Choosing and Using your Outdoor Gear

By: Ben McKay

Walking and Outdoor Clothing Advice: The Layering System

When out walking, hiking, mountaineering, climbing or mountain biking etc. it is very important to wear clothing designed to protect you from the elements. Not only will correct clothing ensure that you are comfortable and enjoy your activity, it could, and in extreme conditions it will, save your life.

The layering system is an effective way of ensuring that you maintain a comfortable body temperature during and after exercise, no matter what the weather is like. The layering system employs three basic layers which are: Outer Layer - waterproofs to protect you form wind, rain and snow; the Mid Layer - to provide insulation and keep you warm; and the Base Layer - to provide insulation and wick sweat away from you skin.

Not only does each layer have its own function within the layering system, but air is also trapped between each layer. The air between the layers keeps you warmer than if you were to wear one thick layer. The layering system is very flexible. If you are hot you can remove a layer. If you are cold you can add a layer. For example you could use more than one mid layer to help keep you warm.

For the best comfort all layers should be breathable or have wicking capabilities. If one of your layers is not breathable/wicking then the breathable/wicking properties of other layers will not be so effective.

Before going on a walk, expedition or other outdoor activity it is important to think about the type of clothes that you will need to take with you. Some things to consider are: How long will you be away for? The longer you will be away, the less likely you will be able to predict what the weather will be like. You need to be prepared for good and bad weather conditions.

When and where are you going walking? During the winter in Scotland you are not going to need a pair of shorts to walk in, but you will definitely need good quality waterproofs. When rambling on a hot summers day in Spain you are unlikely to require five fleece jackets.

How high will you be going? It may be hot and sunny in the valley, but as you start to climb the weather can soon get cold and unpredictable. Up in the mountains wind, rain and snow can suddenly appear from out of nowhere.

What will you do after your exercise/where will you be staying? You may be plenty warm enough while you are doing your outdoor activity, but as soon as you stop you can become very cold. This is especially true if after a hard day of hiking you have to wait around for a train home, or if you are camping overnight.

You may also need additional technical or specialist clothing for your activity, e.g. if you will be climbing your clothing should not restrict your movement, or if you are cycling it is advantagous to have tops with extra long sleeves and back. It is always wise to take adequate clothing to protect yourself from the elements, but bear in mind that you will have to carry these clothes while you are not wearing them. One piece of good advice is to always take one more layer than you think you need. This rule of thumb generally ensures that you will be well protected and warm enough, but that you do not end up carrying around clothes that you do not need.

Do not forget your extremities. In cold, windy, rainy or snowy conditions you will be glad that you have remembered your gloves and hat!

Waterproof Jackets and Trousers

Waterproof jackets and trousers form the top layer of your clothing system. The function of waterproofs is to prevent you from getting wet and cold when it rains or snows, or when it is windy.

Ideally waterproof fabrics should also be breathable. Breathable waterproof fabrics allow your sweat to be transfered from the inside of your waterproof jacket or trousers to the outside, where it can evaporate. By doing this, breathable waterproof fabrics prevent you from getting hot and wet when you are active. When you take a break from walking you soon cool down. If your waterproofs are not breathable, the sweat trapped in your clothes can make you very cold indeed. Fabrics can be made breathable by incorporating tiny pores into the material. The pores in the waterproof fabric are much smaller than raindrops but are much larger than water vapour molecules.

Waterproof clothes are also windproof, which helps to keep you warm. A warm layer of air, warmed up by your body, is trapped in your clothes. If your clothes are not windproof this warm layer of air will be blown away and you will become cold. Waterproof clothes do not hold much warmth and so a fleece and/or base layer are worn underneath your waterproofs to keep you warm. N.B. To get the best out of breathable waterproofs, the base layer and intermediate layers should also be breathable and have good wicking properties.

There are many breathable waterproof fabrics available, one of the most famous is Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex fabric is used by Sprayway, The North Face and Berghaus. Other waterproof, windproof and breathable fabrics include: Nikwax Analogy used by Paramo; Triple Point Ceramic used by Lowe Alpine; Hydro/dry P2 and Hydro/dry P3 used by Sprayway; Aqua Dry and Aqua Dry Pro used by Craghoppers; and Aqua Foil used by Berghaus. There are many different types of Gore-Tex fabric, including: Taslan Gore-Tex is tough for rugged use. Kinetic Gore-Tex has a 3 layer construction, is soft with very high tear strength and resistance to abrasion.

Gore-Tex XCR can be added to all Gore-Tex fabrics for extra breathability. Jackets or trousers made from waterproof material must have taped seems in order for the garment to be totally waterproof. If the seems are not taped, water will leak through them.


Windproofs help to keep you warm. A warm layer of air, warmed up by your body, is trapped in your clothes. If your clothes are not windproof this warm layer of air will be blown away and you will become cold. Windproof clothes are not waterproof, however they may be water-repellent. This means that they will only protect you from rain if there is a light shower. You will need waterproofs to protect you from even moderate rain. Hydro/dry P1 used by Sprayway is a windproof fabric. Some fleece fabrics are also windproof, for more information on these see below.


Fleece is a pile fabric that is designed to keep you warm. Fleece is usually made from polyester. It is breathable, wicks water away from the body and provides insulation. Fleece fabric is not waterproof, although it may be water repellent. Some types of fleece material are also windproof.

Fleece garments made from light- or medium-weight fleece are ideal for use as base- and mid-layers. Thicker, windproof fleeces can be used as mid- or top-layers, depending upon the weather conditions.

The following fleece fabrics are windproof: Polartec Windpro Polartec Windbloc Gore-Tex Windstopper Windstopper Craghoppers Windshield When fleece material is washed it can suffer from pilling. Pilling is the formation of small balls of fleece material on the surface of the fleece. Pile-resistant fleece material does not suffer from Pilling.

Polartec Fleeces

Polartec Wind Pro are state-of-the-art lightweight and warm fleece fabric. It has a tight knit construction for high wind resistence and fast drying. It is water repellent, breathable, durable and has an anti-microbial finish. It can be machine washed.

Polartec Windbloc is completely windproof, breathable and water repellent. Polartec 200 series is a midweight, chunky thermal fleece fabric. It provides excellent wicking, is quick drying and has an anti-bacterial finish so that it can be worn next to the skin without getting too smelly. Polartec 300 series is a chunky thermal fleece with excellent body moisture transfer and quick drying properties.

Aleutian Fleeces

The Aleutian name describes a specially developed range of insulative fabrics, which are manufactured from fleece or pile. These technical fabrics are the culmination of many years of joint development between Lowe Alpine and Malden Mills, the manufacturers of Polartec. Aleutian Waffle has a chunky grid texture that not only looks good but also enhances its insulation value when worn within a layering system - ideal for variable weather when walking. Aleutian Cord shows great style when used as midweight outerwear. It also provides valuable insulation within a three layer system in spring or autumn. Aleutian Marl combines a dense, low pile outer face - for increased wind resistance - with a deep velour inner face - for maximum insulation.


Ideally base layers (or baselayers) should wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you cool and dry. One way of achieving the wicking property of the fabric is by constructing the fabric from 100% knitted polyester incorporating Denier Gradient Technology (DGT). Coarse yarns are knitted on the inner face of the fabric with finer yarns knitted on the outside of the fabric. This combination of coarse and fine yarns creates a denier gradient, which exerts a capillary pull on moisture from the inside to the outside of the fabric. DGT also vastly increases the surface area of the fabric which accelerates wicking and evaporation so garments dry very quickly. DGT is a physical property of the fabric so will not wash out with time.

Some Base Layer fabrics are impregnated with anti-bacterial treatment. This prevents the bacteria that produce body odour from developing in the fabric when the garments are worn for prolonged periods.

Polartec 100 is the lightest Polartec fleece fabric. It can be worn alone in a hike during warm weather or as a base- or mid-layer in any season.

Polartec Powerstretch is ideal for next to the skin use and as an intermediate layer. The outer face is a low pile nylon jersey and the inner is a low pile polyester velour. Lycra provides 60% stretch across the length and width for a close fit. The inner pile is treated with a wicking anti-microbial finish to move the moisture away from the body and prevent the build up of odor. Powerstretch is easy care, machine washable and quick drying.

CoolMax Alta is made by DuPont and used by The North Face. It is pill-resistant (bobble resistant) and engineered to combine excellent moisture management with long-wearing comfort. It is natural feeling fabric, it dries faster than other fabrics available, provides unparalleled moisture wicking, and will not pill wash after wash. Very light in weight,

Aleutian Micro Grid is a double velour with a small grid design on the face and a lightly brushed back surface. The open structure and light weight makes Micro Grid very breathable. Wicking performance allows these garments to be worn next to the skin.

Dryflo is made by Lowe Alpine. It is made from 100% polyester fibres that are hydrophobic, resulting in a wicking process that does not absorb moisture (unlike cotton), but uses a unique denier gradient system that mechanically transports moisture away from the body. Dryflo®'s open knit construction offers high breathability making it the ultimate choice for wearing under waterproof/breathable garments. Dryflo® is quick drying, giving next to the skin comfort. Dryflo®'s wicking and breathable properties also make a Dryflo® top the ideal shirt in summer. Thermal properties are often a consideration for the consumer. All Dryflo® apparel offer optimum warmth without any adverse effect on the wicking or breathability. There are several types of dryflo, for example Lightweight Dryflo, Fullweight Dryflo, Dryflo Seamless.

Paramo's reversible shirts are constructed with Parameta S. Parameta S is an asymmetrical wicking fabric that directs water to one face and traps still air in the other. If you are active or are hot, you need water close to your skin to evaporate and cool you down: Wear the non-fleecy, water-attracting face next to your skin to keep you cool. If you are resting or cold, you need a layer of still air next to your skin to keep you warm: Wear the fleecy, air-containing face next to your skin to keep you warm. Cotton is a lightweight fabric that will keep you warm and comfortable, however it has no wicking properties and can become saturated with sweat. This is undesirable, especially when you stop walking and cool down.

Clothing Fabric

Breathable Membranes

All breathable microporous membranes comprise an extremely thin man-made film whose physical structure contains microscopic pores that are large enough for water vapour (perspiration) to pass through but small enough not to let water droplets through. Thus the membrane is breathable, waterproof and windproof. Modern microporous membranes are usually laminated to a face fabric, and available in two and three layer versions.


Gore-Tex is a unique wafer thin microporous membrane, which contains over 9 million pores per square inch. Each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, yet some 700 times bigger than a moisture vapour molecule. This gives the fabric the excellent levels of waterproofness and breathability that makes it so famous across walkers and other outdoor people. Gore-Tex is a bi-component membrane, meaning that it is made up of two parts. The main part (that you see) is made from expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE for short). This is then combined with an oleophobic (oil hating) layer that protects the membrane from the natural oils that the human body emits, insect repellents, cosmetics etc.

The outer face of the Gore-Tex fabric is coated with a hydrophobic DWR (Durable Water Repellency) treatment which encourages surface water to bead up and run off, improving the wet weather performance of the garment and promoting breathability by preventing wetting-out of the outer face. There are a number of different Gore-Tex constructions currently used within the industry:

Classic 2-Layer Gore-Tex

Provides soft, versatile weather protection and is good for end uses such as walking, streetwear, golf and skiing. Made by laminating a nylon or polyester face fabric to the Gore-Tex membrane and then hanging a mesh lining just inside the laminate.

Classic 3-Layer Gore-Tex

Designed for ultimate durability in rugged use applications in tough weather conditions such as high altitude mountaineering. Made by again laminating a face fabric (usually nylon) to the Gore-Tex membrane, an inner protective mesh scrim is then laminated to the other side of the membrane, giving better durability.

Gore-Tex Paclite

Lightweight and more packable than either two or three layer garments, designed for ultra light mountaineering or other fast moving sports. As with two layer garments, the face fabric is bonded to the Gore-Tex membrane, but unlike either of the other constructions, abrasion resistant raised nubs (or dots) protect the membrane. This means that as there is less between you and the membrane, breathability is increased.

Gore-Tex XCR

Standing for eXtended Comfort Range, XCR is the new product from Gore-Tex, which by using new membrane technology and new lamination techniques offers 25% more breathability than classic Gore-Tex garments. Designed for mountaineers, backpackers, snowboarders, backcountry skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts who value performance and demand the most from their gear. Available in both two and three layer construction.

Hydro Dry P3 (Sprayway)

The top fabric in the Hydrodry range from Sprayway, P3 has a hydrostatic head of 10,000mm. It is waterproof and has a good level of breathability. Again developed from a hydrophilic laminate, Hydrodry P3 is available in both 2-layer and 3-layer constructions. Hydrodry P3 provides Sprayway customers with a technical alternative to Gore-Tex in the same way that Drilite Extreme does for Mountain Equipment.

Drilite Extreme or DLE (Mountain Equipment)

A new development from Mountain Equipment, Drilite Extreme is a monolithic, hydrophilic laminate, with a hydrostatic head of more than 20,000mm. DLE (Drilite Extreme) is totally waterproof and exceptionally breathable, guaranteed. An added benefit of hydrophilic laminates is Drilite Extreme's elasticity, making it especially ideal for stretch panels in the knees and seat areas, guaranteeing the highest freedom of movement and comfort. Available in 2 and 3 layer contructions.

HyVent (The North Face)

Designed as an innovative option for complete weather protection, HyVent is a waterproof/breathable polyurethane-based membrane. While it is slightly less breathable than Gore-Tex® laminates it is extremely waterproof, and can be counted on as a dependable protective outer layer. This combination of high waterproofness and breathability makes it ideal for keeping the elements out. To increase the comfort and breathability level of the coating, TNF have developed precise custom lining options in both their 2- and 3-layer versions of the HyVent technology.

eVENT (Pearl/Izumi/Rab/Montane)

eVENTâ„? Fabric is a Direct Ventingâ„? waterproof barrier. Using a proprietary and patent-pending Dry Systemâ„? technology, eVENT Fabric has set a new standard for comfort by allowing perspiration to dissipate and vent before it saturates the inside of the fabric. At the core of eVENT fabric is hydrophobic ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene) film that has been rendered oleophobic, and thereby free from body oil contamination, via a method that retains the inherent open-pore structure of the membrane.

Breathable Coatings

Breathable coatings are often applied to jackets that walkers use because it means that they are more comfortable throughout their hike by decreasing the build-up of moisture (vital to maintaining an optimum body temperature). All coatings are created by spreading a thin layer of resin directly onto to the inside face of the chosen fabric. Two distinct types of breathable coating exist: microporous and hydrophilic.

A microporous coating works on the same principle as a microporous membrane, the pores in the coating being large enough to let water vapour pass through but small enough to keep water droplets out.

Hydrophilic coatings rely on the chemical and molecular properties of water molecules. The heat that the body generates inside the garment drives water vapour (perspiration) down the polymer chains found in the coating to the external face, the water vapour moving from molecule to molecule rather than freely through a physical hole or pore. As the body produces more moisture and the fabric gets wetter, the chains naturally increase in size, allowing even more moisture movement. In use, both types of coatings are effective, with the overall performance of any garment being determined by a combination of factors such as the choice of face fabric, use of a separate lining, and the general design, cut and finish of the garment.

Triple Point Ceramic (Lowe Alpine)

Triplepoint Ceramic is a unique multi-layer microporous coating which is waterproof, windproof and breathable. It differs from other treatments in that the manufacturing process involves multiple coatings and the introduction of ceramic particles, which are impregnated into the coating under high pressure. This has the effect of creating microscopic holes around each particle. These cavities are large enough to permit the passage of water vapour to the outside face but small enough to prevent liquid water from moving the other way. Since the Triplepoint Ceramic coating is physically anchored to the fabric it won't de-laminate or become damaged. This construction is what makes the fabric inherently windproof as well as highly breathable and waterproof. A special Dry Yarn technology and DWR treatment is also applied to the coated fabric's outer face to significantly improve wet weather performance and beading, (this can be re-generated simply by exposing the garment to a direct heat source i.e. medium heat iron or tumble drier). There are currently two constructions of Triplepoint Ceramic used in garment production:

Standard and Direct Lined.

Standard Triple Point Ceramic fabric is constructed and coated as described above and a free hanging Dryflo mesh lining is then added to protect the coating, and to help disperse any condensed water droplets on the inner face of the garment.

Triple Point Ceramic Direct Lined is a new fabric combination for the Alpine Pro range for winter 2000. Unlike the standard construction, a fixed lining is applied directly to the Triplepoint Ceramic coating. This gives better performance when combined with a high spec. face fabric.

Triple Point

Triple Point by Lowe Alpine is a multi-layer non-ceramic coating which is lighter than Triple Point Ceramic and therefore better suited to general walking/outdoor activities rather than more demanding outdoor sports. The outer face of the fabric has a standard DWR treatment applied to it to enhance wet weather performance.

Hydrodry P2 (Sprayway)

A more basic version of Sprayway's Hydrodry P3, Hydrodry P2 is a mixture of hydrophilic coatings and laminates rather than a laminate outright. With a lower hydrostatic head (5,000mm) than P3 and a slightly lower degree of breathability, Hydrodry P2 is pitched at the more general walking market. Available only in the equivalent of a two-layer construction, Hydrodry P2 is a good competitor to standard Triplepoint and Aquadry.

Entrant II

A microporous coating with a multi-layer structure. Applied to a suitable face fabric it has good waterproof and breathability characteristics. Entrant II is used on some F&T nylon face fabrics to enhance performance and durability.


Aquadry is Craghoppers' own hydrophilic coating. Constructed and working in a very similar way to Sprayway's Hydrodry P2, Aquadry is a good choice fabric for a middle of the range waterproof garment- it is waterproof (at least 7,000mm), windproof and breathable. The Aquadry label carries a hydrostatic head measurement (in meters) and a breathability rating (%age) on each garment i.e. "Aquadry 7-82" to look out for.


Windproofs help to keep you warm. A warm layer of air, warmed up by your body, is trapped in your clothes. If your clothes are not windproof this warm layer of air will be blown away and you will become cold. Windproof clothes are not waterproof, however they may be water-repellent. This means that they will only protect you from rain if there is a light shower. You will need waterproofs to protect you from even moderate rain. Hydro/dry P1 used by Sprayway is a windproof fabric. Some fleece fabrics are also windproof, for more information on these see below.

Caring for your Waterproof Jackets and Gear

Most of us now use what are called 'breathable' waterproof jackets, and like our skin they allow moisture to escape but prevent moisture from penetrating to the inside! Similarly, a waterproof jacket needs a little TLC on a regular basis to get the best out of it. If you notice that your jacket appears to be absorbing water rather than repelling it then it is time to act, and avoid an uncomfortable day out with a jacket that does not breathe.

Step One: Wash Your Jacket! This can be done in the washing machine with a product like Grangers Extreme Cleaner. Be sure to put the cleaner into the powder compartment and not into the machine drum with your jacket, as most are concentrated and will not help the fabric. Wash on a cool (40 degree) cycle and ensure the jacket is well rinsed. You can use an household detergent, but it must be a non-bio Important Note: The chemicals in household detergents interfere with the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment to the outside of your waterproof - the perfumes used in particular, as well as those that combine a fabric conditioner. This is why we recommend that you use a product like Grangers gear proofer, which is a pure soap without additives.

Step Two: The"Secret"to Success. You now have a nice clean jacket with no dirt now impeding the surface of the fabric so what next...Your jacket needs a session in the tumble dryer! All waterproofs have a DWR finish to them, the dirt that has been removed was stopping this from working; and the heat of a tumble dryer will restore its properties. About 35 - 40 minutes on a low to medium heat will do the trick. Basically what you should expect is for the buttons to be hot to the touch (if it takes the skin off your fingers, you've gone too far!) If you should happen to notice that the colour of your jacket has changed a fraction - Don't Panic - this is just the DWR chemical cooling and setting into the fibres of the fabric. (The tumble drying process liquefied it.)

You can used a warm iron to rejuvenate the DWR coating after washing, but the tumble dryer works best.

This information is provided for general guidance only, and so if you are looking for specific and possibly more up-to-date advice on an item or range of walking or outdoor clothing, please do not hesitate to cthe Walk and Ramble online Walking Equipment Shop. We will be glad to help.

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