The Basic Principles of Layering

WaterproofsThis is the third post in my series about walking gear for the Camino, the first was on choosing boots or walking shoes, the second on choosing a rucksack. This is a general article on waterproofs – the age old discussion about a waterproof jacket or poncho continues on the forum, and here and here.

Layering your clothing is a tried-and-tested way to ensure your comfort in the outdoors. The beauty of this simple concept is that it allows you to make quick adjustments based on your activity level and changes in the weather. There are three principal layers and each performs a particular function:

  • performance Underwear (next to skin layer) moves moisture away from the body.
  • middle layer insulates.
  • the Protective Outer layer shields you from the wind and rain, keeping out the elements.

Remember: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst! Protective outerwear has two principle functions:

1. Prevent water from penetrating the jacket

2. Allow body moisture to exit the jacket

Prevent Water from Entering the Jacket

There are two principle ways that a garment is made waterproof, either through a membrane finish which is bonded to the fabric or a chemical finish applied directly to the fabric.

The waterproof membrane consists of millions of tiny pores that are hundreds of times smaller than a molecule of water, preventing any water from getting through. However these same pores are larger than a molecule of air, allowing vapour (perspiration) to get out, thus making the garment fully waterproof & breathable.

When a garment is fabricated the waterproof fabric is punctured hundreds of times where the material is stitched together. To prevent water getting through these holes the inside seams are taped.

Allow Moisture to Exit the Jacket

If perspiration isn’t allowed to escape from the jacket you will be left feeling wet and clammy, even though you weren’t getting wet from the rain itself. Trapped inside your clothing, perspiration can leave you chilled or damp, no matter how well your outer shell fends off rain and snow.

Important: Keeping dry is essential for keeping the body warm and avoiding hypothermia in the winter.

What to Look Out For:

Modern waterproofs come in varying designs that can bring you from the city to the mountains. Below is an overview of key features required for four main categories:

Alpine Mountaineering:

High performance and lightweight yet highly durable. Manufacturers utilize a combination of fabrics with more robust fabrics in the shoulders, arms and hip areas whilst using lighter more breathable fabrics in the body. Ergonomically designed with excellent range of movement.

Chest mounted pockets and a shorter cut, ideal for use with a climbing harness. Fully adjustable hood which can fit snugly over a helmet or comfortably over a hat. A full range of vision and movement while the hood is up is essential, giving you the ability to view foot placements.

Alpine protective clothing design focuses on reducing weight and bulk so look out for intelligent design to trim down the weight

Hill Walking:

Durable waterproof protection is essential. Look at the hood design to see what you require. For lengthy periods where you are exposed to rain a full hood offers a much greater level of protection. In all cases having purchased your jacket make your hood adjustments in the peace (and dryness) of your own home – when on the side of a wet and windy mountain you’ll be pleased all you have to do is pull your hood into place.

Fabrics still need a large level of durability but can be more supple to allow for greater comfort. Trekkers usually prefer a longer length jacket for the greatest amount of protection but this is largely a personal choice. Waterproof trousers are essential for your pack when on the hill. Ensure they are durably waterproof and also breathable, with a fast entry system — some open right to the hip for complete ease of access others have an extended opening at the ankle.

Again it’s down to personal choice.

Lightweight Protection:

This is what I use on the Camino during the summer. For adventure runners, bikers and all fast moving adventures – lightweight, highly breathable protection is a must. More breathable fabrics with venting options — pit zips or mesh lined pockets that can be left open that allow a current of air through to the body to prevent you from overheating.

The focus of fabric moves away from durability towards lightweight and breathable. Fit is more streamlined and an ergonomic cut to allow for the greatest freedom of movement. The hood should be clear in the face to allow for complete visibility and freedom of movement.

Daily Use:

Everyday waterproof protection is essential, so whether you are playing in the park with your children, standing watching a game or walking on the beach a quality waterproof will make your outdoor experiences more enjoyable! Soft, easy to wear fabrics, are most suitable with a loose cut that means your garment can comfortably go over whatever you are wearing.

Hand warmer pockets are a nice touch for those cold winter days. A simple roll away hood with cord adjustment so the hood doesn’t flap away in the wind.

Look After Your Investment

  • store your waterproofs in a dry, well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight
  • always follow the washing instructions on the garment and never use fabric softener
  • check the zippers regularly and keep well lubricated by rubbing with candle or bees wax

For more specific advice on walking gear and equipment for the Camino join the forum and ask there.