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#1 - Origins of garment layering systems alongside Gore-tex©, Polartec©, Pertex©, Primaloft©.

Updated: May 2

Layered clothing could be considered one of the great innovations of all time. It required the innovation of needles, fibres or sinews, and cutting and scraping tools, all of 40,000 years ago. see article in Smithsonian

Many different clothing layering systems exist today;

  • Fashion ( artistic, creative and status-related)

  • GORP ( using outdoor clothing as trend/fashion rather than function).

  • Workwear, military,

  • Outdoor clothing is the focus of OUTDOOR GEAR COACH.

  • Our focus includes layering for all outdoor activities: running, rock, riding, skiing, climbing, walking, and mountaineering. This is all in the

  • modern era of the great outdoor textile brands: Gore-tex ®, Sympatex ©, Pertex ©, Polartec ®, and Primaloft ©. However, understanding the origins of layering and the amazing skills of original peoples is very useful, so please read on.

The first evidence of stitched clothing is around 40,000 years ago, before the onset of the LGM, the last glacial maximum. Evidence of the actual layers doesn't survive this period. However, we can make assumptions about layering from the discovery of 'Oetzi the Iceman' in his alpine environment, the Aleuts in their seafaring environment in the Baring Straits and the Inuits in the Polar North.

All these indigenous peoples had one thing in common: they had an intimate knowledge of how each of the widely different animal and sea creature skins, furs, intestines and plant fibres would perform; after all, they had 'skin in the game.'

This means that when they got it wrong, they died! We may think their materials were crude, but no! They had hundreds or thousands of years to learn which part of the animal, fish, or tree served the best purpose in which layer.

Our research and full replication of Mallory's 1924 layers from the scraps retrieved from Mallory's body in 1999 was carried out for MHT, Mountain Heritage Trust, set up by the BMC.

We proved that polar explorers and mountain summiteers of the last century had better garments than was commonly perceived. Most importantly, they understood very well what worked and what didn't.

One hundred years ago, in 1924, there were very few marketing claims to confuse them!

(The Mallory Myths booklet left is currently out of print)

TODAY, we all live in centrally heated homes, cars, and workplaces, and we are bombarded with marketing messages from multiple brands all vying for our money.

Learning how materials perform has become too dependent on industry-based claims with a marketing bias. This is to the detriment of garment users, who cannot get the best performance without proper understanding. OUTDOOR GEAR COACH aims to provide an independent, unbiased counterbalance.

See who our multi-skilled team members are link


Layering is not merely having several garments in your closet to be retrieved at a moment's thought, having looked out of the window at the weather. It is .........the selection and sequencing of each layer according to its function and your chosen activity and duration, the weather, terrain and, not least, the fitness levels of your colleagues.

This is quite complex, and we consider it a skill that needs to be learned.

Layering for hands and feet has distinct differences. See section #6 "Layering for hands and feet

What's wrong with the 3-L system?

Our online research in early 2024 shows that almost all retailers and garment brands talk about the 3-L system regardless of activity type. A well-known leading ski brand quotes the 3-L system for both Alpine and Nordic skiing, but these are 2 very different activities with very different movements and metabolic rates. Chris Townsend, the lead TGO magazine product tester for 30 years and our Outdoor Gear Coach team member, says, "The 3-L system is easy to understand but is poor in performance. I use up to 7 layers according to the circumstances, sometimes all at once".

See section # 9 for a review of our multi-layer proposal and what each does and does not do.

PERFORMANCE LAYERING is a skill based on a Multi-layer practice. The skill of ‘Performance layering’ embraces selecting, combining, and sequencing the use/overlayering of garments to meet the needs of ever-changing weather and terrain. This situation can go from high temperatures and low or high humidity to very wet and windy, below zero, low humidity, and climbing at high altitudes. This skill needs a foundation of knowledge of what each layer type does and DOES not do.

OUR PRACTICAL FOCUS helps you enjoy the outdoors in inclement weather by helping you get a better performance from your existing layers or make a more appropriate choice the next time you buy. We propose a MULTI LAYER system Please remember we are entirely independent, not influenced by advertising. We are a not-for-profit CIC, a Community Interest Company. link see about us

quote extract "The emphasis on context, activity, location and interaction alone sets it apart from others. The detailed content makes it unlikely to be surpassed – ever."

Links to help you select your areas of interest on this website.

  1. The origins of layering and comparisons with layering today ( this page)  

  2. Layering myths, marketing and misunderstandings. 

  3. Layering for cold and high altitude. 

  4. Layering for moisture management, rain and sweat.   

  5. Layering for head, hands and feet. 

  6. The science of layering.

  7. Garment layer design differences for running, riding, hiking, climbing, and skiing. Shape, fit, size, hood type  

  8. Selling, maintaining, repairing and sustainability.   

  9. PERFORMANCE Layering as a key outdoor skill.



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