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The Science of Layering

Yeah, it’s not rocket science. But still, finding the right layering system for the conditions takes a touch of expertise.

We’ve all been there. Maybe it was a sub-zero day in the Rockies, and you didn’t have enough layers on, so you spent the entire day on skis cold. Or maybe it was a spring tour in the Sierra, and you wore too many layers on the skintrack, then sweat through everything and couldn’t regain the right temperature. The wrong layering system can literally ruin a day in the mountains.

So, how do you find the right layering system? Well, that depends on a lot of things. Some of us run hot; others are always cold. Where do you fit on that spectrum? And what is the weather and temperature forecast for that particular day? And lastly, what is your activity level going to be for the day? Are you riding lifts all day or skinning in the backcountry?

Here are a few trusty tips and guidelines we rely on when figuring out what layers we need.

Your Next to Skin Layer Matters

Think of your bottom layer as the bread of your sandwich. If the bread is flimsy or prone to wetting out, you’ll get a soggy, tomato-soaked sandwich. Yuck. So, start with a solid base layer, a thin, breathable layer made of wool or a blend of synthetics, something that dries quickly and wicks sweat away. You can see our full collection of base layers for men and women, which include everything from next-to-skin merino to puffy insulated pants you can wear under your shell to a fun-loving one-piece fleece suit. Flylow’s technical flannels, like the Handlebar Flannel for men or the Brigitte for women can be a great option to throw over your first layer, and since they’re made from technical fabrics, they’re built for high-output activities.

When to Opt for a Lighter MidLayer

If it’s super warm out, maybe you’re just skiing in a base layer and a shell. But most days, some kind of midlayer is key. If you’re going to be bootpacking or traversing at the resort, opt for a thin, light midlayer that keeps your core warm but won’t overheat when you’re moving around. The women’s Sondra Fleece or men’s Micah Fleece were intentionally designed without hoods to make for easier layering. And again, our flannels are surprisingly versatile as a midlayer, including our insulated flannels, the Sinclair and the Penny.

When to Wear a Warmer Midlayer

If you’re skiing somewhere cold—say, anywhere on the East Coast or northern Rockies in December or January—you’ll probably want a warm, insulated midlayer. Flylow has lots of options in that category. The light and packable Crowe Jacket for men or Mia Jacket for women adds a just-right layer of thin micropuff insulation, so you can still be active without overheating. If you don’t want a bunch of layers with hoods, check out the hoodless women’s Lupine Jacket or men’s Dexter Jacket. And if you want even more insulation for extra-cold days, you can still fit the puffy 800-fill down Betty Down for women, or its hoodless version the Betty Down Sweater, or General’s Down or General's Down Sweater for men under your shell on frigid days.

Friend on a Powder Day

The Secret Weapon: A Vest

If you don’t have a vest in your arsenal, let us convince you of their all-mighty powers of this jacket-without-arms. A light, packable down vest can do wonders in a small package. It warms your core without overheating your whole body. If you decide to take it off, you can easily stuff it in your pack or a deep pocket. And it looks good at après ski, too. Our men’s Larry Vest and women’s Laurel Vest are team favorites. Don’t leave home without one.

Cap it Off with a Shell

When your layering system is dialed, you can always tweak depending on the day, adding or removing a layer underneath to fine-tune for the right temperature. A waterproof-breathable shell is the final touch to the layering cake. If you like less layers underneath but you still ski where it’s cold, maybe an insulated shell—like Flylow’s women’s Charlie Coat, Avery Jacket, or Sarah Jacket, or the men’s Albert JacketIceman Coat, or Roswell Jacket is the right choice for you. If you prefer to keep your insulating layers unattached, then a streamlined shell is the way to go. For men, that’s the Quantum Pro Jacket, the Malone Jacket, the Kane Jacket, or others. For women, that’s the Lucy Jacket, the Billie Coat, the Domino Jacket, or others.

Handlebar Tech Flannel

It looks like a regular flannel. But it’s got high-performance superpowers.
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Larry Vest

Trust us, you need a good down vest. This is the one you want.
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Quantum Pro Jacket

This stormproof, three-layer hardshell jacket is ready to climb and ski powder.
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Betty Down Sweater

A lightweight hoodless down sweater for layering up on a cold day.
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Brigitte Tech Flannel

The après ski shirt of choice: A button-up flannel made from wicking polyester.
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Billie Coat

A versatile hardshell ski jacket for the woman who refuses to settle.
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