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Layering: what to wear for autumn in the Scottish hills

Tuesday 18th October 2022, 10:03am

As the weather cools in autumn – often getting damper as well – it becomes more important to get our clothing right for the hills.

The temptation is to invest in a great thick jacket – the sort of thing that would keep you warm in a freezer. But in the Scottish climate, it’s not all about warmth, it’s about staying dry from both the outside elements and your own perspiration. 

Layering is a term you’ll often hear. It’s a system devised by long experience which allows you to control your temperature, keeping you warm when the temperature drops but not making you overheat when you’re working hard.

There are three basic ‘layers’ of clothing involved.

  • Base layer: a thinnish layer next to the skin which wicks away moisture. The most common choices are manmade fibre or merino wool. All have advantages and drawbacks and it may just come down to personal choice. But avoid cotton. Though cheap and commonly available, cotton soaks up moisture (sweat or rain) and holds onto it, chilling your body and preventing your warm layers from working properly.

  • Mid layer: this is the main warm bit and will usually be fleece or wool. (Again, avoid cotton.) It functions by trapping the warm air around your body. Wool was the traditional choice and, though heavier and slower to dry, it has the advantage that as it gets damp it actually increases in warmth for a time (until it wets out). However, most people find fleece cheaper and more versatile.

  • Outer layer: this is the waterproof layer that keeps the wind and rain out so that the mid layer stays dry and can do its job of keeping you warm. Your body produces moisture all the time, especially when you’re on the move, so it’s important that, while keeping wind and rain out, your outer layer is breathable and can be vented to allow perspiration to escape rather than soaking into your mid layer.

This makes up your basic hill clothing and you can juggle the layers to suit yourself and the weather. Most people keep their waterproofs in their rucksack unless they’re needed for rain or to keep off the wind, which also helps reduce condensation, although as the weather gets colder (and windier) the outer layer becomes integral to keeping in the warmth your body generates.

At this time of year, and in winter, it’s also a good idea to pack an extra layer: a warm jacket to provide extra insulation when you’re stopped or if the weather deteriorates seriously. It’s best to have a size large enough to pull on over the top of your outer layer and for the filling to be a manmade fibre that retains its insulation when wet. If you have to remove your waterproof to put it on you’re allowing valuable heat to escape and possibly water to get in – and you should avoid any down-filled layers as these become useless if they absorb any moisture.