By Michael Lanza

If hiking, backpacking, and climbing from spring through fall teaches us the fundamentals of layering our clothing for comfort in variable weather, the backcountry in winter confers a graduate degree in layering. In mild temperatures, getting wet with perspiration or precipitation merely risks discomfort. In freezing temps, it can quickly lead to hypothermia and actually become life-threatening.

This article offers expert advice on how to choose a specific, personalized layering system for different exertion levels and body types in backcountry in winter. Drawn from my three decades of experience backpacking, Nordic and backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, climbing, camping, and trail running in winter—including 10 years as the Northwest Editor and lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog—these tips go beyond the usual layering advice to help you stay comfortable and safe by customizing clothing systems according to activity and body type.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A layering system is simply the clothing layers you wear outdoors, and we all understand that dressing in layers allows us to make adjustments—adding and removing layers—as needed for changing conditions. My “10 Tips For a Smarter Layering System” apply primarily to three-season conditions. But temperatures near and below freezing compound the challenge of dressing comfortably during exertion, when our bodies sweat, because damp clothing conducts heat from your body, and cold air rapidly accelerates that cooling effect—potentially to a dangerous degree.

See my “12 Pro Tips For Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter” for advice on how to manage your activity level in combination with your layering system to minimize sweating, and “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry.”

A backcountry skier in Idaho’s Boise Mountains.
” data-image-caption=”Chip Roser backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains.
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