If you’re trying to figure out how best to layer your clothing for a snowshoeing adventure the first thing you need to understand is why you should layer instead of just buying the biggest heaviest coat around.  This post will go over some of the basics of layering and why it’s important. 

You don’t layer because you need to keep warm you layer because you don’t want to get too warm. 

See also, 6 Ways to Stay Comfortable Snowshoeing

Getting too warm means you’ll start to become uncomfortable and probably start to sweat which will lead to problems if you can’t get rid of the excess moisture when you start to cool down.  Take a quick example….  Let’s say that you just wore a warm shirt and a large ski-jacket.  If you get too warm from climbing up a hill you’re probably not able to take off the jacket and you’ll wind up sweating…a lot.  Once you stop you might be drenched in sweat and suddenly the world starts to feel a lot colder and you’ll wonder how your friend was able to convince you to go snowshoeing.

Thankfully layering will literally fix all your problems.

Layering Basics

  1. Light weight moisture-wicking shirts and leggings.  No cotton. 
  2. Medium weight pullover or jacket. Again, no cotton.  
  3. Something waterproof/windproof. 

This combination should keep you going in all but the coldest of weather.

Shirt (Base) Layer

I cannot emphasize this enough – the base layer isn’t about keeping you warm it’s about sweat management.  Sweat evaporating from your skin makes you cold, sweat evaporating from the shirt… less so.

For the shirt layer you want something long sleeved that will wick moisture.  Shirts designed for working out are great if you already own them.  Running shirts, for example, will excel at moving moisture away from your skin to keep you warm.  The fabrics you’re looking for are going to be synthetic or wool.  Good wool shirts are expensive but can offer some benefits over synthetics. 

  1. Never cotton – ever
  2. Long sleeve
  3. Thumb loops are great for keeping things in place
  4. Keep it light and tight fitting – the layer won’t work right if it isn’t touching your skin

Middle (Insulating) Layer

This layer is the one that keeps you warm but you need to match it with your outer layer a bit.  If your outer layer has insulation in it then make sure that your middle layer isn’t too heavy.  In the rain or wind this is probably the layer you will take off – if it’s nice out then the outer layer will be the one coming off if you get too warm.

Your middle layer and outer layer work together based on what the weather conditions are.  Most combinations will deal with the cold, it’s the rain and wind that you need to consider the most.  Fleece is usually a good option here (not cotton fleece) because most people already have them and they’re about the right weight.  Generally they dry fast and will still keep you warm if they get wet, too.  Down is nice because it can be taken off and packed down easily but they aren’t as warm when wet.  

  1. Never cotton – ever
  2. Make sure you consider your outer layer
  3. Make sure you consider rain/snow

Outer (Shell) Layer

This layer is probably the most weather dependent layer and also the most expensive.  The main goal for this layer is to keep the elements out.  Wind rain and snow are what the shell layer is meant to combat.  Keep in mind, though, that this layer needs to work well with your insulation layer.  

This layer should have a hood.  If the hood is part of your middle layer you run the risk of rain or snow getting between the two layers and keeping you wet.  Ideally this layer is breathable to keep you from overheating.  Gore-Tex is a good example of material that makes for a good shell layer.

In the snow you can sacrifice waterproofing for just being water resistant because snow isn’t as likely to penetrate a soft-shell as heavy rain would and you’re usually paying extra for the pure waterproofing. 

  1. Made sure you consider your middle layer
  2. Pit-Zips will help you dump heat but cost extra
  3. Waterproof isn’t a requirement but will add flexibility for other conditions