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The ABCs of Layering

Kalens tips on layering for snow pursuits


Layer up to stay out longer

When it comes to cold weather and layering, finding the right balance can be a tricky, especially in unpredictable conditions. But when done correctly, it’s easy to approach a minimalist system that’s still warm and functional.

Late season in the mountains can deal you some interesting hands. One minute it will be sunny and the next, snowing and freezing temperatures. I’ve tried a variety of clothing methods to battle the elements and some of the key things I’ve found are: a) keep it light, b) layers are you friend, and c) bring backups. These days we’re bombarded with different types of materials; waterproof this, wind resistant that; all promising to keep you dry and warm while you venture into the wilderness. But unless you’re planning on walking through a monsoon, a lot of this gear is unnecessary. It’s heavy, restricting, and when it does get wet, good luck trying to get it dry. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for heavy duty clothing, but for most backcountry missions I’ve found a nice layering of light, Merino wool materials are the best option for a handful of reasons:

  • Movement - The dexterity of SmartWool gear is unsurpassed. I’m able to have complete mobility without hindrance – very important when you’re scrambling along ridgelines and backcountry skiing.
  • Quick Drying - When clothing does get wet, it dries rapidly allowing me to restore warmth quickly and not end up in my tent in soaking wet.
  • Lightweight - I won’t hesitate for a second to bring a backup pair of tights or SmartLoft jacket because it weighs little and takes up very little room. Could you imagine bringing a backup pair of heavy-duty pants? No thank you.
  • Options - When you put together a solid layering system, you open up a lot of options for varying temperatures. Especially in the mountains when mornings are vastly different from the afternoons, being able to shed layers is huge.
Kalen Thorien
Kalen skinning in Smartwool