Gear on test - layer up

Our gear testers, Jen and Sim Benson, test layering systems for every season, helping you find the perfect layering for your rambles

March winds, April showers, surprising sunshine or late snow – whatever the springtime weather, a good layering system lets you ramble comfortably in all conditions. Check out our experts’ layering best buys from budget, mid-price and premium ranges.

Layering uses the unique properties of different fabrics, in combination with body heat generated during exercise, to provide optimal performance and comfort on the trail. By adding or removing layers,you can quickly adapt your clothing to keep you warm, dry and comfortable when the weather or your activity level changes. While the specifics of layering systems vary, the principles remain the same:


Base layer

Base layers are worn against your skin, so they need to be comfortable and breathable. They draw moisture away to avoid the discomfort and cooling associated with being sweaty. Synthetic base layers, made from polyester, nylon or polypropylene, ‘wick’ moisture away via capillary action. Natural fabrics absorb moisture, but while cotton will feel damp against the skin, merino wool holds the moisture within its structure so still feels dry. Base layers should fit snugly, but not be tight or restrictive.


Mid layer

Mid layers trap a layer of warm, dry air between your base layer and jacket. They’re usually made from a natural or synthetic fleece with an open woven or knitted structure.


Insulation layer

Wear an insulating layer in colder weather, when your mid layer alone doesn’t provide sufficient warmth. Insulating jackets usually have a windproof outer shell with an insulating material within to trap warm, dry air as it leaves your body. Materials include down – soft under-feathers from ducks and geese – and polyester wadding, but wool also works well.


Shell layer

An outer or ‘shell’ layer is made from tightly woven fabric that protects from wind and rain and traps warm air inside. In dry weather, a windproof is sufficient, otherwise you’ll need a waterproof. Layering systems work best if kept dry, so do up hoods, zips, cuffs and hems. And ensure your absorbent layers don’t protrude, as they’ll soak up rainwater.


Women's budget buys


North Ridge Resistance Short Sleeve (base layer)

RRP: £28

Women's North Ridge Short Sleeve Baselayer

This relaxed-fit base layer from Go Outdoors’ own brand has a soft, lightweight feel and shiny finish. The main fabric is 100% polyester, while the stretchy side panels include elastane. It’s quick-drying and packs down small – ideal for travel. There’s also a long-sleeve version (£32).


Mountain Warehouse Montana Half-Zip Fleece (mid layer)

RRP: £24.99

M.W. Zip fleece
A popular, lightweight, half-zip polyester fleece that looks good, packs small and is soft and comfortable. The smart design has a neat collar and flatlock stitching, and it’s available in a range of colours. A versatile standalone top or cosy, breathable mid layer.


Peter Storm Blisco II Jacket (insulation)

RRP: £70

Women's Peter Storm Blisco II Jacket

This lightly padded hooded jacket combines hardwearing nylon outer fabric with a recycled polyester fill. The cut is relaxed and casual, with an adjustable hem to keep in warmth, but it’s restrictive around the shoulders – and we’d like zipped pockets. Also available as a gilet (£60).


Regatta Corinne IV Waterproof Packaway Jacket (shell)

RRP: £70

Women's Regatta

Featuring a slim, longer fit, a mesh liner for breathability and an adjustable hood and hem, this polyamide waterproof also packs into its own pocket. There’s no peak on the hood, though, so wear it over a cap to keep rain out of your eyes.

 Men's budget buys


HH Tech T-shirt (base)

RRP: £20

Men's Helly Hansen Tech T-Shirt

An excellent everyday base layer – you can choose the short sleeve (£20), long sleeve (£25) or long sleeve half-zip (£30). The polyester fabric wicks sweat, dries quickly and is warm and breathable. The cut is slim, but not tight. Ethically made with bluesign certification.


Columbia Klamath Range II Half Zip (mid layer)

RRP: £30

 Men's Columbia Klamath Range™ II Half Zip

A classic polyester microfleece is a must in any walker’s wardrobe. Wear it over a base layer for extra warmth or under a thicker fleece/insulating jacket in the cold. This style looks good in a smart-casual way and is available in a range of colours and sizes.


Craghoppers Compresslite VIII (insulation)

RRP: £95

Men's Craghoppers CompressLite VIII

A smart-looking, protective jacket, ideal for cold-weather walks, keeping warm on breaks or general use. The Thermo Pro recycled polyester insulation is warm and quite packable, with a water-repellent outer. We find the cut of the arms a little restrictive, but unless you’re wearing it for scrambling, it’s a great jacket for the price.


Highlander Stow & Go Waterproof Jacket (shell)

RRP: £34.99

Men's Highlander Outdoor - Stow & Go Waterproof Jacket

This lightweight, packable waterproof uses a tough nylon fabric with reflective details. The hood and fit are good, with cuff and hem adjustment. Packing into a handy stuff sack, it’s a practical option for daily dog walks and lower-level outings, and would also be suitable for good-weather trips up higher mountains.


Women's mid-range


Howies Short Sleeved Merino Base Layer (base)

RRP: £59


Welsh brand Howies does lovely, ethically sourced merino base layers, mid layers and underwear. This 100% merino top feels great – soft, stretchy and breathable – plus, it’s naturally antimicrobial and thermo-regulating. You may want to size up though.


Frilufts Women’s Hagleren Knit Fleece Zip Jacket (mid layer)

RRP: £75

Women's frilufts

Available from Hereford-based Trekitt (in store and online), Frilufts originated in Scandinavia. This well-thought-out recycled polyester fleece combines a tough, close-knit outer with a soft and cosy brushed lining. The cut is long and fitted, with a smart collar and zipped pockets.


Jack Wolfskin Routeburn Pro Insulating jacket (insulation)

RRP: £155


Teaming a hard-wearing ripstop face fabric with stretchy side panels and Texatherm Pro Fluff synthetic insulation, this versatile jacket can work as an outer layer, or under a waterproof in the cold and wet. A snug, insulated hood keeps in the warmth. Also available as a gilet (£125).


Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Anorak Rain Shell 

RRP: £150


A well-designed, great-value jacket, ideal for all-day weather protection or for stashing in a pack for emergencies. The fabric is stretchy and unrestrictive, while the adjustable hood has a stiffened peak for extra protection. Features a waterproof half-zip and zipped front pocket, and a secure internal pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.


Men's mid-range


Alpkit Aztec Short Sleeve Base Layer

RRP: £44.99


Warm, breathable and odour-resistant, merino wool makes an excellent base layer. This one has a ‘corespun’ construction, which spins the wool around a polyester core, increasing durability and reducing weight/drying time. A long-sleeve version is £52.99.


Sprayway Corran Thermal Jacket (mid layer)

RRP: £90


A high-loft, fluffy fleece is an excellent mid layer: comfortable, wicking and quick-drying, offering great warmth under a waterproof. This CoreC fleece is recycled polyester, with thumb loops, a cosy hood and zipped pockets, plus stretch side panels with zips to vent heat quickly.


Berghaus Tephra 2.0 (insulation)

RRP: £150


Our down jackets get worn on most of our walks. This version’s tough Pertex Quantum shell protects the 700-fill, responsibly sourced and water-repellent Hydrodown. The slim cut is stylish and works under or over layers. Available as a vest (£150), jacket (£190) or hooded jacket (£200).


Haglöfs Koyal Proof Jacket (shell)

RRP: £160

Haglofs koyal jacket

This dependable waterproof uses bluesign-approved, recycled polyester with PFC-free water repellency. It’s ideal for daily wear, with a good hood, zipped pockets and a two-layer construction that won’t feel clammy. It’s protective enough for bad-weather walks, but heavier and bulkier than three-layer equivalents.


Women's high-end


Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer ½ Zip Hoodie

RRP: £129.99

Women's Smartwool

It’s not often a base layer is this versatile, but with quality fabric, great looks and handy features, this responsibly sourced merino hoodie works as a base layer, mid layer or standalone top. The long sleeves and body keep warmth in, and there’s a half-zip for venting.


Rab Vapour-Rise Summit Jacket (mid layer)

RRP: £195

Womens Rab VR Summit Jacket

This lightweight, year-round jacket has windproof Pertex face fabric and a fluffy synthetic lining, which work together to manage temperature and moisture – ideal for sweaty ascents with a cold wind at the top. The adjustable hood has a stiffened peak and there are three zipped pockets.


Fjällräven Expedition Lätt Hoodie (insulation)

RRP: £225

Women's Fjallraven Expedition Latt Hoodie

With the looks and warmth of a down jacket, but effective in damp weather and easy to wash and dry, this hooded jacket is an adventure essential and an everyday favourite. The face fabric is a durable recycled nylon, while the insulation is polyester. It has a snug hood and adjustable hem, and packs into its zipped inside pocket.


Salewa Ortles 3L GTX Jacket (shell)

RRP: £330

Women's Salewa Ortles 3L Gore-Tex Jacket

In the mountains, a protective, well-fitting waterproof makes bad-weather adventures more enjoyable and safer. This is light and packable, comfortable and unrestrictive, yet highly protective. The fabric is three-layer Gore-Tex, with a helmet-compatible storm hood, single-handed rear adjustment, waterproof main zip and underarm venting zips.


Men's high-end


Woolpower 200 Base Layer

RRP: £75

Men's Woolpower Zip Turtleneck 200

Woolpower’s Ullfrotté 200 merino wool-mix fabric is the cosiest base layer we’ve tested. With no uncomfortable side seams and a longer back to stop draughts, it’s cut to wear on its own or over a thin layer. Try the short sleeve (£75), long sleeve (£90) or long sleeve zip turtleneck (£99).


Inov8 Performance Hybrid Jacket (mid layer)

RRP: £175

Men's Inov8

Protective, warm and breathable, this technical mid layer combines tough, weather-resistant polyamide fabric with high-loft, recycled Primaloft Evolve insulation. It’s versatile and great to wear, with a warm hood, thumb loops and zipped pockets. The cut is good, but it comes up small.


Patagonia Down Sweater (insulation)

RRP: £200

Men's Patagonia

This well-cut sweater (jacket) looks great and fits under or over other layers. The outer is made from recycled nylon fishing nets, with 800-fill responsibly sourced down offering excellent warmth for chilly walks or everyday wear. Available as a vest (£200), jacket (£250) or hoodie (£280).


Montane Solution Jacket (shell)

RRP: £250

Men's Montane Solution

Montane’s most environmentally friendly waterproof to date uses recycled materials, with fabric solution-dyed to reduce water consumption. We like
the longer, protective cut, adjustable storm-proof hood and large venting pockets. It’s cut with space for layers, but the sizing is slightly small.


More layers worth a look


For women

UYN Evolutyon Bio-tech LS

RRP: £119


Made from a mix of bio-based fibres, this supportive, technical baselayer is fitted without being restrictive. It wicks sweat away well, avoiding that cold, clammy feeling when you slow down after working hard. The seam-free fabric is comfortable and utilises a variety of weaves in different areas of the body to maximise support and breathability.



EDZ 260 weight mid layer

RRP: £70

Women's EDZ 260 midlayer

Made using certified responsibly sourced Merino wool, this straightforward baselayer from Cumbria-based EDZ (but made in China) feels smooth and itch-free against the skin, with a comfortable, fairly relaxed fit. Good value for full-length sleeves and a zip, but lacking some of the finer details you’ll find in similar models, like flatlock stitching and a chin guard.


Kathmandu Ridge 100 Primaloft Bio Jacket

RRP: £80

Women's Katmandu Ridge_100_Primaloft_Bio

Made with super soft and snuggly Primaloft Bio recycled polyester fabric, this comfortable, relaxed-fit fleece offers a nice level of warmth and coverage as part of a layering system. Well featured, with a snug collar and three zipped pockets, we found it a little shapeless, especially through the lower half.


Bam 73 Zero fleece gilet

RRP: £79

Women's BAM 73 Zero Fleece Gilet

As part of a layering system, a gilet is a great way to add some warmth to your core without adding extra bulk to your sleeves. This 100% recycled polyester fleece, that can be fully recycled at the end of its life, is an ideal weight for cold weather layering or warm weather outer-wear. With a full zip and high, cosy collar, and two comfy handwarmer pockets, it’s suitable for a range of conditions.



Houdini Power Houdi

RRP: £240

Women's Houdini Power Houdi

Offering superb warmth and comfort, this substantial hoody is made with Polartec Power Stretch Pro. The Power Houdi has remained for the most part unchanged for 20 years, due to its popularity and functional, durable, well-thought-through design and materials. Combining a hardwearing, protective close weave outer with a velvety-soft lining, it’s packed with great features, including a snug, adjustable hood, zipped handwarmer pockets, flatlocked seams, chin guard and cosy thumb loops. It’s not cheap, but it’s extremely versatile – wear as a standalone jacket during cool weather and as a super warm midlayer when it’s cold.



For men…

UYN Fusyon Biotech LS

RRP: £139


Made in Italy from an innovative mixture of wool and plant-based fabrics, this techy baselayer feels and performs like a Merino/synthetic mix but is 99% biomaterial. Designed to be worn against the skin, it feels comfortable, warm and stretchy with no potentially irritating side seams. The fabric is a mixture of soft, warm and odour-resistant Merino wool, a pulped eucalyptus yarn called Ecolypt which improves the wicking and breathability; Flexicorn – a stretchy and durable elastane-like yarn, and Natex – a polyamide derived from castor oil seeds that is lighter, more elastic and dries faster than a petroleum-based polyamide. It is expensive, but it performs well and heralds the future of technical clothing moving away from petroleum-based fabrics.


Highlander Hirta Hybrid Jacket

RRP: £59.99

Men's Highlander Outdoor - Hirta Hybrid

Designed as a versatile protective midlayer, we’ve found this a useful addition to our clothing system. The body is made from a light polyester microfleece, while the arms and hood are a Nylon-elastane mix with more weather resistance. It’s a stylish jacket, cut well with good arm movement, thumb loops, hem adjustment and a zipped chest pocket. A good value layer that will get lots of use.  


Paramo Enduro Fleece

RRP: £150

Men's Paramo Enduro Fleece

This lightweight fleece is made from a dense polyester treated with Nikwax to make it weather resistant. It will cope with light drizzle on its own and is designed to be worn under the Enduro Jacket to create a breathable and waterproof system. The neat cut works well over a baselayer and under any jacket as part of a layering system. It features two zipped pockets, placed high up and away from hip belts or harnesses, and a neat hood.  Made under Fair Trade conditions at Paramo’s Miquelina Foundation factory in Colombia.    


Paramo Enduro Jacket

RRP: £120

Men's Paramo Enduro Windproof


A tough, windproof jacket that works well as a general walking jacket in the British climate. It provides weather protection from wind and light rain, but is much more breathable than a traditional waterproof. Combined with the Enduro Fleece, it creates a versatile waterproof and warm system. If the rain is heavy or persistent you can treat this as a protective midlayer and wear a lightweight waterproof over the top. It’s well featured with good pockets, a protective hood, sleeves which can be rolled up, and vents. 


Endura MT500 Waterproof Jacket II

RRP: £249.99


This is designed as a mountain biking waterproof, so it’s a big win if you ride as well as walk. The result is a tough and protective jacket with features and vents designed for working hard and wearing a pack. The Nylon, polyester and elastane mix fabric is protective, and features stretch panels for good body movement. The hood is helmet compatible and there are several zipped pockets as well as underarm vents. Like all Enduras products, it’s PFC-free. 

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