Occasionally, the rain and wind have deterred us. I am also realising that with such changeable weather as we have in the UK if we stay fair weather hikers then we will miss out on so many adventures.
I love the Scandinavian saying:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”
And I intend to make this our mantra.
Before kids Dadonthebrink and I had some amazing adventures. Most of these involved grabbing our rucksacks full of gear and trekking into remote parts of the world. We weren’t often lucky, or you could argue smart, enough to pick nice warm locations. We choose New Zealand on it’s coldest and wettest summer on record, Chilean Patagonia and the Pyrenees.
These trips were planned meticulously. Ahem, no, they weren’t! However, I did research our gear and clothing well, especially after our ill-equipped 5 day hike in Patagonia, trekking through 4 seasons in those 5 days.
I’ve learnt that layering is the key for clothing. Tramping in New Zealand, you will often see people wearing shorts over their thermal. Bizarre! Yet it makes sense on the changeable, shower prone island- the exposed layers dry quickly.
Over the past weeks I’ve been experimenting with the kids on layering their clothes to provide flexible warmth and dryness in this strange changeable weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. Max is my best test subject with his love for puddles and water. I know when I get the clothes wrong – he has a drippy nose within half a day.
So what exactly is layering?
It’s building up 3 layers (or more in extreme cold) to provide the best protection from the elements. Each layer has a specific purpose. Layering makes it easier to go outdoors with children even in the wettest and coldest of months.
Our system for layering clothes
The base layer is the layer that is worn closest to the skin. This layer needs to work with the body’s natural thermal regulation and it needs to help manage the moisture. The role of the base layer is to wick away any sweat from the skin.
The two most common materials as a base layer are wool and polypropylene.
Wool is a natural material that works very well. It can absorb upto 10 times its weight in water and still provide warmth. It is, however, more expensive. It needs to be a fine quality wool (like merino wool), not itchy and rough, to be worn next to the skin.
Man-made polypropylene and similar fibres are becoming more and more technical. They are generally more affordable than wool too.
Cotton and cotton blends should be avoided at all cost!
I’ve heard the phrase “Cotton kills” on some outdoor forums: Cotton retains moisture and dries very slowly; perfect for hot summer days when it helps cool, but this property can actually cause hypothermia in colder months.
We have two sets of stripy thermals- long sleeved top and long johns. They are a polypropylene blend and are over 5 years old. These garments have served us well thus far- Hugo just fits into the larger set and Max is comfortable in the smaller set.
This is really the thermal layer (despite the inner most layer often being referred to as thermals). The mid-layer’s purpose is to retain the body’s natural heat, while still being breathable. The items used can be varied according to the temperature and the activity you expect to be doing. The best material I have found is fleece- thicker and thinner, sleeves, no sleeves.
I’ve found it is better to add two thinner layers than one heavy mid layer for children. My kids will often have a long-sleeved fleece jumper and a body warmer over. This helps take off a layer if they are hot running around, but makes it easy to put something on when we stop for a snack, slow our pace or the temperatures drop.
I’ve been considering a very light down jacket or gilet to add to our kids’ wardrobe.
On cold days we use a pair of fleece trousers, otherwise the kids have different tracksuit bottoms. I try to avoid denims and other cotton trousers, which are generally cold and dry slowly if they get wet. As a cost effective solution I’ve re-purposed some funky pyjama bottoms as their fleece trousers for Max.
The role of the outer layer is weather protection. It is the rain and wind protection layer. It is also important that this layer is breathable, so it lets the moisture whipped away from the body to escape and doesn’t cool the body by letting the moisture form as condensation.
For the UK climate, unless it’s minus outside, I prefer just a shell, with no added insulation. Just a plain rain jacket and rain trousers. I’ve found these easy to carry when they are not needed, much easier to wash and quicker to dry.
Protecting the extremities is also very important, but I’ll touch on my solutions in another post soon.
My ultimate objective is to create a really flexible, quick drying travel and outdoor wardrobe for each of my children. A wardrobe that consists of as few a pieces as practical and allows us to enjoy the great outdoors for longer whatever the weather.
Do you have any tips on clothes for layering? Which are your favourite outdoor clothes, brands and why?