How To Layer With A Rain Shell

It’s easy to say “there’s no bad weather—just bad gear,” but it’s another thing to know how to use said gear properly in gnarly conditions. Like, when the mist on your backpacking trip turns into an all-out waterfall and you have to decide what layers will keep you most comfortable while you’re moving quickly uphill. Knowing how to layer with a rain shell can make a huge difference in comfort and morale. Here are five tips from Alex Lauver, our outerwear product manager, on what to wear under your rain shell for maximum performance.

Start with the best base layer and mid layer.

“Generally, I like to wear synthetic if it’s really an extended time outside in wet weather or if I’m generating lots of sweat. In the city or in more static activity in just “damp” weather, I will wear a light down layer underneath (I’m a sucker for down). Fleece and grid fleece style mid layers perform pretty well under a shell, too! They trap good air for insulation but also breathe and move moisture very well. They may not be the best choice in really, truly cold conditions, though.”

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Then ask, “How hard will I be moving? And, “What conditions will I be likely to see?”

“Somewhere in there, too, is durability and how far from shelter will be. Very generally, I think of 2.5L shells as the “fast and light” option, and 3L as ‘I could be wearing this all day.’ That extra layer [on a jacket with 3L fabric]—a tricot or warp knit usually—is actually a textile, so the next-to-skin comfort is much better in general than 2.5L shells. However, 2.5L shells are generally lighter and more packable.

Consider humidity, too.

“In moderate to high humidity environments, anything that doesn’t mechanically vent (being air permeable or microporous) won’t perform as well as related to comfort … It’s important to also point out that “mechanical” venting could mean pit zips. That overcomes a large amount of membrane slow down.”

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Pick the right shell.

“The Helium is a killer emergency/squall type shell where I’m likely to only need it for short periods, or as a emergency backup shell,” Alex says. “The Foray/Aspire jackets are the awesome durable choice if it’s going to be soggy but I’m maybe not charging super hard, or generating lots of sweat.  The Interstellar is the crazy comfortable shell—that’s still REALLY light—that excels at breathing when you’re active. And the Guardian is a great way to access that Ascentshell technology at a lower price.” Another good pick—perfect for day hikes—is the Apollo Jacket, which features Ventia technology.

And tak e good care of your shells.

“You do need to wash and dry your shell once or twice a season. DWR is a component in quality rain shells that in many cases is even more important than the membrane itself. Smoke can “clog” pores in certain types of membranes. And basic wash/dry care does a lot to prolong life and keep performance optimized.”

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Photos by Elise Giordano.