefit the user most.

Ventilating baselayerthe importance of this layer cannot be stressed enough, as many a mountaineer will tell you: “In the mountains, cotton kills”. Cotton absorbs water naturally and takes a great deal of time and energy to dry. This makes it dangerous to use as a base layer, possibly accelerating heat loss. Synthetic long underwear is both easy to obtain and comfortable due to its ability to wick, or pull moisture away from the skin. Synthetic fibers are also very quick to dry; often the heat created by a person's body is enough to dry them out completely.  This base layer is the foundation that will determine the comfort and safety level of the individual, especially in cold climates. Choose: Capilene, silk or polypropylene.

Insulating layers can take on many forms (both synthetic and natural), and usually more than one is required, depending on the activity level and environment. An insulating layer can consist of wool, fleece, down, animal skins & synthetic insulation materials or gathered materials such as, dry leaves, newspaper or cattail duff. Insulations purpose is to trap dead air space, creating a cushion of warm air surrounding the body. Low exertion and extremely cold weather may call for a bulky down or synthetic filled garment. High exertion and very cold weather may be easily dealt with by wearing one or more layers of fleece or wool. Avoiding overheating is extremely important, as this will increase the amount of moisture leaving the body as vapor. A body at rest will obviously require more insulation than an active body. Choose: PET recycled fleece, Down or wool.

Protective layering prevents heat loss and protects the integrity of your insulation. There are three ways a body loses heat.1) Convective heat loss occurs when wind sweeps away the thin layer of warm body heat surrounding us, forcing the body to expend precious energy to re-warm this lost air. 2) Conductive heat loss occurs when contact between the body and any object cooler than it exists. This can be a rock or snow you are sitting on or wet clothing; this is the primary reason why cotton is so dangerous.  And 3)Evaporative heat loss occurs when anything we are wearing is in the process of drying and releasing water vapor. This type of heat loss can actually be beneficial in warm weather or in an arid environment; people who dip their hat or bandana in a body of water to cool them are experiencing evaporative heat loss.

The Protective layer is vital due to its ability to combat all three heat loss mechanisms, proving to be the difference between life and death. This essential layer should consist of a wind/waterproof barrier to defend against the elements. When choosing a Protective layer….1) ensure the garment is sized large enough to accommodate any and all under layers (ventilative & insulative). 2) waterproof/breathable outerwear is recommended for those who participate in any outdoor pursuits. Do not plan on being both physically active and comfortable while wearing a non-breathable waterproof jacket unless it has some type of mechanical ventilation (i.e. pit-zips, mesh pockets etc.) features. 3) If pressed for cash, an investment in a Gore-Tex or other high dollar waterproof/breathable jacket or softshell over a pant or bib is HIGHLY recommended. Protecting ones CORE is crucial to your survival.

ALWAYS dress for the WORST possible weather which may be encountered!!

Tips for Regulating Your Body Temperature:

If you find yourself overheating you can safely regulate your body temperatureby:

Too Hot…

  • Removing your hat

  • Loosening clothing, pull up sleeves to expose forearms, opening pit-zips and unzipping your outer layer to allow in cool air.

  • Removing articles of clothing.

  • Reduce the intensity of your workout or pursuit.

  • Stop and take a break.

  • Drink cold water.

Too Cool…

  • Add a hat.

  • Close Jacket, “zip up” all pit-zips and pockets, closing all areas where air can easily circulate out of your clothing – usually at the neck, wrists, waist, and ankles.

  • Add additional clothing to your insulative layer.

  • Wear all three VIP layers for maximum protection against the elements.

  • Drink hot liquids and eat high calorie foods.




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