How to Layer So You Actually Enjoy Outdoor Winter Activities

As temperatures start to drop, sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend time outside in the cold. Yet with the proper gear and layering, the chilly season can be full of outdoor fun! From skiing to taking a snowy walk around a park, here are a few tips on how to dress for winter so you stay warm and actually enjoy your activities.

Base Layers

These are the garments that are closest to your skin and are in charge of wicking moisture so you don’t have sweaty clothing sticking to you. In winter, it’s important the material is breathable, yet also adds a degree of warmth. 

Popular options are midweight polyester long underwear for both the top and bottom, as well as merino wool products. Try to avoid moisture retaining fabrics, like cotton, as damp clothing can risk making you colder in winter weather. 


Once you’ve got your bases covered, the next step is called your mid-layers. In colder temperatures, these garments are vital for insulating and keeping you warm. This is where you’d throw on your favorite synthetic puffy or fleece jacket, and maybe some midweight fleece pants. 

Outer Layers

Now that you’re all warm and snug, it’d be a shame for the snowy, slushy weather to get your dry gear wet and ruin everything! This is where your outer layer comes in. This protective shell should prevent your inner layers from getting wet by shielding you from the elements. Additionally, have an outer layer that is both waterproof and wind resistant is ideal, as exposure to wind is another way for your body to quickly lose heat. 

If you go to an outdoor gear store, you’ll often hear these items referred to as “shells”. So, for example, that breathable, windproof jacket in your closet? That’s your “shell jacket”. And same with waterproof rain pants, those would be your “shell pants”. 

Head, Fingers, and Toes

While keeping your core warm is vital, maintaining feeling in your fingers and toes is always a good idea, too! Make sure that when you’re going out to adventure in the cold, you have appropriate gloves, socks, and face protection. For your hands and feet, similar principles apply as when layering your body. 

For example, sometimes with gloves, it’s a good idea to have a “base layer” glove that keeps your hand warm and comfy, while wearing a second “shell layer” to protect it from getting wet. Same goes with your feet, you want warm and practical socks that are a breathable material and wick moisture so that you don’t get blisters, and then you need a waterproof shoe to keep you insulated and dry. 

When it comes to your head, be sure to wear a warm and comfortable hat, and consider adding a “buff” or neck warmer that you can pull up over your nose, too! 

Extra Tips for Added Comfort

While staying warm during your outdoor activity is important, sometimes when you get back to your car after a fun snowshoes or long walk, it can be uncomfortable to sit in all these wet layers for the drive home. So an extra tip for comfort? Have a spare set of clothing waiting for you to change into at the car! Bring your most comfy pants, sweatshirt, socks, whatever and change into them after your adventure. It’ll make the drive home much more enjoyable. 

Also, a few extra comfort items to take on your winter adventure are hand warmers and a thermos full of a hot beverage like cocoa or tea! 

And most importantly, always remember it is easier to take layers off if you are getting too warm, but it’s impossible to put more layers on if you don’t bring them. Plan ahead and dress appropriately, and winter may just become your new favorite season for playing outside! 

Image by RichLegg

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Brooke Jackson

Brooke Jackson is an internationally featured writer and photographer based in Seattle. As the founder of Wandering Trails Media, she specializes in travel, outdoor adventure sports, and environmental studies. Brooke also instructs for REI Outdoor School, where she finds joy in educating others on how best to get outside in a responsible and sustainable way. See more of Brooke's work at

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