All Systems Go

Layering gets smart with cutting-edge fabrics and designs that let you do more with less

Aug 24, 2006
Outside Magazine

Whether you're looking to replace a retired (or just tired) jacket, buy your first pair of soft-shell pants, or upgrade everything in between, the newest layers will make you rethink your adventure wardrobe. This season's top pieces—including versatile merino-and-synthetic hybrids and fleece garments with the thermal properties of animal fur—let you dress lighter while staying comfortable in a wider range of conditions. Check it out; your closet may need a refill.

From left:

Marmot Super Hero
Going outside, forecast be damned? Put on this windproof, water-resistant jacket and don't look back. It's made with a smart patchwork of Gore Windstopper fabrics and has a brushed lining to help insulate your core, while underarm swaths of knit polyester increase breathability. When I got caught in an intense hailstorm in Colorado, the roll-away (and detachable) hood easily shed the pellets, and the cinchable cuffs and hem sealed out drafts. Layering tip: The jacket performs best when paired with a lightweight base layer. $260;

Blurr Public Hoody
If soft shells start popping up in hip-hop videos, blame Blurr. Just don't accuse the street-inspired Canadian company of compromising function. This jacket's abrasion- and water-resistant exterior can handle a lot worse than the dash from curb to club, and a deceptively functional hood fits and adjusts with ease. The garment's new-school cut is bulkier than other jackets here, and hidden internal fleece gaskets at the wrists make it warmer but a bit less breathable. Ultralighters, take note: The Public Hoody is the heaviest of the bunch. $200;

The North Face Blackhawk
TNF claims that its WindWall fabric (a fleecy inner face bonded to a breeze-blocking barrier) is ten times more wind-resistant than regular old fleece. After wearing the Blackhawk on a hike in 50-degree weather, I figured that was marketing hype—the stuff is just too breathable. But I became a believer when the jacket repelled all but the most powerful gusts during a Wisconsin storm with 40-mile-an-hour winds. MIA: a hem drawcord, which should be standard equipment with this level of protection. $179;

Ibex Dash Hybrid
Some purveyors of fine merino wool would have us believe that blending the stuff with synthetics is sacrilege. My view after using the poly-and-wool Dash in the cold and wet? Score one for the heretics. I stayed warm and dry behind the smooth-faced front, while the breathable knit back and underarm panels, which include a touch of Lycra for stretch, kept me from overheating. With a trim cut, longer-in-back hem, and rear pocket, this jacket favors biking and nordic skiing, but it's great for anything. Bummer: no hand pockets. $170;