December 12, 2016 Boro

How to combat cold in Himalayan treks? The concept of layering clothes

How to combat cold in Himalayan treks? The concept of layering clothes

How to combat cold in Himalayan treks? OR how to combat the extreme cold like Chadar trek? The one and only answer is the concept of layering clothes. There can’t be any single Jacket from any brand to protect you from cold of -25 C, what a winter Himalayan trek like Chadar offers. And if there is any such from a brand like North Face, then definitely that will cost more than your trip Or if it is cheap then you will end up adding the heaviest item into the backpack.

Introduction to the concept of layering.

The key is AIR, one of the best insulator. We use it smartly in daily life technologies in many ways. A false ceiling for a room is an example of it. Now how we can wear air? When we wear 2 t-shirts; It forms or captures a layer of air in between. And that works as a key insulation layer by retaining your body generated heat within. For the same reason, 2 blankets work better than a thick double layer one. It is the technique used to keep yourself warm with minimum and light weight clothing while involving in an outdoor activity in a colder environment.

How the concept of layering works?

  • The human body generates heat when placed in an environment with lesser temperature than normal body temperature.
  • Clothes do not generate heat. 1st, it protects you to get in touch with chilling cold wind or weather. 2nd, it retains the body generated heat within it.
  • The layering of clothes retains the body heat more effectively. As every 2 layers of cloth is padded by an invisible insulation layer of air in between.
  • So,  more number of layers of clothes, more insulation layers of air and more warm.
concept of layering

the concept of layering

Wear your layers smart:

There is more evolved scientific approach flowed to make layering better effective. This approach involves 4 layers ;

1 Base layer:

Position: Base layer clothing is worn right next to your skin. This is your first layer.

Purpose & work:

  • During any activity, our body sweats a lot. So the base layer should be made of fibers that pull sweat away from your skin and dry quickly, a process known as “moisture wicking“.
  • In cold weather, your base layer should retain some insulating properties. Also, should be snug; comfortable and warm but close-fitting. Because if it’s not touching your skin, it can’t wick sweat. That means your sweat sits on your skin until it evaporates, which leaves you shivering.
  • Our skin is sensitive. Different people are allergic to a different material of fabric and it causes itching. Before you buy, choose the right material for your skin. You should have a comfortable & smooth feeling on your skin even after wearing 2–3 more layers on top of it. Removal of a base layer during activity is the most painful task to perform.
  • Bad odor, is a problem evolves with sweat and leads to bacterial infection. A good base layer should tackle it smart too.
  • Some people sweat more with activities. It’s good to keep an extra base layer.

Ideal fabrics: Synthetic like Polypropylene, Polyester, and Merino Wool are a few good fabric to use as a base layer. All of them are warm, breathable, moisture-wicking and fast drying. Synthetic has the problem of odor. Merino wool is on a costlier side, but unlike regular wool, merino wool is soft and quite comfortable against the skin. It’s also naturally odor-resistant and biodegradable, which makes it a popular alternative to polyester. On the other hand, any synthetic is lighter & more breathable than the wool, so increases flexibility & dryness.  Different brands sale base layer in the name of thermal inner for both upper and lower. Avoid cotton in any layer as it holds moisture and dry off at a much slower rate.

Ekiden Men Running Tights - Black

Base lower

Men's Golf Polo Neck 900 - Heather Grey

base upper


2 Mid Insulating layer:

Position: To wear on top of base layer.

Purpose & work:

  • The main purpose of mid layer to create insulation by trapping air in between and retain your own body generated heat as much as possible without losing the breathability.
  • The mid layer should not be tightly fit on top of base layer. Then it will create the air insulating layer in between.
  • Based on temperature condition, your base layer can consist of multiple layers of clothes. As more layer of clothes can create more insulating air layer between and feels warmer.
  • Avoid more than 2-3 clothes in Mid as this will create stiffness in your body movement. Go for a warmer layer.
  • For the same reason, I prefer no mid layer at the bottom to keep my legs more flexible to move while walking. In the case of a sport like trekking, your lower body will always be warmer than upper body.  But you can use a synthetic track pant for extra warm at a campsite when the body is at rest.

Ideal Fabrics: All base layer fabrics are good to use for Mid layer too. Typically a mid-layer is a fleece. Based on temperature, just a quick dry tee Or a fleece jacket Or a combination of both Or even a medium warm Down Jacket in extreme cold  can be your perfect mid layer.

Forclaz 200 men's Hiking Fleece - blue


TechFRESH 100 Zip Men's Short-Sleeved Hiking T-Shirt - Orange

Dry fit Tee

X Light 1 Men's Hiking Down Jacket - Dark Blue

Down Jacket











3 Outer Shell:

Position: Top most layer, exposed completely to the environment.

Purpose & work:

  • To protect you from the wind, water, and winter but lets sweat vapor escape, so you don’t get wet from perspiration inside your layering system. It’s your shell for a trek.
  • This layer should be easy to wear and remove.  As with changing temperature of  a day-long walk, you will perform that often.
  • If you are expecting both rain and wind at good quantity, but you don’t have an outer shell to tackle all. In that case, you need to wear multiple. For heavy rain scenario, waterproof rain cut at top of wind shell.
  • Your outerwear should fit comfortably over your other layers without restricting your movement. So don’t go for your exact regular T-Shirt size.
  • For lower body outer shell, I will keep light weight & breathability as the top most priority to retain the flexibility. Now other properties like windproof & waterproof will be in order according to the demand of nature and temperature. Though with this 2 proofing quality cheaper  fabric looses it’s breathability to a good extent.

Ideal Fabrics: For outer shell, we need a windproof, waterproof & breathable fabric. Gore-Tex or eVent is ideal for this. But they are on a higher range of cost side. Also, availability in Indian market is a challenge. If you are going for any other fabric , check the following

  • An outer shell should be good to have a waterproof coating of 5000 mm or above membrane.
  • Breathability range should RET 0-13. Lesser in value is better breathable & comfortable at higher activity rate.
  • Check temperature comfort specification for winter support as much as you are looking for.
  • Windproof are always not the waterproof. The opposite is true.
  • Water resistant is not waterproof.
  • Do not forget to check weight to effect ratio as you are buying for trekking.

outer shell



M Forclaz 500 Warm Trousers - Black.RainWarm 500 3-in-1 Men's Hiking Jacket - Lyons


Layering for tips of your body:

Take care of Head, Ears,Throat,Feet and Palm too. These tips of the body are actually important and keeping them warm can change your overall body temperature.  It also important to avoid catching a cold. To understand the seriousness of these parts in the mountain I would like mention that most the people get cold Injuries like Chilblain, Frost Bites, etc in these parts of the body due long exposure to the cold or more specifically chilling wind.  

  • Don’t forget to check for a hood in your outer shell to protect your head. Use layering on the head too. Woolen Or Fleece cap /beanie covering your head including Ear & forehead is a good option.
  • Also, it is important to have an extended throat and neck collar in your outer shell. Even in the base or mid layer is not at all a bad idea.
  • A balaclava can cover all above-mentioned part of the body better and add the nose to the list too.
  • Use a good pair of windproof or waterproof warm gloves to protect your hands.  You can use layering here too. A thinner synthetic liner glove below the outer windproof one.
  • Feet need to protect with warm synthetic or woolen socks. A knee length sock can offer good extra warm to your cuff muscles.
  • Develop habit of changing wet socks after reaching a campsite, is very important to avoid Frost Bites or other bacterial infections due to wet & sweat.

Image result for beanieImage result for balaclavaSlide 300 Adult Ski Gloves - BlackImage result for sports socks for men


The advantage of layering:

Major 2 advantages of layering are

  • A lightweight backpack with a -25C temperature support.
  • Flexibility with changing temperature of a day long hike. Suppose, I am attempting for 5000m above high pass to cross. I have to make an early start at 2 am at night with shivering cold wind. I wear all layers of mine. Now after reaching the top at sunrise, I feel warm but still it is windy. So I remove my mid layer fleece. After a while, even the wind stop. A clear bright sunny day appears and I am feeling warmer. I remove the outer shell and just to retain the body heat I put back the mid fleece layer. Now mountain is very moody. Within next 2 hours, it may start raining again. I put back my outer shell. And this flexibility is the key of any outdoor sport.


Simple hacks for extreme cold:

  • Do not use all your layers on day 1 of a trek. Save some layers for the most extreme day to come.
  • Avoid wearing wet clothes for a longer time.
  • Food is fuel to keep your body warm.
  • Hydration is most important to perform at any weather condition. Drink more water or fluid in any form possible.
  • A sip of alcohol may give you instant warm feeling, but for a longer time makes your body cool.
  • Sleep is most important for a multi-day hike.  Don’t forget to check the insulation of tent, mattress, and sleeping bag. One may use a hot water bag or bottle inside the sleeping bag for extra warm.

concept of layering clothes

the concept of layering clothes system –

cover pic:

Pilgrim on the mountain, KangYatse 2
How to choose a trekking company?
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About the Author

Boro Now it is more than a decade I am exploring Himalaya and other landscapes of the subcontinents. I don't leave a single chance of adventure that comes on my way and allows me to stay closer to mother nature. I played with air, earth, and water. But climbing up through the high white mountain is my favorite one. I am curious about almost everything and anything that passes by my travel . And I keep studying about them. I am passionate and shy too on my venture with photography. It is a way, I express myself. I enjoy my role as an Exploration Leader at RockyFeet and thankful to be a part of Himalayan Conservation Actions of the society.

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