How To Dress In The Mountains: Theory Of The Three Layers

When dressing for a mountain excursion, especially in winter, it is important to keep in mind our 3 enemies: cold, humidity and wind. Learning to dress in layers fighting against these three factors is essential, and for this, one of the great inventions in terms of clothing is the 3-layer theory.

Introduction to mountain clothing

When we carry out physical activity, more or less intense, the body’s temperature increases, since the combustion of energy produces heat. This is when the body begins to sweat (our natural cooling mechanism) to regulate its temperature. But sweat, in a cold place, can be our great enemy, as it can soak our clothes and lower our temperature too much, with the consequent risk of hypothermia. And we don’t want that.

Advantages of the 3 layer theory

What the 3-layer theory allows us is to evacuate sweat while maintaining our body temperature and protecting ourselves from rain and wind. In addition, we can take off or put on clothes (layers) depending on whether we are doing physical activity, resting, if it rains… and adapting to each moment to regulate our temperature. In addition, it will help us optimize the weight in our backpack, avoiding carrying extra clothes.

Cold tolerance

It should be noted that there are people who can stand the cold longer than others, depending on several factors:

  • Metabolism: This can be more accelerated, “hotter”, or on the contrary, slower, “colder”.
  • Body fat: The more body fat we have in the body, the more insulation we will have.
  • Blood flow: If we experience cold in the trunk (priority area for being the vital organs), the body as a measure of survival response, will spend most of the blood flow to warm the important organs, therefore, the extremities of both the hands like the feet, they will go into the background and will be the coldest and most difficult parts to heat.
  • Physical activity: If our state is stopped, the physiological machinery that allows us to be warm will be slowed down, if instead, we are in movement, the body will be increasing the basal metabolism, and therefore, burning more calories and heating the body.

Cotton, our great enemy

As we mentioned before, the main objective in the mountains is to wick away sweat and stay dry. That is why cotton is one of the most discouraged materials for hiking clothing. If we wear too many clothes while walking or simply if we move with a medium-high intensity, sweat will be inevitable. Cotton is usually cold and maintains moisture, meaning that as soon as we start to sweat, the garment will soak in, cool the sweat and not dry easily. 

That is why in the market we are going to find a lot of garments and materials that assure us of being breathable (which let out excess moisture caused by the heat of our body). That breathability is a common characteristic that we should look for in all the garments of our 3 layers.

Maintaining body temperature is not so complicated if we know how to properly choose the clothes and accessories that we wear. As they say in Norway: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”