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The Perpetually Warm Person's Guide to Winter Layering

Everyone knows that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But people rarely talk about the fact that bodies come in different temperatures, too. And some people just run hot, which means we tend to sweat. Like, a lot.

Summer is our least favorite season. Leather couches and car seats are our greatest nemeses. We sleep with the A/C AND the ceiling fan on full blast, and recoil from our partner’s cuddles in the middle of the night like they’re made of lava. But really, it’s because our skin feels like lava. Moist, sticky, glistening lava.

However, just because some of us are walking furnaces doesn’t mean we can put any less thought into proper layering than our cold-blooded compatriots. And if any of the above sounds like you, this is the winter layering guide you’ve been looking for. You are heard, you are seen, and you are not alone. (Unless you go all season without washing your thermals. You’ll probably spend a lot of time alone in that case.)

All About That Base (Layer)

If you tend to run warm, the base layer is arguably the most important part of your layering setup. Giving the inevitable moisture an easy escape route away from your skin is the key to avoiding that gross, clammy feeling that can ruin car rides or even relationships. Whatever you do, stay away from cotton base layers—once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. You’ll want to wear some kind of thinner wicking material that dries quickly. Polyester and other synthetic fibers like viscose work well, though for a more premium (and more sustainable) option, you may want to look into merino wool base layers.

While a lot of people see “wool” and instantly think of the hot, itchy sweaters you were forced to wear for awkward family photos, merino wool can be woven incredibly thin and soft, and it has awesome moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating properties. Merino is even naturally odor-resistant, which can come in handy for those of us who can break a sweat just tightening our boots. The fact that it’s a renewable resource is also a major plus.

Many manufacturers offer their base layers in different material weights. For average midwinter temperatures, go for something lightweight or midweight. Unless you regularly ride in single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures, fleecy base layers will be overkill for those of us on Team Self-Contained Sauna. For spring conditions, you may want to skip the bottom base layer altogether and just ride in some sweat-wicking drawers beneath your snow pants.

Don’t Forget Your Feet 

While they’re technically also part of your base layer, proper socks are so important for us temperature-hoarding folk that they’re getting their own section. Springing for a couple of good pairs of ski and snowboard socks is one of those investments that will leave you wondering how you ever lived without them before. It seems counterintuitive, but many people who otherwise never get chilly find themselves dealing with cold feet on the hill because of socks that get sweaty and stay that way. Thinner, lower-profile socks with strategic padding can actually feel warmer and comfier than thicker, more padded socks, because they’re not adding bulk to your boots or making your feet sweat.

Just like with base layers, synthetic materials work great—but if you’re a naturally sweaty person, and you’re going to spend a little bit of extra cash for merino wool on one piece of outdoor gear, make it your socks. Trust us now, and thank us later.

The Rich, Gooey Center

Depending on the conditions, and whether you’re riding chairlifts or ascending under human power, what you need from your middle layer(s) can vary by the day, or even by the hour. But really, three key pieces will have you covered in just about any situation.

Assuming you’re wearing an outer shell, a second base layer or thin long-sleeve should have you covered in mild-to-freezing weather for resort riding, or several degrees below freezing if you’re climbing a skin track.

Adding a midweight fleece, flannel, or even a hoodie or sweatshirt below your shell will usually keep us naturally-insulated folks plenty warm in all but the absolute coldest conditions. Considering the ultimate goal is to stay dry, it’s ideal if you have some kind of fast-drying, non-cotton material for this layer as well—and in really wet or stormy conditions, you’ll notice the difference. (But despite what some gear elitists may tell you, you won’t melt or tear a hole in the space-time continuum if you ski a few resort laps using a cotton hoodie as your middle layer.)

For really cold conditions, a packable puffy—either down or synthetic—is a must-have staple even for those of us who tend to roast. They’re easy to stow in your pack or jacket after the sun comes up, and can take the edge off a cold, early morning spent chasing first light or first chair.

Stay Dry—In Both Directions

If you’re blessed with the gift of being your own personal heat source, you likely know all about why wearing non-insulated shells for your snow-proof outer layers is the only way to go. Somewhat less obvious to many people is how much the breathability of your outerwear factors into the equation, especially for us big sweaters.

As you’re comparing jackets and snow pants, keep an eye out for waterproof and breathability ratings. They’re usually listed as a number in the thousands, or shortened to something like 20K/10K. The breathability number is the second one, and that’s the one that can really make a difference between a jacket that stays comfortable all day, and one that you’re constantly unzipping or fiddling with vent zippers.

Finally, if you wear bibs or you’re thinking about trying some, keep in mind the upper chest portion basically functions as a vest. It’ll add about a half-layer’s worth of warmth to your core, so you may need to recalibrate your layering approach if you’re making the switch from regular ol’ snow pants.

If you’re one of the countless perpetual sweaters with a passion for snow sports, hopefully these tips helped you learn something about how to stay more comfortable on the mountain. And if nothing else, we hope you feel less alone, knowing there are others out there who also struggle to avoid overheating while surrounded by hundreds of acres of frozen water.

If you need any of the above layers don't forget to buy UnNew. Happy shredding, and don’t forget to hydrate.

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TJ Parsons is a semi-reformed snowboard bum who now has a semi-adult career as a professional writer and creative. He's a self-proclaimed perpetual intermediate who thinks the outdoors are for everyone, and who wants to help dismantle gatekeeping and elitism in outdoor sports. When he's not squeezing brain juice into a keyboard, you'll find him riding boards or bikes throughout the Intermountain West.

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