Why We Layer
One of the first lessons any Ranger School student learns is why and how we layer clothing. Like most aspects of that program, the lesson is frequently painful. As a Ranger student, I once spent a cold morning pulling security in the patrol base and I wore almost every piece of clothing I had to keep warm. When it came time to don rucksacks and move out, I decided that my legs were so cold I needed to continue wearing a set of mid-layer bottoms for the relatively short movement. This was against the schoolhouse mandate of no insulation allowed during movement (which I figured was a haze, but was really for student safety – as I was about to learn). We only moved a little over a kilometer, but it was the most uncomfortable klick of my life. The heat and moisture my body generated couldn’t escape my lower body and I almost became a heat casualty. I stripped the bottoms off as soon as I could upon our arrival at the new patrol base, and doing so reminded me of pulling the lid off a crock pot when that huge cloud of steam escapes.
I’m thankful those days are far behind me, but I’m also grateful for the lessons learned along the way. In this instance, those lessons were about how and why we layer. The status of any outdoorsman will change throughout the day (from static to moving and back again), just like the weather will. Both situations require the judicious use of layering clothing.
In my example, early morning is usually the coldest part of the day and I was static for its duration. This is a time when most of us will likely want to wear all the layers we possess. Base layers likely never come off, midlayers add warmth, and an outer shell is the best windbreaker (even if it’s not raining). What should have happened and what did happen forevermore after the above debacle, was stripping down to my base layer for movement. Even if it’s cold and removing clothing is uncomfortable, it’s wise to remove everything but the base layer when it’s time to move out. Anytime a person moves outdoors, especially when carrying a heavy load or when moving fast, the body rapidly generates heat and moisture (sweat). A good baselayer is essential because it wicks moisture away from the body and allows the heat and moisture to escape by “breathing”. Once the body stops moving, the baselayer insulates. Baselayers are frequently treated as an afterthought, but not by the professionals at Sitka. They have several baselayers and each serves a purpose.
Good midlayers are an essential component of any clothing system used by professional outdoorsmen, whether they be hunters or special operations servicemen. Midlayers provide insulation, can serve as an outerlayer when stealth is at a premium, and should be easily donned and doffed. The Arrowhead line has three different midlayers (Hoody, Pullover, and Jacket) that all offer warmth, but come with different attributes to meet different needs and roles.
The outer layer is the most expensive and takes advantage of the most technology. Here, Goretex reigns supreme. A good set of Goretex like the SITKA Arrowhead Wet Weather Jacket and Pants is worth its weight in gold because it keeps the wearer warm and dry. Even when every other item of clothing is soaking wet, a guy can slap on nothing but a set of Goretex and wait for it all to dry while still remaining reasonably comfortable.
The SITKA Arrowhead line, unlike many other competitors, was purpose built to be a layering system and to work together to keep the wearer warm, dry, or cool depending on the situation.