Debate: More Layers of Fewer?
Which is better: a couple of pieces that capably do the job, or an array of options for dialed-in performance?
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Less Is More
By Kelly Klein, associate gear editor
After a year as a gear editor, I’ve tested countless layers. Base layers, midlayers, outer layers, you name it. Whenever I headed out on a ski trip last winter, I brought along at least half a dozen pieces to test out over the course of the day. As part of the review process, I wanted to do each one justice, and I needed to be sure I was using them for their intended purpose. But as time wore on—time spent, it seemed, primarily thinking about what to put on or take off next—I found that I only wanted to wear one or two layers at most beneath my jacket. Whether I was spending the day resort skiing or skinning up in the backcountry, I really wasn’t concerned about regulating my body temperature to a tee. It was too exhausting, and it got in the way of my fun. If I was a little chilly or a tad warm, it didn’t bother me; I was more focused on the terrain and the experience. Plus, clothing technology has gotten so advanced that newer apparel is able to dump and retain heat to a degree that a decade ago could be accomplished only by switching out layers. These days a couple of versatile pieces are all you need. If I’m going on a full- or multiple-day backcountry mission—or if the weather forecast is dicey—I’ll hew to a better-safe-than-sorry approach and pack a few extra tops. But for ordinary adventures, life is too short to miss a beautiful sunrise or a friend getting the turns of their life because I’m busy fine-tuning my body temperature.
More Is More
By Abigail Barronian, senior editor
Almost every time I venture into the mountains, I grab the same lineup of apparel. For my upper body: next-to-skin wool, a lightweight midlayer, a puffy jacket, and a shell. Things are similarly simple on the lower half: lightweight pants, with wool long johns beneath if the situation calls for them. This arrangement retains its utility across activities and seasons—although, depending on my output and the conditions, some of these layers may shift in bulk and weatherproofness. When it’s really cold, I might double up on wool, add down knickers and a vest, and opt for a burlier shell or a heavier puffy. My outdoor wardrobe is almost entirely free of hybrid layers—I don’t own any insulated shells or fleece-lined pants, for example—and I’m picky about things being trim enough to combine comfortably. Done right, I can mix and match to create the breathability and protection I need over the course of a long excursion in variable conditions. I can stay comfortable in a freak spring snowstorm at 12,000 feet and in 75-degree sunshine as I descend to the trailhead. It’s difficult to achieve that kind of versatility with a single do-it-all garment. It might do one thing really well, but I do lots of things in the mountains, and I want what I wear to facilitate each of those activities. And most important, I want to be prepared when I find myself in unpredictable environments. One or two layers can’t possibly provide the comfort and safety that a quiver of them will.