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Layering 101

We all know that early-A.M. struggle to get up & out in time to catch first chair. Frigid mornings can make even the most dedicated riders reluctant to roll out of bed, but with the right layers you can stay just as cozy on the hill.

Layering can be broken down 3 categories each designed to function differently:

Base - your first layer (after underwear), worn directly against your skin. A good base should stretch, fit tightly yet comfortably, and wick away sweat & moisture. Styles to choose from include crewneck tops, t-necks, tank tops, pants, cropped-length bottoms, and one-piece body suits.

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Mid/Insulating - worn over your base, usually a fleece or wool pullover or 1/4 zip style. A mid-layer's main purpose is to regulate your body temperature by creating heat & allowing breathability. For colder conditions, some people prefer a light mid-layer beneath a heavier insulating layer (ex: a wool flannel beneath a fleece pullover).

Outerwear - your final layer & front line of defense against the elements. Jackets & pants should be waterproof, insulated (w/ weight depending on temperature), and extremely durable.

Important Base Layer Qualities

Fit - To effectively wick away moisture and maintain a comfortable body temperature, make sure tops & bottoms are snug and flexible. Avoid pieces that restrict any movement or begin to bunch or sag after a few minutes of wear. (Creases beneath other layers will dig into your skin - to eliminate any discomfort caused by socks/boots, you might want to consider cropped or 3/4-length bottoms). Fit should be chosen depending on outside conditions, level of activity, and personal body temperature.

Compression - skin-tight, performance fit designed to support muscles. Best for coldest conditions, athletes with low body temperature, or mildly active days

Fitted/Semi-fitted - snug, versatile fit worn close to the body. Good for moderate conditions & varying levels of aerobic activity

Relaxed - looser fit best suited for spring conditions, highly active days and/or athletes who get easily overheated

Fabric - Check labels to make sure your clothing is primarily made from synthetic (man-made) fibers. Synthetics are your best bet since they've been designed to offer low absorbency, superior stretch, moisture-wicking ability, and heat retention. Certain natural fabrics & fiber blends however, do offer adequate insulation, low absorbency, and stretch (as long as you wash & maintain them properly). Remember to stay away from cotton, which will absorb moisture, loose its shape, and leave you vulnerable to the cold.

Synthetic - Polyester, Nylon, Lycra, Spandex

Natural - Silk, Merino Wool

Features to Look For

  Antimicrobial - Bacteria-fighting protection applied at the fiber level or as a finish. Layers will stay odor- and mold- free after repeated wear & retain this quality after several washings. Ideal if you're going on vacation (or you prefer Febreeze to laundry detergent).

(Ex: Burton Stink-Proof Finish, Dakine AEGIS Microbe Shield, Hot Chillys Bio Del Mar, Under Armour ArmourBlock)

  Durability - used to describe how well your clothing maintains its original state after repeated wear. Pieces should resist abrasion, pilling and deterioration during laundering.

  Four-way Stretch - fabric that's been woven to be easily pulled lengthwise & crosswise. It allows for free range of motion and is less likely to bunch up or create creasing.

  Flat/Flatlock Seams - seams sewn by binding two pieces of fabric edge-to-edge, rather than the standard method of overlapping & folding fabric before stitching them. The result is smoother, more comfortable against bare skin, and won't cause abrasion or chaffing.

Moisture Wicking - fabrics made of micro-fibers that transport moisture away from the body through 'pores' that allow sweat to evaporate, but keep body heat in. Polyester is the most common component in the numerous branded names for fabrics w/ wicking capabilities.

(Ex: Burton DRYRIDE Ultrawick, Hot Chillys MTF, Spyder DryWEB, Under Armour Evo ColdGear)

Mid-/Insulating Layer

After the base layer should be a durable, comfortable mid-layer. A Mid's main job is to provide moderate insulation & keep out any wind/water that makes it past your outerwear. They should be breathable, moisture wicking, and have low absorption. While it's important your base is synthetic, a mid layer can be made of a natural fabric like cotton or wool, just know that these fibers won't dry quickly when wet.

Important Mid-layer Qualities

Fit - Since mid-layers are thicker, it's important to choose one that won't inhibit your range of motion or feel too heavy/bulky. They should be worn snug enough to keep body heat in and fit beneath outwear, but have also enough room to compensate for the base layer(s) underneath. Stay away from excessively tight/loose styles that respectively ride up beneath or sag down beneath outerwear & soak up moisture. Common styles include crewneck fleeces or sweaters, 1/4 or full-zip pullovers, & Wool flannels.

Fabric - A Mid's main job is to provide moderate insulation & keep out any wind/water that makes it past your outerwear. Common choices for this added insulation are fleeces or wool sweaters; both are great at creating and retaining heat while still allowing any excess to escape. Fleece's advantage is that it dries much faster and is more easily cleaned than wool, but the natural insulation of wool will keep you warm even if you do get wet.

Fleece - a soft, lightweight, synthetic fabric designed to mimic wool. Varies in thickness from micro (thinnest, most flexible) to 300 (thickest, most rigid), and can maintain warmth even when wet. Fleece is highly breathable, durable, and machine-washable. It can wick away moisture and hold a variety of finishes, enabling certain styles to be water-repellant, antimicrobial, or offer UV protection. The downsides include inferior wind proofing, pilling after repeated wear, a tendency to generate static electricity & attract hair/lint, and if left untreated, fleece can also be highly flammable.

Wool - a natural fabric made from sheep, goats, alpaca, camels, or rabbits (angora). Wool is different from hair or fur because it grows in clusters and its crimped, wavy fibers can stretch. Wool is known for its heavier weight and thickness, and its unmatched ability to retain heat. It's also static-resistant and won't cling to the layers beneath it. The downsides are its tendency to absorb moisture & special laundering requirements.

Features to Look For

Absorption - the measure of how many milliliters of liquid can be held in a fabric. If moisture finds its way through your outerwear, a low-absorbency insulating layer will block water droplets from reaching your body.

Breathability - Crucial component in staying dry & comfortable during physical activity measured by the rate at which 1-gram of water vapor can pass through 1 square meter of fabric in a 24-hour period. 10,000 g/m2 is considered a high breathability rating: the higher the number, the more breathable the fabric.

DWR - (durable water repellant) for wetter conditions, a mid-layer with a DWR coating will provide greater protection against precipitation without sacrificing breathability. It will wear off after several washings, but DWR sprays can be reapplied to clothing as needed.

Durability - used to describe how well your clothing maintains its original state after repeated wear.

Stretch - look for forgiving, flexible fabrics that move with you despite any added weight. Tags should indicate polyester, spandex, or lycra as part of the fabric composition.

Shell/Outer Layer

Assessing a jacket/pant can essentially be boiled down to 2 factors: form and features/function. Form being the tangible, observable characteristics (fit, fabric texture, color, etc) and features/function being what the jacket can do for you (waterproof/breathability, level of insulation, durability,etc). With the variety of brands and styles that exist, finding the perfect combination of both is just a matter of determining your needs. Take into consideration the conditions you'll be riding in most frequently (average temperature, amount of wind, type of precipitation) and personal info (size measurements, body temperature, style preferences). Here are some key terms and words of wisdom (learned through experience) to help narrow down your many options and lead to the perfect outerwear match. **(see: Sizing Charts, Tips for Trying On)

Outerwear Features to Look For

Critically (or Strategically) Taped Seams - indicates that only certain seams on the garment are fully sealed for waterproofing. The seams that are deemed "critical" are at each manufacturer's discretion and therefore vary between brands. Generally you can expect to have the areas most exposed to moisture taken care of; hoods, shoulders, collars, front zippers, and knees. If you don't fall too much and usually ride in milder conditions, critically taped outerwear is a great option (usually with a lower price tag too).

Down Insulation - the fine, fluffy stuff found underneath a goose or duck's feathers. Down has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulator, natural or synthetic. In addition, it wicks moisture, breathes and has excellent resilience & longevity. The signature puffer/quilted look comes from strategic stitching that prevents clumping, leaving cold, bare patches in other areas.

Selecting a Down Jacket

Fill Power Rating - the number of cubic inches occupied by 1 ounce of down. The higher, the better: you'll want 500 at the very least. If fill power rating is unspecified, you're probably getting 75% down at most.

Grade/Quality - the percentage of down vs. feathers. You want more of the light, fuzzy stuff as opposed to rigid feathers that can stick out & poke you. The higher the grade, the warmer and less bulky it'll be. Allergy sufferers should also be wary that even if the feathers don't trigger a reaction, a lower-grade down can collect dust & other particles during processing that may be bothersome.

Laundering - With some TLC a down jacket can last a lifetime. Make sure to dry-clean or use specially formulated detergents when washing. To put the "puff" back in your puffer jacket, throw it in the dryer with a tennis ball and put on a low/delicate cycle.

Loft - Indicates down thickness & quality. Look for "high loft" which uses finer, puffier down & creates the most warmth.

Type of Down -
goose down is finer & serves as a better insulator than duck (but is also more expensive)

Features Defined

DWR - stands for "Durable Water Repellent". DWR is a chemical coating and is often applied in addition to waterproof fabrics, but can also be purchased as a spray. Look for "DWR-coated/ DWR-treated" in any outerwear or technical shells that claims to be waterproof, but also know that it will wear off overtime and may need to be re-treated.

Eco/Eco-friendly - can refer to a garment's materials and/or production method. Suggests the fiber is natural, renewable, or sustainable and/or the dyes/treatments are made of little to no chemicals. It could also indicate patterns/production methods that create less waste. There is no textile industry standard for the term though, so what's considered to 'have less of an impact on the environment' is at the manufacturer's own discretion.

Fully Taped Seams - every seam in the garment is reinforced (as opposed to only "critical" areas). A layer of waterproof material is placed between the overlapping fabrics and then double stitched to ensure extra protection from any wind or water that might find its way through.

Gaiter - acts as seal or shield from the elements at vulnerable openings in your gear. Fleece/knit neck gaiters cover the space between your collar & beanie, a jacket's interior waist gaiter protects gaps between your jacket & pants, and wrist gaiters on gloves/mitts overlap your sleeves to guard your arms/hands.

Gore-Tex - the most well known name in waterproof & breathable fabric. It's guaranteed performance is based on a patented process that combines 3 layers. The surrounding layers vary depending on garment, (commonly a nylon outer layer & fleece inside) but the common component is the Gore-Tex "membrane" or middle layer. This layer is a treated, microfiber fabric with densely packed pores that are too small to let water droplets in, but allow smaller, water vapors to pass through.

Jacket-to-Pant Interface - a zipper/set of snaps on the inside of your outerwear that binds the jacket and pant together. Best for battling conditions like deep powder or harsh, windy weather

Powder Skirt - a cinched, elastic waist in a jacket's interior that can be fastened to keep snow from going up the front or back. Comes in handy for deep powder days, unwelcome gusts of wind, or frequent falls.

Space Dye - fabric with a unique, multi-colored look. The effect is created using yarns that have been treated with 2 or more dyes, so the horizontal color variation in each piece goes all the way down to the stitching. It's often associated w/ a psychedelic, 70's look, but depending on technique can produce a variety of styles.

Storm Flap/Zipper Shield - an extended fabric tab that covers your zipper, often secured with snap or magnetic closures. Useful for keeping wind and water from getting through a zipper's teeth.

Synthetic Insulation - jackets stuffed with a man-made poly-fiber fill. Fibers are usually spun from polyester and are more affordable, more waterproof, and easier to take care of than down. They have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio though, so expect synthetic-filled styles to be slightly heavier/bulkier than down jackets. Common brands are Primaloft, Thermolite, Thinsulate, but there are also many brand-specific versions.

Waterproof/Breathable (K) Rating - Instead of displaying "water resistant", lots of outerwear will print a rating like 10K/15K on their tags. This gives a better idea of how the piece will perform based off laboratory standards. The first number represents water resistance, the second for breathability. Water resistance is measured by how many millimeters of water the fabric can keep out before it starts to soak through, and breathability measures the rate water vapor can pass through in grams per square meter of fabric. The scale ranges from 5K to 20K, with 20K being the most waterproof.

Yarn Dye - a dyeing technique where each individual yarn is dyed, rather than dipping the completed garment in a dye bath. It produces patterns like checks, plaids, stripes & also ensure better hue uniformity as opposed to piece dyeing which can sometimes turn out patch-y or the wrong shade altogether.

Vents - to easily regulate body temperature look for outerwear that features zippered vents. They're usually located in the arm pits, chest, or upper back in jackets and inner/outer thighs in pants and either open directly to the layer underneath or have a mesh backing. Great for working hard on-hill, while still keeping that chairlift chill at bay.

Jacket Styles

Anorak/Parka - typically a medium-heavy weight jacket, longer in length with a fur-lined hood. The outside is often quilted and made from waterproof fabrics, with down or synthetic insulation. Parkas are made for harsher conditions, providing head to thigh coverage in wind, rain, or snow. Depending on brand you'll find varying features and thickness, but most have a nice vintage-y, classic aesthetic. Since the longer length can be restricting, they tend to be best suited for street wear rather than athletic activity.

Bomber - a waist-length jacket with a cuffed waist & sleeves. Classic bombers are often lined with shearling, have a short, wraparound collar, and two stand pockets in the front. They typically offer a tighter fit and many modernized styles come with hoods.

Cargo/Utility - a durable and functional jacket or pant with several patch pockets & military styling. Jackets usually have interior waist drawstrings & a combination of zipper and button closures. If you insist on riding with lip balm, tissues, gum, snacks, cell phone, etc, cargo outerwear is right up your alley. With all the seams, just be sure to check how they're taped if you're expecting any wind or precipitation.

Coach's Jacket - similar to varsity or letterman jacket as far as fit and style, but differ in weight and material. They're usually much lighter in weight, made from nylon, and may have a drawstring hood or bottom hem. Coach jackets might also have a small patch or name embroidered on the chest, rather than the large, fuzzy, chenille patches on letterman jackets.

Hooded - if precipitation is a concern, consider a jacket with a detachable/packable/fixed hood. It'll retain body heat (especially if insulated) and give added protection from wind and harsh weather. A well-fitting hood will provide coverage that reaches your forehead and won't limit your range of vision (When looking side to side, the hood should move with you, not block visibility).

Insulation - for colder days, retaining body heat with a shell won't be enough to stay warm. Insulated outerwear has a synthetic or down fill to create added warmth & provide extra protection against moisture and low temperatures.

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Quilted - a distinct look and texture created by repeated stitching. Quilts can be made in any geometric pattern, most commonly diamond-shaped or horizontal rows. Down jackets are often quilted to keep insulation in place, but many styles incorporate it solely for aesthetic purposes.

Soft Shell - a lighter-weight jacket/pant designed to repel wind & water, usually made from a nylon- or polyester- blend fabric that's been treated with DWR. Best for spring conditions or spot-scouting when your body's generating enough heat (and better than a heavy, drenched hoodie).

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Varsity/Letterman's Jacket - a slightly puffy, mid-length jacket with snap front closures, elastic wrist & waist cuffs, and contrasting body/sleeve colors (reminiscent of high school athletes' jackets). Typically the body will be felted with an oversized chenille patch or embroidery over the chest, with leather (or synthetic) sleeves that lead into side stand pockets.

3 in 1 - a versatile style that combines a waterproof outer shell with a zip-in breathable soft shell and can be worn multiple ways. A 3-in-1 easily allows you to adjust the jacket's insulation throughout the day or throughout the season.

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