Dressing for success in the great wintery outdoors requires a bit more thought than dressing for, say, an afternoon at the beach. Luckily, it all boils down to understanding a couple of key fundamentals.

The first is that proper layering generally involves three layers, each with specific functions. A wicking base layer to move sweat away from your body, an insulated midlayer to keep you warm, and a weather-thwarting outer layer to serve as your final defense against whatever Mother Nature has in store.

The second fundamental rule is that the specific products you choose will depend on factors like weather and activity. That’s why we’ve arranged this guide into condition and activity-specific categories (there’s even one for kids!), and offered product suggestions for each.

Read on, get layered up, and step outside!

Consideration: Extreme weather

Whether you're heading out for a quick dog walk or an afternoon outside, certain conditions call for a little extra consideration. Heavy rain, deep cold, and high winds (and sometimes all three) needn’t keep you indoors, so long as you choose your outerwear carefully.

Rain and Wind

Cold temps mixed with wet or windy weather are often uncomfortable and, sometimes, downright dangerous. When rain is in the forecast, it’s crucial to have an outer layer that sheds moisture, while still allowing water vapor to escape. Waterproof, breathable fabrics accomplish both these tasks while also blocking wind. If you’re going to be on the move, look for garments with ample venting options; you’ll want some air flow as your heart rate and body temp rises. Pair this outer layer with a cozy, insulating midlayer and a wicking baselayer for complete comfort.

Our Suggestions

Cresta Stretch Rain Jacket

Pathfinder Gore-Tex Shell

Trail Model Rain Pants

Deep Cold

The key to layering in deep cold is understanding the relationship between air temperature, body temperature, and exertion level. Zero degrees can feel perfectly cozy or miserably cold; the difference lies in how you’re dressed and what you’re doing. When temperatures drop, grab a moisture-wicking mid to heavyweight base layer, paired with well-insulated mid and outer layers. Typically, deep cold is not accompanied by significant precipitation, so waterproofness may not be a concern (of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, so keep an eye on the forecast).

Our Suggestions

L.L. Bean Midweight Base Layer


(bottoms also available)

Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket

Extreme Weather Tip:

Always pack an extra insulating layer in case something gets wet, the weather changes, or you’ve simply miscalculated. It’s also a good idea to have an extra layer to slip on if you take a rest stop; it’ll help keep your core temperature steady.


Levels of Exertion

Exertion level is one of the primary considerations when dressing for wintertime fun. That’s because your body is like a furnace, and how hot it burns depends on the activity you choose to stoke the fire. If you’re sitting in a tree stand or building snow castles, you’re going to need a whole lot more insulation than if you’re backcountry skiing or going for a run.

Fortunately, accommodating high or low levels of exertion is simple: the less you’re moving, the more insulation you need, and vice versa. The key is to never underestimate just how big a factor exertion level is, and always have an extra layer just in case.

High Exertion

Cresta Wool Ultralight 150 Base Layer

High Exertion

Adventure Grid Fleece


High Exertion

PrimaLoft Packaway Vest


Low Exertion

Midweight Base Layer, ¼ Zip

Low Exertion

Hi-Pile Fleece Jacket

Low Exertion

Baxter State Parka

Another Tip:

If you do find yourself getting cold during a low exertion activity, a few minutes of snow calisthenics are all you need to stoke your internal furnace.


Kids and Cold

The primary challenge when dressing kids for winter play is remembering to put yourself in their pint-sized shoes. If you’re heading out to snowshoe with your toddler in a backpack carrier, it’s easy to forget that even though you’ll be getting a heck of a workout, your little one is, quite literally, hanging out.

Considering kids boils down to two simple truths. First, dress your kids well. Second, be sure to pack extra clothes. For kids who are likely to be in a carrier or sled, a thick blanket will allow you to add extra insulation quickly and easily.

Kids’ Wicked Warm Base Layers


(bottoms also available)

Infants’ and Toddlers’ Cold Buster Snowsuit

Kids’ Ultralight 650 Down Jacket


(infants and toddlers also available)


When Weight is a Factor

Before we look at how to dress light and warm, it’s important to remember that warmth should always take precedence over weight. A little more weight is worth it if it keeps you from being miserable. That said, there are some activities (cross-country skiing or backpacking, for example), when it makes sense to keep your apparel load as light and nimble as possible. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to dress light and right.

Ultralight 850 Down Jacket

Trail Model Rain Jacket

PrimaLoft Packaway Jacket

A Final Word

One thing you may have noticed: Cotton does not make the list for any of these layers. That’s because cotton does not wick moisture, isn’t particularly warm, and is terrible at keeping wind and water at bay. Don’t get us wrong: We love cotton. We just don’t love it when it’s time to venture outdoors in winter.

Finally, don't forget your hat and gloves. Although it’s not true that you lose half your body heat through your head, you do lose enough (generally around 10%) to make a significant difference. And of course a warm, dry pair of gloves or mittens is nothing short of essential.

Katahdin Pom Hat

Waterproof Ski Gloves

Adventure Grid Fleece Liner Gloves

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