3 Layer Clothing System


Most individuals who live in or near cold climate zones may be familiar with the concept of layering their clothes to maximize dryness and warmth. Whether you live in a region that experiences cold weather or will be traveling to one, it’s important to know the proper method of layering to stay dry and warm.

Keep in mind, this is a high level concept of the proper technique used to maximize warmth and dryness. It doesn’t have to be used exclusively in cold climate zones, it’s basic principles can also be utilized in warm climate zones that may also experience cold weather from time to time. It’s important to understand how to use this system. Here’s a brief overview to how it works:

  1. Base / Inner Layer – Worn directly against the skin, this layer’s primary function is wick away moisture towards the outer 2 layers where it will eventually evaporate.
  2. Insulating / Middle Layer – This layers function is to insulate heat to maximize warmth. It also helps facilitate the transfer of moisture wicked by the base layer on to the outer layer.
  3. Shell / Outer Layer – As the name suggests, this layers function is to provide protection against wind and/or rain while also allowing the moisture received from the middle layer to be wicked away and ultimately evaporate.

Base / Inner Layer

This is the base layer for your clothing system and is the layer of clothing worn directly against the skin. Articles of clothing in this layer should ideally have a precise fit and not be baggy or loose. Common types of material to look for when forming a base layer outfit are polypropylene, polyester, capilene,wool or silk. Ideally, the material should generally absorb less than 1% of its weight in moisture, allowing the user to stay dry. The reason this layer should have a snug fit is to absorb and wick away the moisture to the middle layer once sweated out of the wearer’s body.

When assembling the inner layer, keep in mind there are varying degrees of protection you should consider based off  the climate in your region. For example, some climate zones may call for complete and total protection through the use of hoods, neck warmers, glove liners, etc., while others may not need the full ensemble. As with any other survival skill, common sense is needed when planning or preparing for a cold zone. There may be times when multiple layers of the base layer will be needed to be effective in extreme temperatures or specific climate risks such as wind or rain.

Insulating / Middle Layer

Once the moisture is wicked away from the inner layer, it will need to be transferred from the middle layer onto the outer layer. The middle layer also needs to insulate and retain body heat which can be accomplished by creating a dead air space around the wearer’s body. It’s better to have multiple garments that comprise the middle layer than just one piece. This strategy allows the wearer to adjust and adapt to external variables such as changing weather, increased/decreased physical exertion, etc. As with the inner layer, each choice of material has it’s own strengths/disadvantages. A few moments of searching the internet can be immensely useful when planning the specifics of assembling a cold weather clothing system. Some examples of common middle layer garments include vests, jackets, sweaters, lightweight coats, etc.

Shell / Outer Layer

All shells are outer layers but not all outer layers are shells. Generally, the last layer of clothing is referred to as a shell if it has some wind or water repellent qualities. If it doesn’t it’s just an outer layer. The point of this final layer is to repel water such as rain, fog, snow, etc., as well as to provide protection from the wind. Ideally, the material you select for this layer will also allow for the moisture collected from the middle layer to be wicked away into the environment.

This shell, or outer layer, should have breathable qualities that allow the moisture out, while still providing protection from incoming water and wind elements. These shells can be referred to as hard or soft describing the performance of the water or wind resistant properties. The outer layer can be the most expensive, but also perhaps, the most important layer to buy.

The shell needs to be tough, in addition to water and wind resistant and also able to wick away moisture. Goretex, or a comparable treatment is strongly recommended for this layer for it’s excellent water and wind resistant properties.


Staying warm means staying dry. This can be ensured by moderating physical exertion to pace oneself to prevent heavy perspiration. Just like the majority of other survival skills, being able to remain flexible and adapting to ever-changing circumstances, will greatly increase the odds of survival. Having multiple garments for each layer allows the wearer to remove or add as needed. During times of physical exertion, less garments will be needed as the wearer has greater perspiration. Once the activity has decreased or stopped, more garments will need to be added to maintain adequate warmth and dryness. Knowing how to properly layer your clothing in cold weather is also a practical skill to understand in a non-survival or emergency setting.

One thought on “3 Layer Clothing System

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *