Back to the Basics: Essential Layers for Summer Adventures

July 05, 2020

Whether on a day hike or expedition, wearing the proper outdoor clothing is an essential part of staying comfortable and safe outdoors. If you’ve ever been caught in the rain wearing jeans, you’ll know how miserable life can be! 

Since options for layering can be overwhelming, we’ll keep it simple and go through a few basics. This way, you won’t get bogged down by information or heavy cotton jeans!

Base Layer - Wick away the summer sweat

A base layer or “long underwear” is worn next to your skin. The fabric should be breathable, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking so it doesn’t trap sweat. Non-wicking fabric such as cotton leaves you feeling wet, chilled, or worse- hyperthermic. Common base layer fabrics include synthetic materials such as polyester or natural fibers such as merino wool.  

Slacklining fun in a merino wool hoodie and Trail Shorts!

Base layers come in varying thicknesses. Some are lightweight much like Wintergreen’s Women’s Chopp Top and some are thicker. Thick base layers can double as an insulating mid-layer such as the Men’s Lava  Top . The lighter the fabric, the faster it dries, but if it is a thicker fabric, it should still insulate when wet.

Mid-Layer - Cozy up for cool mornings

Mid-layers are the heat holders of a layering system. They are often thicker than and worn on top of a base layer. Common mid layer materials include wool, fleece, or a light down or synthetic insulated jacket.

When choosing the right mid-layer, be sure to match the thickness to this layer’s intended use. For example, if used for sitting around a base camp or in cold weather, a thick fleece may be a good choice. If you need a fleece for an active activity such as backpacking, skiing, or climbing, a thinner mid-layer may be more appropriate as it will have greater breathability, flexibility, and will be more packable and lightweight.

On the trail in the  Portage Top!

Depending on the temperature of your adventure, having a mid-layer pant such as the Wintergreen Flex Pant may also be needed. Summer campers can often opt to pack just a base layer pant with a shell for cool nights.

Shell Layer - For those unpredictable weather changes

Base layers and mid-layers are breathable to keep you dry, but they do not protect you from harsh winds or rain. There are a variety of shell jackets from full waterproof raincoats to wind jackets with some water resistance and everything in between.

The Boundary Waters Windshirt keeps you out of the wind, even on the lake!

When enjoying the outdoors, it is important to balance waterproofing with breathability. If you are moving and working hard you will build up a sweat; therefore, a shell that is breathable would be advised. If you get a shell that is waterproof but not breathable, such as an old rubber raincoat, you’ll end up just as wet from sweat trapped inside! Save these types of shells for in-town or light activity days.

There are many shells that are made to withstand light rain and moisture that also provide great breathability and wind protection such as the Boundary Waters Windshirt and Boundary Waters Shell Pants . Unless I know I will be stuck in an endless downpour, I personally prefer this type of layer as it is more versatile.

Going for a hike in the  Boundary Waters Shell Pants.

Other Summer Essentials

In the summer, I primarily wear shorts , a t-shirt, and a light hat during the day. I still prefer that these layers are breathable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. I will occasionally use a vest of mid-layer material instead of a long-sleeve mid-layer if I know the weather will be warm. If it’s cold, I may bring a vest and a fleece!  If camping, I save my long sleeve base-layer and mid-layer for camp or the cool morning or evening hours.

I also like to use socks, underwear, and gloves that are made of similar materials to my base or mid-layers. I will occasionally use a cotton t-shirt as long as I have other options available or if I am close to camp, my house, or the car. Whatever you choose for your summer layers just be sure that you have options for temperature changes.

With the right layers, you can mix and match to withstand a variety of temperatures and conditions. Having confidence in the layers you bring will allow you to focus your energy on the beauty of your surroundings or the lure you’ll use to catch dinner!


Karina Krosbakken

Based out of Duluth, MN, Karina works as a psychotherapist and is an avid outdoorswoman in her free time. As a jack of all trades and master of none, she is often found outside climbing, running, biking, or dabbling in something new along the North Shore. When not at home, her passion for exploration and adventure takes her to the mountains out west, far off corners of the world, or visiting her family in Mexico. Drawing from a lifetime of travel, outdoor experiences, and a knack for some suffering, Karina writes content informed by the wisdom she has collected and her passion for adventure.


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