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#2 Layering myths, the truth about wicking and breathability.

Updated: May 2

Layering - is a learning challenge caused by myths and misunderstandings, compounded by differing marketing claims around breathability, MVTR, wicking, beading, waterproofing, water-repellency, showerproofing, and windproofing.

The challenges are increasing because everything we know, use, and trust today 2024, will change in the next five years due to sustainability needs and upcoming EU regulations on recycling and repairability.

Two important quotes;

Mark Twight, author of 'Extreme Alpinism', quote, ‘The layering system as told today by manufacturers is a lie’, and Sandy Alan, IFMG guide and winner of the Piolet d’Or, ‘I realise ( in the context of all the many changes in garments, physical appearance and new marketing words) “I can no longer pick up a garment and know what it does for me. '  

Feedback from our CPD courses on 'PERFORMANCE LAYERING' has shown us the most common misunderstandings, which are recounted below.

our book 'Keeping Dry and Staying Warm'

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

  1. Garments don't create warmth; you and your metabolism and food and drink do. Please see section 3, Science of Layering. Link 

  2. Waterproof garments described as Breathable’ are not air porous. This leads to over-expectations and lots of sweating! Most garments, even lingerie, are now described as ‘breathable, ' so the meaning is lost! MVT is what transports sweat outwards.  

  3. Wicking works inwards and upwards as well as outwards. Many people suspect their garment leaks, but it's usually inward wicking, wetting your base layers. See graphic below  

  4. The 3-L system is repeated everywhere. Simple to understand, but it performs poorly.   Multiple layers are needed. See section 9, Performance Layering link  

  5. Dry air is the best insulator, not down! Water conducts heat 24 times faster than air! The key is to prevent rain from entering and allow sweat to move out. See section 3, the science of layering.     

  6. Base layers don't keep you cool. In hot conditions, replace your base layer with a loose shirt.  

  7. Layering for hands! Multiple layers are important, as is your body.  see section 6   

  8. Beading of water on your outer garments. Since the elimination of fluoro compounds in 2023, regular washing is needed. Aftercare must not be an afterthought. See section 5, layering for waterproofing. 

  9. What is Performance layering, and how does it differ from the 3-L system and street fashion layering?  Layering is a high-level skill based on a sound understanding of what your layers do. It's an active process, and it takes skill to stay ahead of changes in your blood sugar levels, where you are, the weather and what you are doing. A skill we call Performance layering. Simple layering is a fashion concept that has little or no relationship with outdoor performance layering and fashion layering habits acquired are detrimental to keep dry and staying warm.  

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. (this page)

  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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