Layer Up to Stay Toasty

There’s nothing like a tried-and-tested layering system to kick winter chills to the curb.

There’s nothing like a tried-and-tested layering system to kick winter chills to the curb. This one, pioneered by frosty adventure seekers, continues to keep out the cold and allow you full control over your own body thermostat in the most severe of weather conditions.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes the system work so well, starting with a breakdown of each layer:

1. Base layer

– A lightweight fabric (either synthetic or natural fibre) next to the skin 
– Keeps skin dry by wicking away moisture
– Usually a tightly fitting layer to promote wicking 

2. Mid layer

– An insulating layer that promotes body heat retention
– A lightweight garment that should fit snugly to keep cold air out and warm air circulating around body

3. Outer layer 

– A durable, windproof and water-resistant layer that protects the mid and base layer
– Guards against wind, rain and snow
– Made from a nylon or polyester material

The Base Layer

Base layers come in different weights, cuts and fabrics. A good starting point is figuring out which fabric you prefer on your skin:

Down to Earth:

Natural fabrics, such as wool, pack out a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic fabrics. It’s soft on the skin and very comfortable for all-day wear. Both wool and bamboo have incredible, natural anti-microbial properties, meaning that the natural fibres don’t allow for bacteria within our sweat to cling to them, thus preventing the creation of a sweaty stench cloud. Due to this awesome natural property, you can wear these garments for days on end without having to worry about changing your layers. That means a lighter backpack and happier adventurer. 

Wool garments tend to be on the more expensive side; however, if you’re an avid mountaineer, you will quickly come to see the benefits of having a couple of wool (or bamboo) items in your cupboard. 


Synthetic fabrics, although lacking natural anti-microbial properties, do wick away moisture more efficiently than natural fabrics. They usually have a tighter fit, which helps even further with that all-important moisture management. They are also significantly more durable than their natural counterparts, plus synthetic garments are usually a cheaper option.  

The Mid Layer

As stated above, the mid layer insulates the body. Mid layer options include lightweight, mid-weight or heavy fleece, as well as synthetic or duck/goose down jackets. Again, this comes down to your personal preference. 

One of the perks of a synthetic fleece or sweater is that even if the garment gets wet, it can still insulate and keep you warm – ideal if you know you are going into very wet weather. However, synthetic garments can be a little heavy and bulky. They tend to take quite a bit of space due to the nature of the synthetic fibre itself, and unfortunately cannot compress like a puffy down can. 

Where down may have the edge is in its warmth-to-weight ratio; down is easy to pack and weighs next to nothing. In the Cape, one can usually get away with just a base layer and a down jacket. When looking to buy a down jacket, take note of the fill power. Good quality jackets should start at around 650 fill power, and range all the way up to 900. 

The Outer Layer

Also known as a shell, this layer’s fabric should be windproof and waterproof/resistant. It’s designed to withstand elements such as rain, wind and snow, and keep your mid layer covered and dry so that it can effectively insulate you from the cold and/or wet. Shells are often made of nylon or polyester, and are generally abrasion-resistant (depending on the thickness of the garment).

While wind/waterproofing is important, it’s important that your shell is also breathable. Some jackets may be good at keeping the water out, but if it can’t breathe efficiently, you’ll feel the condensation closing in. Rather spend a little more on a decent jacket and have peace of mind that you’ll be comfy and cosy, no matter where your adventure takes you.